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A way-too-early peek at Charlotte’s roster

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A look into Knights prospects and position battles to begin 2019

MLB: Spring Training-Chicago White Sox at Seattle Mariners
Hotel vs. apartmen: Eloy isn’t expected to stay in Charlotte for very long.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last month, I submitted a projection as to who would be on the White Sox 25-man roster. Now, based on that projection, it’s time to turn to Charlotte and see who will be candidates to begin its season on April 4.

The team’s strengths to begin the season will be its bullpen and offensive-minded catchers. Most other positions will include primarily AAAA-type personnel, although that may change when players begin trickling up from presumed Double-A powerhouse Birmingham.


Rotation

The White Sox may want to keep top prospects Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning in Birmingham to begin the season, as neither have yet reached 100 Double-A innings. With that said, it wouldn’t surprise me if either or both begin in Charlotte. For right now, however, I’m having them begin with Birmingham, with the expectations that both will be promoted by mid-May at the latest.

As mentioned in my White Sox roster projection, I expect Dylan Covey to earn an early roster promotion as the White Sox long reliever once the regular daily grind begins; until that happens, I have Covey in Charlotte’s rotation. Other locks for the Knights rotation will include Jordan Stephens, Spencer Adams, and Jordan Guerrero. That leaves one more pitcher, and I’m going with veteran Donn Roach over southpaw Tanner Banks for the final spot; Roach earned an invite to last year’s Triple-A All-Star Game prior to leaving for Japan to finish the season. Don’t fret over Banks, though — he should receive the promotion from Birmingham to Charlotte when Covey gets called up.

Dylan Covey, Jordan Stephens, Spencer Adams, Jordan Guerrero, Donn Roach


Bullpen

Based on my White Sox projections, I have Ian Hamilton and Caleb Frare beginning the season with Chicago. However, this doesn’t mean that the Knights bullpen is going to be severely depleted. Zack Burdi, considered by many to be the team’s closer of the future, will be monitored closely to see if he can regain the polish and velocity he had prior to Tommy John surgery in late 2016. Hard-throwing righties Ryan Burr, Jose Ruiz, and Thyago Vieira all finished last season with the White Sox, with varying degrees of success. Hard-throwing Jacob Lindgren (if healthy) and softer-tossing Colton Turner should be the two southpaws in the pen; if Lindgren is be unavailable to begin the season, Banks may be a viable long-relief option to fill in. Former first-round pick Carson Fulmer will begin his first full season in the pen, in the hopes he can he make it back to the majors. Since I have the Knights with an eight-man bullpen, the final spot could be a three-way battle between Zach Thompson and two MLB veterans: Randall Delgado and Evan Marshall. Delgado seems to be the favorite here, as he may actually be the first to earn a call-up, due to his past major league success. If this is the case, Thompson would likely begin in Birmingham, with Marshall being released.

Zack Burdi, Jose Ruiz, Ryan Burr, Thyago Vieira, Jacob Lindgren, Colton Turner, Carson Fulmer, Randall Delgado


Catcher

Zack Collins and Seby Zavala are the no-brainer choices to begin at catcher. However, it will be interesting to see who earns the majority of the time behind the plate. Zavala finished last year with Charlotte, but struggled a bit offensively due to a nagging wrist injury. While his defensive skills aren’t considered exemplary by most scouts, he can defend the position adequately enough to eventually earn his way to the majors. Zack Collins’ weaknesses with the bat and glove have been well-documented, but it’s difficult to deny his power and ability to take the free pass. If he ever finds a way to remove that hitch in his swing, he can earn his way to the majors in some morphed role of 1B/DH/backup catcher.

Zack Collins, Seby Zavala


First Base

For the most part, all other positions will be a mixed bag in Charlotte’s Opening Day roster. First base is a perfect example of this, as Matt Skole and Casey Gillaspie will be duking it out for the starter role. Skole, who turns 30 in July, slashed just .237/.336/.404 for Charlotte but did well in his four-game major league debut last year. Gillaspie, a former first-round pick of the Rays who just turned 26, struggled mightily last year at Charlotte, with a .220/.285/.325 slash line. Despite Gillaspie’s pedigree (brother of Conor) and relative youth, Skole is the favorite here because of better offensive production and positional versatility (he also plays third base).

Matt Skole


Second Base

Several players will be candidates for either the second base or utility role for Charlotte in 2019. Eddy Alvarez (29) and Jake Elmore (31) return from last year, while others like Ryan Goins (31), Trey Michalczewski (24), and Danny Mendick (25) all have significant history there as well. Because I have Mendick slated to begin the season at shortstop, I’ve removed him from consideration for this spot. Since Michalczewski is still age-appropriate for Birmingham and his results weren’t overwhelming good, he likely will return to the Barons. That leaves three guys remaining, with an average age on the wrong side of 30. Goins has spent parts of six years in the majors with the Blue Jays and Royals, slashing just .228/.274/.333 throughout his career. Elmore spent time in the majors for five different clubs from 2012-16, with a career slash line of .215/.297/.280; he did perform well with the Knights last year, however, with a .289/.397/.359 slash, and walked 55 times and fanned just 58 in 329 at-bats. Finally, Alvarez slashed .253/.348/.435 for the Knights. Alvarez, Elmore and Goins each played all the infield spots except first last year, while Alvarez was the only one of this troika who didn’t play outfield. Because Elmore’s and Alvarez’s minor league numbers were better last year (Goins slashed .220/.291/.315), they will be my choices; the White Sox may trade Goins for cash considerations in this scenario.

Eddy Alvarez, Jake Elmore


Shortstop

Mendick is the easy choice here. The 25-year-old played shortstop exclusively for Birmingham last year, though he has also spent significant time at second and third as well throughout his four-year professional career. Last year in 453 at-bats for the Barons, he slashed .247/.340/.395 by hitting 25 doubles, 14 homers, walking 57 times while fanning 90, and stealing 20 bases. While he doesn’t do anything especially well, he does all things well enough to potentially succeed as a utility infielder going forward. Although the aforementioned second basemen have all played shortstop, they’re all primarily second or third basemen. Thus, Mendick really has no competition for this spot.

Danny Mendick


Third Base

Chris Johnson, after taking last year off entirely, will try to resurrect his career with the White Sox. Johnson has spent his eight-year career from 2009-16 with the Astros, Diamondbacks, Braves, Indians and Marlins — his most successful season was with the Braves in 2013 when he slashed .321/.358/.457 with 34 doubles and 12 homers. His K/BB ratio throughout his career has never been good, but a career MLB slash line of .275/.313/.404 isn’t all that bad. He will compete with D.J. Peterson for the third base/corner utility role in Charlotte. Peterson, 26, spent last year for the Reds’ AAA squad in Louisville after being claimed via waivers from the Sox in December 2017. Peterson, a first-round pick of the Mariners in 2013, hasn’t quite lived up to that billing. Last year, he posted a respectable .277/.322/.462, which are close to his career minor league averages. It’s possible that when one of these players is starting, the other may play DH or first base when needed.

D.J. Peterson, Chris Johnson


Outfield

Aside from Eloy Jimenez, who likely will only be in Charlotte for two to three weeks, the Charlotte outfield will be relatively nondescript to begin the season. Ryan Cordell (26), after a superb spring training last year, struggled out of the gate with Charlotte and broke his clavicle early on, missing more than three months of development time. It obviously took some time to return to game shape. He did win a promotion to the White Sox in September, however, but was simply overmatched with just four hits in 39 at-bats. Charlie Tilson’s war has been simply trying to stay healthy, and he succeeded in doing just that in 2018. Like Cordell, Tilson has a chance to return to the majors at some point in 2019 — however, he simply doesn’t possess the offensive upside that Cordell possesses. The final outfield spot would have been a battle between Luis Alexander Basabe (22) and Joel Booker (25), as Basabe’s and Booker’s numbers were fairly similar in Birmingham. Basabe’s upside is far greater, but even without the broken hand that will keep Basabe out until May, Booker was the best bet to begin in 2019 in Charlotte, if only because the Sox have recently made efforts to avoid rushing guys like Basabe.

Eloy Jimenez, Ryan Cordell, Charlie Tilson, Joel Booker


Predicting rosters nearly two months in advance, especially those in the minor leagues, is especially difficult to do. Ultimately, as John Thompson once stated when coaching his Georgetown Hoyas, “It’s not about who starts, but who finishes.” With the plethora of talent expected to begin in Birmingham for 2019, it wouldn’t be surprising to see many Barons find their way to the Knights roster (or perhaps even Chicago’s) by the end of the year. It will be fun to see how everything plays out.

In the meantime, the best pieces of the Knights roster as of April 4 will be Eloy, the relief pitchers, catchers and starting pitchers, in that order.


More information on our Charlotte Knights coverage.