The Triple-A Charlotte Knights, one step from the majors was the home to all the prospects and promotions made to the White Sox throughout this year. It started with Johnny Cueto, Jimmy Lambert, and Gavin Sheets, and ended with Carlos Pérez and Mark Payton; they were all in Charlotte to start their seasons.
As the year went on, the Knights lost starting pitchers to Chicago, injury, and just innings limits — to the point where there were almost no legitimate starters for most of the year. The Knights were bullpening multiple games each week, and surprise, that strategy didn’t really work. That is why the Sox drafted a lot of pitchers in the 2022 draft, and signed a few more afterwards as well. They need pitching in the system, whether or not those arms prove MLB-worthy.
Without further delay, here are your Charlotte Knights — well, the important Knights.
Lambert, Sheets, Jake Burger, Romy González, and Seby Zavala all played mostly for the White Sox after starting with the Knights. They are all pretty well-known at this point and solidified in the 40-man roster, so that gives each a good shot to make the 26-man roster in 2023. Adam Haseley qualifies as a legitimate outfield option as well.
By and large these guys are not prospects any more, although Pérez still is:
Pérez had a fine year with the bat in Birmingham last year, and did it again with Charlotte. He is a guy that makes a lot of contact, with strikeouts and walks less than 10%. The problem is, he is pretty slow, and with too many infield batted balls he ended up with a .234 BABIP. The power did go up compared to last year, but that probably more about playing home games in Charlotte instead of Birmingham. Pérez is on the 40-man roster now and probably will be the third catcher heading into the season — i.e. the first catcher up from Charlotte due to injury. That is OK, Pérez seems to be good defensively, with good framing but not a great arm per MLB Pipeline.
Yolbert Sánchez came roaring out of the gate while starting the year in Birmingham. In his 14 games there, Sánchez left with a 157 wRC+, with more walks than strikeouts — but pretty much only singles. In Triple-A, that all fell, and meanwhile he still pretty much only hit singles. With his .282 batting average and 124 hits, 104 of them were singles, as Sánchez ended his 2022 season with three homers. That is Sánchez’s problem, and what hinders his prospect ceiling. His defense in the middle infield is good, but the bat cannot generate much more than singles, coupled with a lower walk rate (5.7%) for Charlotte, spells an 81 wRC+ even with the .282 average.
The last of the Top 30, but definitely not the least from the bats, is Lenyn Sosa. The hitter who broke out in Birmingham (and cooled off quite a bit in his time in MLB) ended the season really well in Charlotte. In Sosa’s first Triple-A stint before his second MLB promotion, he struggled getting on base (5.1% BB-rate) and his power slipped, which is hard to do playing in Charlotte. In final month-plus of the year after his final games with the Sox, Sosa’s wRC+ jumped to 133 and he looked more like the player he was in Double-A. The walks were up to 9% with a decent decline (to 5.5%) in strikeouts, so the at-bats were just better. His power came back too, generating close to a .200 ISO. Sosa’s time in MLB was bad, but he is still an intriguing prospect and could be the second base option for a team without one right now for 2023.
It would not be a MiLB White Sox season review season without a Blake Rutherford mention, and here it is: He actually improved from his 2021 season, but he’s not an option anymore, that is why Payton got a look for the Sox in September instead of Rutherford. Of course, Payton did deserve the 40-man roster spot, with a 136 wRC+ and a .246 ISO.
The Knights relied on too many innings from the relievers because their starters weren’t very good, and there weren’t that many of them. Just four pitchers had more than 10 starts, with Davis Martin and John Parke being the only real starters of the four. Parke led the team in innings — and sported a 6.90 ERA. Andrew Perez appeared in the second-most games of any pitcher in Minor League Baseball, as the Knights were forced to use their bullpen an outrageous amount. Again, that is why the Sox drafted and signed mostly pitchers in the 2022 draft and afterwards.
There are still a couple of interesting arms, and first and foremost is Martin. Martin did much better in Double-A and in MLB compared to his time for the Knights. In his 53 Triple-A innings, he had a 6.11 ERA bolstered by 11 homers allowed. Martin does have a home run issue, and in a hitter’s park like Charlotte’s where power comes easily, he got burned (the Rockies certainly would not try to trade for Martin). If the coming offseason is successful, Martin would be back in Charlotte in 2023, as the first or second starting option after an injury occurs, or for a doubleheader spot start. He showed a good mid-90s fastball with effective breaking pitches in MLB (slider and curve). And that’s more effective because they did get outs, but not a lot of swing-and-misses, especially for the curveball. To be one a better starter you do need to have some semblance of a changeup, but Martin has not shown that. Maybe that spells bullpen in his MLB future, but for the Sox, Martin is a depth option they will need as a starter.
Kade McClure fits here as well, but he made his full transition to the bullpen this year. Overall, the stats do not look very good (4.97 ERA) but that is including his time as a starter and his long relief bullpen appearances while transitioning to the pen. The final time McClure went more than three innings was May 18, and he had a 7.36 ERA at that point. From May 24 on, with just a of couple stints going three innings, McClure became a more actualized reliever and steadily got better. Over that time, he had a 3.50 ERA, 31% K-rate and a 6.6% BB-rate. In the final two months of the season, after getting into more of a reliever groove, McClure had a 2.28 ERA, with similar strikeout and walk numbers. He got better as time went on; good enough to deserve an MLB spot in the bullpen? No, but good enough to warrant attention.
Jason Bilous started in Birmingham and more or less got the promotion to Charlotte because a couple Winston-Salem pitchers needed innings. Bilous was really bad in his 22 Triple-A innings, with a 10.23 ERA and a walk rate of more than 20%. The walks, in general, were up from 2021 to 2022, but that trend was much worse in Charlotte. He did end the year as a reliever and had some good outings, but his wildness took over others. The course seems to have run for him as a starter; hopefully Bilous moves to the pen full-time next year to maximize what he has.