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Kannapolis Cannon Ballers 2022 Season Preview

It’s a very young team with a lot to prove on all sides of the diamond.

2021 Major Leauge Baseball Draft
The Cannon Ballers uniforms are colorful, but Colson Montgomery might not have to don a bow tie in Kannapolis this season.
Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

This is going to be a very young team, again, for the 2022 season. The Kannapolis Cannon Ballers are filled with ACL standouts, 2021 draft picks, and some former top prospects that have a lot to prove this year. If the White Sox want to add to their big club at the trade deadline without sending a more MLB-ready prospect, well, you better hope these players start out well.

Position Players

Let’s start with a familiar background, a player that did very well in Arizona last season, Wilfred Veras. He is a corner infielder, who probably will end up at first base. He is entering his age-19 season, very young for the this league. But he was young for the ACL last year and did well. He showed a decent approach at the plate in his 46 games, a near 12% walk-rate and a 23.6% K-rate. To go along with a healthy .211 ISO, Veras showed good bat-to-ball skills too. All-in-all, it led to a 147 wRC+. Now, there is a huge jump between the two levels, and hopefully the young man can continue to shine; his .421 BABIP last year is something to note if this season is not as successful.

Colson Montgomery will be the headliner here for Kannapolis, as he is the first round draft pick from last year and the SSS No. 1 overall prospect. He is only 20, so again very young, as the Sox are concentrating on drafting high-schoolers now. He will probably stay in Kannapolis up until the final weeks of the season, even if he is doing well. Montgomery showed a great plate approach in his limited time in the ACL last season, with about a 12% BB-rate and 20% K-rate. There shouldn’t be a lot of stock put into his 2021 campaign, but it is nice to see consistent and good at-bats. He should be the starting shortstop for the CBs, but may get some time at third as well. He was drafted to have projectable power, so hopefully that shows out more this year too.

If everything works out (and knowing the White Sox, it totally will), Montgomery and Wes Kath will man the left side of the infield in the future, as they were the first and second round picks last season. Of course, if they need to move around because Yoán Moncada and Tim Anderson are still around and productive, that is gravy. Kath will play third base this year, and for the foreseeable future. He has raw power he will need to grow into, and a hit tool that should be good. Neither showed in his first stint in pro ball last season with a 66 wRC+, but again, it is hard to take anything from 115 plate appearances. Kath should get every rep he can handle.

After these three players of note, it is a lot of young and familiar names, but three stand out due to previous prospect standing. Benyamín Bailey is back to starting the year with the Cannon Ballers. Last season was a mess, with a 22 wRC+ to start his year. It did get better after he was demoted to the ACL, but an 87 wRC+ there is not going to cut it. He needs a better approach at the plate to be successful after a 30% K-rate last year. Misael González, a high school draft pick back in 2019, started out very well in the ACL with a 151 wRC+ and got a promotion to the Cannon Ballers last year. However, the BABIP fell quite a bit and the power decreased significantly as well, so his production was pretty much halved. Finally, Chase Krogman had a very weird 2021 season. His production came out to exactly average, 100 wRC+, but that is thanks to a 16% walk-rate and then a .357 BABIP. On the bad end, Krogman that he had a 42% K-rate, which is just truly terrible, especially in Low-A. He has power in there, but Krogman is missing the ball too many times for it to really show.

Pitchers

The offense is where heads should be at in Kannapolis, but there are still some interesting guys to watch out for on the mound. First and foremost, there’s Jared Kelley. He was at the very least a Top 3 White Sox prospect heading into last season, but could not live up to the hype. Some of that could just be because of the pandemic. Kelley went from pitching high school ball for a couple of innings in 2020 before things shut down, and then his next competitive pitches were in Low-A in 2021. The time in-between was big, but the competition of going from high school to full-season pro ball was probably too much for a 19-year-old. This is his age-20 season now, and he will need to bounce back. One way is to cut down on the walks, which were way too high last year, and be healthy; Kelley struggled with both of those things last year. He still has a big fastball and the change works well, but he needs to control them.

Kelley will be the headliner, up until Norge Vera arrives from his injury. Vera is out until at least May with lat trouble and even after that, Vera will be on a strict innings limit. Odds are, he will stay in Kannapolis the entire year, though he could get a cup of coffee in Winston-Salem if everything goes well and he still has some innings left this year. It seems like 2023 will be the big year for him. In ’21 though, Vera was pretty good in the DSL after a late start. It is the DSL, so he SHOULD have done well, but 19 shutout innings is nothing to sneeze at, no matter the level. Vera has a great fastball in the upper-90s, though he still needs to work on off-speed and breaking pitches. Both have potential, just need refinement.

Cristian Mena and Brooks Gosswein are the other two to watch early here. Mena is 19, and though his season last year was not successful with a 7.82 ERA, the peripherals looked good. He had a 27% K-rate and then a 9.1% BB-rate, you just cannot have a good ERA when batters are hitting .332 against you. That will need to improve, but Mena is still very young and has a lot of growing to do. Gosswein was a fourth round pick last year, so that is really why he is being highlighted. He did not get the slot amount, but his bonus was still enough to note. He had 17 innings pitched last year in the ACL and in Kannapolis.