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2015 Charlotte Knights Season Preview

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Waiting for Rodon

You had to know that larry favorite TT would be the photo.
You had to know that larry favorite TT would be the photo.
Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

Starting Pitching

The headliner, of course, is top prospect LHP Carlos Rodon. There was never any doubt that Rodon wouldn't be in the minors to start 2015. Whether you believe the primary reason for that is needing to "work on some things" or is service time, it doesn't really matter. Rodon does need to continue developing, particularly refining his changeup, and he does need to be in the minors to ensure the White Sox get seven, not six, seasons of team control.

Scouting via stat line is always treacherous but it will be particularly so for Rodon (and, as we'll see below, Knights players in general). Like in his brief pro debut in 2014, the White Sox are going to force Rodon to throw his changeup. And they're going to force him to not use his slider. "Working on things" is not conducive to optimal production (i.e., awesome stat lines). There are innings where Rodon will not throw his slider (his double plus pitch) in favor of his changeup (which grades out as average at best). And the opposing hitters are going to know this. In some outings, he may not throw more than a handful of sliders because he'll only be "allowed" to do it, say, once there's two on, just one out and two runs already in.

Filling out the rotation are Chris Beck, Brad Penny, Scott Carroll and Erik Johnson. Any of first three could be used as a spot starter because when they've last pitched is perhaps the primary determining factor in that. Johnson is currently behind because he missed a lot of spring training due to his side strain and likely will miss a start or two.

Right now, if a starter were to be needed for an extended period, Beck might have a slight edge over Penny and Carroll. Expect that calculus to change, though, as we get into May and Rodon jumps to the top of the depth chart. How things evolve behind Rodon will be mildly interesting to watch and one hopes that Beck can take the step forward, though I remain skeptical of him having much of a major league future.

Relievers

In the bullpen, there will be some familiar faces. Maikel Cleto, Daniel Webb and Matt Lindstrom will be waiting for the inevitable bullpen demotion/injury. Jesse Crain will start the season on the disabled list. He's been on the cusp of pitching again in actual games for like a year and a half now. Maybe he'll actually do it sometime this year.

The story is pretty much the same for everybody in the bullpen: can they throw enough good strikes to be major leaguers.

Position Players

On the position player side, there really isn't a major headliner. Trayce Thompson gets his first extended taste of Triple-A. He's a good defender at all the outfield positions and has good power but, alas, contact is a big issue. Could end up as a useful bench player and he's certainly top of the depth chart if the White Sox need an outfielder.

On the infield, Matt Davidson will look to rebound from his horrid 2014 campaign. He and every other hitter will be licking their lips to hit in Charlotte's ballpark. According to Baseball America's park factors, hitter-friendly doesn't do it justice:

Only High Desert fans witnessed more home runs per game in 2014 than Charlotte in its brand-new BB&T Park. The Knights and their opponents averaged 2.65 bombs per game in a cozy downtown ballpark that has a restricted footprint based on a limited lot size. Pull hitters appreciate the short foul poles in left (325 feet) and right (315) field. Charlotte led the International League in runs scored (699), home runs (176) and runs allowed (767). They finished a close second in home runs allowed (130).

Only one other International League park saw more than two home runs per game last year: Columbus at 2.07.

Tyler Saladino, who ended up being the only loser in the middle infield roster spots derby (at least until the White Sox need a roster spot for Chris Sale), will mark his return from Tommy John surgery and continue his uphill battle to overcome the middle infield logjam and appear with the White Sox. As we'll see later, though, there's also pressure coming from Birmingham. And, I guess, Leury Garcia still exists, too.

Behind the plate, it appears as of now that Kevan Smith, Rob Brantly and George Kottaras will be vying for playing time and the top of the catcher depth chart, though don't be surprised to see one of Brantly or Kottaras released soon.

Whenever the White Sox decide to finalize the Knights roster, it will be here.