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2015 Kannapolis Intimidators season review

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White Sox South Atlantic League affiliate boasted a rotation full of intriguing low-minors prospects

In the season review for Great Falls Voyagers, we noted that the White Sox' Pioneer League affiliate had a pretty stable roster.

The same can be said for Kannapolis, at least on the position-player side. Without an influx of early-round collegiate bats, the Intimidators lacked star power at the plate. They had a combination of the oldest crop of hitters (average age: 22.9) and the third-lowest OPS (.657) in the South Atlantic League, and the lineup's star, Eddy Alvarez, was promoted to Winston-Salem toward the end of the season to aid the Dash's playoff push.

However, the Intimidators' staff was loaded with interesting pitchers, some of whom we knew, and others who emerged over the course of the season.

It's somewhat counterintuitive that the Intimidators boasted a group of impressive arms, yet gave up the third-highest ERA (4.37) and second-highest runs average (4.50) in the Sally League. The Kannapolis staff had age on its side (the third-youngest in the league). It also had a pretty bad defense playing behind it.

As was the case with Alvarez, a few pitchers received a boost to the Carolina League -- Spencer Adams, Jordan Guerrero and Yency Almonte -- and we'll catch up with them there, but a handful of prospects remained in Kannapolis through the end of the year:

The Sally League baselines:

  • Average age: 21.5
  • Average line: .256/.325/.372
  • Average walk rate: 8.1 percent
  • Average strikeout rate: 19.3 percent

Pitchers

Zack Erwin: The lefty from Clemson was the Sox' second player taken by the White Sox in the 2015 draft ... though in the fourth round, since the Sox lost two picks due to free-agent signings. The Sox put him to work, as he threw 40⅓ innings split almost evenly between Great Falls and Kannapolis, and with very similar results:

  • Great Falls: 8 G, 21.1 IP, 17 H, 0 HR, 3 BB, 15 K, 0.84 ERA
  • Kannapolis: 7 G, 19 IP, 15 H, 0 HR, 4 BB, 15 K, 1.89 ERA

Combined with his NCAA season, Erwin threw 147 innings in 2015. Baseball America said he showed the ability to throw three above-average pitches (fastball, curve, split-fingered change) and the ability to keep them all down. That scouting report is holding up, at least during two- and three-inning outings in a successful pro debut.

Thad Lowry: Here's another guy who worked hard. The Sox' fifth-round pick in the 2013 draft was the staff's workhorse, as he topped 150 over 26 starts after throwing just 87 at Kannapolis the year before. The 20-year-old's effectiveness diminished as he entered new territory, particularly when it came to strikeouts:

  • First 15 starts: 91 IP, 89 H, 6 HR, 24 BB, 66 K, 3.66 ERA, .260/.315/.424 allowed
  • Last 11 starts: 59.2 IP, 69 H, 2 HR, 16 BB, 28 K, 5.73 ERA, .294/.344/.421 allowed

He's relatively new to pitching, as he started his high school career behind the plate before switching as an upperclassman. Even with the rough finish, all of Lowry's peripherals improved year over year. Some of the work with amusingly irascible pitching coach Jose Bautista is starting to pay off.

Luis Martinez: Coming off a successful stateside debut in 2014, the 20-year-old Venezuelan couldn't sustain a groove during his first try at full-season pitching. He signed for $250,000 in 2011, but he underwent Tommy John surgery and didn't make his pro debut until 2014, which he split between Arizona and Great Falls.

He posted a 5.38 ERA with 53 walks and 69 strikeouts over 108⅔ innings. Part of it can be attributed to prioritizing secondary pitches, and, like, Lowry, fatigue may be part of it. Martinez was limited to one relief outing over a 16-day period in late June, and after he returned, he had a fantastic July. Over the course of five starts, Martinez allowed just a 1.52 ERA and 27 baserunners over 29⅔ innings while striking out 20, capping it off with eight shutout innings against Lakewood.

Then he was shelled in each of his first two August starts, and his last five starts were five-inning grinds. He pushed himself over the 100-inning mark, though, and he looked better in August than he did in May, so next year should be revealing.

David Trexler: Prospect guys like Baseball America's Clint Longenecker and FanGraphs' Kiley McDaniel regarded Trexler as a potential late-round gem after the Sox selected him out of North Florida in the 17th round and unlocked a 3-4 mph jump in velocity. Both outlets had him being groomed as a starter with a fastball-curve-change repertoire, but he spent the entire year in relief with the Intimidators.

Trexler did strike out 76 batters over 69⅓ innings, but the whiffs didn't show up on a game-to-game basis, and he also walked 37 batters. He just turned 25 and hasn't pitched above Kannapolis, so this wasn't the moving year that his enthusiasts anticipated:

BEST LATE-ROUND PICK: Trexler’s development is exciting; he showed above-average changeups and curveballs before and after the draft to go with an average-to-plus fastball, making him a future rotation-mate of Rodon’s very possible.

Update: Below is a podcast extra with some Josh-on-Josh action, as Josh Nelson talks to Josh Feldman, Kannapolis director of communications and broadcaster, about the Intimidators' season (I smell a spin-off called "Just Joshin'").