2016 Kannapolis Intimidators Season Preview

Kannapolis opens play on Thursday, April 7th, along with the other three full-season clubs. Cole Armstrong (former White Sox catching prospect) becomes the team's manager, promoted from Great Falls and following some of his players to full season ball. He's joined by Hitting Coach Justin Jirschele, who just a year ago was still a player in the system. Brian Drahman takes over as pitching coach, with Jose Bautista moving up to Winston-Salem. Their first series is at home, hosting Lynchburg.

Here is a look at how the Intimidators' roster is constructed, who to watch and what to expect from the club.

Opening Day ages of the players are listed in parentheses, along with position for non-pitchers.

Kannapolis Intimidators (2015 record: 64-74, no playoffs)

Top 30 prospects: Corey Zangari (12), Johan Cruz (15), Seby Zavala (21), Landon Lassiter (27), Antonio Rodriguez (28)

Pitchers

Unofficially, the rotation for the Intimidators appears to be Martinez, Thompson, Easterling, Peralta and Ball. Martinez and Thompson both had erratic 2015 seasons, showing dominance at times and the opposite at others. Both have significant talent to work with, but they are repeating the level to gain some consistency. Yelmison Peralta struggled mightily last year and also returns to Kanny (he was sent down to AZL late last season). Matt Ball has a similar story, struggling to find consistency in the rookie leagues, but he's an arm the organization still believes in. Brannon Easterling has been very effective in two years of rookie ball, but he's been playing old for level and he adds some stability to an otherwise young and inconsistent rotation.

The bullpen has an interesting mix of arms, including a whopping six lefties. Riga and Frebis are technically repeats, but both came to Class A late in the season, after each dominated in rookie leagues in their draft years. Alex Katz also had no struggles in rookie ball in his age 20 season, and the 27th round pick made waves when he mentioned in a Reddit AMA that he spoke with Sox pitching coach Don Cooper on a weekly basis. Jaider Rocha is the fourth lefty, converting from outfielder in 2013 while in the DSL (NOTE: Baseball Reference and MiLB.com both incorrectly reference Rocha as a righty - here's video proof they are wrong). 2015 9th round pick, Chicago area native and UIC product Ryan Hinchley also makes the jump to full season ball. Tanner Banks finishes the phalanx of southpaws, but he's been a starter before and could be in that role in Kannapolis.

From the minority right-handed side of the pen, we've got a couple pitchers that our Arizona correspondent referred to The Bouncers. Taylore Cherry is a massive 6'9", 290 pound thrower who's mechanics looked pretty out of whack in the AZL, but he's flashed impressive velocity and movement at times. Drew Hasler is a comparatively petite 6'6", 245, and is the son of White Sox minor league pitching coordinator Curt Hasler.

Position Players

This is a very strong offensive group, with the likely starting lineup featuring five of the Top 30 overall prospects in the system. Starting with the infield, Zangari is seen by some as a top 10 prospect, and brings both big raw power and a more refined hitting approach than you see from most players less than a year out of high school. Defensively he does need some work at first base. Cruz comes off an impressive year in Great Falls on both sides of the ball, and he made one of the biggest jumps up rankings last year. He played third base in Great Falls primarily, but the club has said he'll be back at shortstop in 2016. Mendick and Massey also have shortstop backgrounds, but they'll be playing second and third base, but we're not yet sure which will play where.

The catching situation here is interesting: Zavala and Schroeder will be splitting duties behind the plate. Schroeder is seen as stronger on the defensive side and possesses a strong arm, but struggled somewhat at the plate in Great Falls. Zavala on the other hand showed a mixed bag behind the plate in the AZL, but had one of the best offensive seasons of any player in the entire Arizona League in 2015. Adding further oddity, Zach Fish is also back in Kannapolis and had been converting from outfield to catcher, but given the presence of the other two players we can only assume Fish will be back to the outfield again.

The outfield will feature three talented prospects from the rookie leagues. Sullivan is a strong defender and is likely to be playing in center, where he's a natural. Lassiter will be playing one of the corners, probably left field, after hitting very well in the Pioneer League. Rodriguez and his cannon arm will likely be in right, and where the other two outfielders have speed to burn, Rodriguez brings significant raw power.

Daily looks to back up first and third, and do some DH'ing. Silverio backs up the outfield, along with Fish.

Overall Thoughts

Last year's Kannapolis squad struggled quite a bit, especially late in the year. So it's worth noting that just 3 of last year's opening day 25 players are back - none among the hitters. The offense has a lot of talent, more so than this Low-A affiliate has seen going into a season in years. They should have no trouble scoring runs.

The word that best describes the pitching staff would be "unpredictable". There are a number of talented arms, but many have either been very inconsistent or are just too raw to project what their first year in pro ball would look like. As a whole, this is most exciting roster Kannapolis has had in a long time, and they should be a fun team to follow in 2016.

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