Season in Review: 2017 Kannapolis Intimidators

Team: Kannapolis Intimidators
League: South Atlantic League (A)
Final record: 68-69 overall (39-29 1st half, 29-40 2nd half)
Final placement: 1st in 1st half, 7th in 2nd half in Northern Division. Lost in SAL Championship Series
Complete Team Stats

Recently a punching bag in a talent rich South Atlantic League, the Intimidators struck back in 2017 and qualified for their first post-season since 2009 thanks to the deepest farm system in recent White Sox memory. Kannapolis was generously assigned a loaded starting rotation and a collection of advanced bats, leading them to a first half Northern Division title. The Intimidators lost the majority of their early season contributors to promotion, which led to a bit of a skid in the second half, but they were restocked with high draft picks from the 2017 draft and trade acquisitions. The I's swept Greensboro in the first round of the playoffs (2-0), before falling 3-1 in the SAL Championship Series.

By all accounts, it was Kannapolis' most exciting and successful season in years. The club was well represented on the FutureSox top 30 list, with twelve players who appeared for the Intimidators at some point in the season. FutureSox's editor-in-chief Matt Cassidy and I visited Kannapolis in May and we collected a plethora of scouting video, analysis, and interviews for you to peruse and I'll link them throughout this article.

Position Players

During the first half of the season, the Intimidators offense was led by a resurgent Micker Adolfo and advanced former collegiate bats Jameson Fisher, Mitch Roman, Joel Booker, Zach Remillard, and Seby Zavala. Let's start off with Adolfo, who was the most steady and consistent force in the Kannapolis lineup for the majority of the season. The 20-year-old especially shined early on, slashing .287/.346/.493 in his first 57 games of the season. When I saw Micker in May, there was a noticeable different in his bat control and confidence that was translating to the field. He attributed it to a new hitting routine he practices that has him more balanced at the plate. An off-the-field injury ended Adolfo's season prematurely in late August, but it was undoubtedly his most successful year to date.

Beyond Adolfo, the Kannapolis lineup was loaded with accomplished college bats, led by 2016 4th round pick Jameson Fisher. Fisher was predictably strong at the plate, .269/.365/.417, but he told me that his biggest improvement was defensively in the outfield. Fellow outfielder Joel Booker was the catalyst of the offense at the top of the lineup, slashing .301/.359/.385 and swiping 14 bases. 3B Zach Remillard (.283/.318/.397) and 2B/SS Mitch Roman (.286/.335/.340) both had great first halves, then faded a bit in the second half of the season. Catcher Seby Zavala was a surprise assignment to Kannapolis, most thought he was ready for Winston-Salem (spoiler alert: he was), and he bashed 13 home runs over 52 games and slashed .259/.327/.514 before being promoted in June.

The composition of the Kannapolis lineup drastically changed for the second half of the season when Fisher, Booker, and Zavala were promoted to Winston-Salem. Shortly thereafter, they received the top three draft selections of the 2017 draft with 3B Jake Burger, 1B Gavin Sheets, and OF Luis Gonzalez, as well as 7th round choice Evan Skoug. Burger provided the most excitement, slashing .271/.335/.409 and hitting for the cycle on August 24th. Sheets was not far behind him in production, hitting .266/.346/.365 while showcasing the advanced zone control (20 BB: 34 K) he was drafted for. Gonzalez flashed his plate discipline and contact skills as well (38 BB:50 K), and hit .245/.356/.361 while playing strong defense in the outfield. Catcher Evan Skoug struggled over his short stint with the Intimidators, only hitting .154/.263/.308 over 21 games.

Kannapolis received further offensive reinforcements in July when the White Sox acquired top 100 prospect Blake Rutherford from the Yankees and assigned Alex Call to the Intimidators off a rehab assignment. Both outfielders preformed below expectations however; Rutherford hit .213/.289/.254 and Call slashed .248/.333/.386.

Pitchers

Armed with a loaded rotation, starting pitching was an early season strength. Acquired in the off-season Adam Eaton deal, Dane Dunning was nearly untouchable over four starts, posting a 0.35 ERA and an absurd 33 strikeouts to just 2 walks over his 26 innings in the South Atlantic League. Dunning was quickly promoted after his outburst, which will become a running theme among the original rotation mates. Not far behind Dunning in terms of domination was Alec Hansen, who struck out 92 batters over 72.2 innings while posting a 2.48 ERA. Matt and I were at one of Hansen's starts, and suffice to say, he looked very good.

Bernardo Flores (3.00 ERA, 70 K: 13 BB) and Jimmy Lambert (2.19 ERA, 43 K: 11 BB) were both excellent for the Intimidators and along with Hansen, they were promoted to Winston-Salem on June 22nd. To replace their innings, the White Sox used a combination of internal options; Luis Martinez (3.19 ERA, 14 GS), Blake Hickman (3.76 ERA, 17 GS), and Yelmison Peralta (5.06 ERA, 12 GS), as well as some outside the organization acquired in trade. Dylan Cease made nine starts for Kannapolis after coming over from the Cubs system in the Jose Quintana trade. Cease's flashed his electric stuff (11.2 K/9) and decreased his walk rate (3.9 BB/9) with the Intimidators but unfortunately was shut down before the post-season due to shoulder fatigue.

While there was lots of turnover in the rotation, the Kannapolis bullpen stayed remarkably steady throughout the season. Ben Wright (3.19 ERA), Danny Dopico (3.25 ERA), Kevin Escorcia (4.25 ERA), and Lane Hobbs (4.52 ERA) all made at least 37 appearances. Mick VanVossen (2.72 ERA) was acquired from the Washington Nationals and 2016 15th round pick Jake Elliott (2.29 ERA) were very effective late in games. Kyle Kubat was a swing man for the Intimidators, racking up 40.1 innings over 21 appearances while posting a 1.12 ERA and a cool 48 K:6 BB ratio.

Closing games was not an issue in Kannapolis, as Mike Morrison was dominant over 33.2 innings, earning 10 saves with a 0.53 ERA and striking out 42 batters to just 6 walks. I saw Morrison during my trip in May and you can read my observations here. After Morrison was promoted to Winston-Salem, Matt Foster stepped right into the role and excelled as well, saving 6 games with a 1.88 ERA and a gaudy 19:2 K:BB ratio.

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