Team: Charlotte Knights
League: International League (AAA)
Final record: 61-81 overall (35-36 Home, 26-45 Away)
Final placement: Last (4th) in IL South Division
On paper, the Charlotte Knights looked like they were destined for lots of success in 2017, as they boasted the number one prospect in all of baseball (Yoan Moncada) and five of the seven top prospects for the White Sox on the Opening Day roster. While the season started out with a bang with four straight home victories, injuries (both at Charlotte and in Chicago), growing pains and a consistently revolving roster (22 Knights were promoted to Chicago) proved too much for Manager Mark Grudzielanek and the Knights to overcome.
The Knights only had two months when they finished .500 or better (11-11 in April, 15-14 in May), and stumbled through the middle of the season (9-19 in June, 10-18 in July) before rebounding in the season's last month (16-19 in August/September). The road was also not very kind to the Knights (26-45), as they played nearly 10 games better in Charlotte (35-36).
Despite the disappointing season in the standings, the fans in Charlotte still came out in droves to see the new talent acquired in the offseason, as Charlotte averaged 9,109 per game for 69 dates for the second-best overall attendance in the minor leagues (628,526). Charlotte led the minor leagues in attendance the previous three seasons.
The most consistent aspect of the Knights roster was who toed the rubber every fifth day, as five pitchers, RHPs Tyler Danish (25), Carson Fulmer (25), Lucas Giolito (24), Reynaldo Lopez (22) and Chris Volstad (18) each started 18 or more games and pitched 100+ innings for the Knights. All five started at least one game at the big league level for the White Sox in 2017 as well.
Fulmer led the team in wins (7), while Giolito (134) and Lopez (131) each ranked among the league leaders in strikeouts. Top prospect Zack Burdi led the team in saves (7), despite being lost for the season in early July due to a torn elbow ligament that required Tommy John surgery. Lopez led the team in ERA (3.79), while former big league reliever LHP Matt Purke led the team in appearances out of the pen (48). Lopez paced the team in WHIP (1.24), while Danish led the team in innings (138.1) and loses (14). LHP Brian Clark led the team in wins out of the pen (6).
Soon after the departures of Lopez and Giolito to the White Sox, Charlotte fans were treated to a late season sneak peak of another highly rated starting pitching prospect, as RHP Michael Kopech and his blazing fastball made three end of the season starts for Charlotte, following a dominant season with Birmingham.
While Lopez, Giolito and Fulmer look ready to remain in Chicago for good, the Knights should be in good hands with Kopech and the next wave of starting pitching prospects that includes RHPs Alec Hansen, Spencer Adams and Dane Dunning, who all are targeted for stays in Charlotte in the very near future. LHPs Jace Fry and Aaron Bummer, who both jumped from Birmingham to the bullpen in Chicago, could see time in Charlotte's bullpen in 2018.
The Charlotte offense opened with some fireworks, as they averaged nearly 10 runs per game in four victories during the season's first week with Moncada leading the way. But injuries and constant roster changes seemed to take their toll over the long haul, as only three position players played in 100 or more games for the Knights.
Moncada led the way early on, hitting over .300 during the season's first two months, before he was slowed by injuries and then promoted to Chicago for good in mid-July. 1B Danny Hayes led the team in home runs (19) and RBI (67) with OF Rymer Liriano (17, 52) and IF/OF Cody Asche (14, 57) also providing middle of the lineup power. 3B Nicky Delmonico (.262, 12 HRs, 45 RBI in 99 games) also provided a formidable presence in the Knights' lineup prior to his late July promotion.
Hayes led the team in games played (128), Delmonico in average (.262) and Liriano in runs scored (67). OF Jacob May (team-leading 31 SBs) and 2B Jake Peter (.292) did their best to fill the top of the order void left by Moncada's mid-season promotion. OF Willy Garcia (.286, 5 HRs in 31 games) and C Kevan Smith (.377 in 15 games) provided solid early season offense, before they also were needed in Chicago.
Seven members of the Knights' Opening Day roster ended up becoming regular contributors at the big level for the White Sox, including OF Adam Engel. Engel, who showed his glove in centerfield is definitely ready for the big leagues, struggled to find a groove at the plate (.218 in 46 games at Charlotte, .168 in 96 games in Chicago) and may need more development to stick in Chicago.
May, Engel and Peter may be slotted back to Charlotte to begin 2018, while late season acquisitions such as 1B Casey Gillaspie (.210, 6 HRs in 30 games at Charlotte), OF Tito Polo (.278, 7 SBs in 21 games at Birmingham) and OF Eloy Jimenez (.353, 8 XBH in 18 games at Birmingham) seem locks to be wearing Knights uniforms some time in 2018.
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Filed under: News and notes
Tags: Aaron Bummer, Adam Engel, Alec Hansen, Brian Clark, Carson Fulmer, Casey Gillaspie, Chris Volstad, cody asche, dane dunning, Danny Hayes, Eloy Jimenez, Jace Fry, Jacob May, Jake Peter, Kevan Smith, lucas giolito, Mark Grudzielanek, Matt Purke, Michael Kopech, Nicky Delmonico, reynaldo lopez, Rymer Liriano, Spencer Adams, Tito Polo, Tyler Danish, willy garcia, Yoan Moncada, Zack Burdi