Team: Charlotte Knights
League: International League (AAA)
Final record: 64-75 overall
Final placement: 4th in the South Division, no playoffs
The 2018 Charlotte Knights’s story can be summed up by two players: RHP Michael Kopech and OF Eloy Jimenez. The continued development and emergence of the top two White Sox prospects was the biggest highlight of the Knights' record-setting attendance season.
To emphasize the point, one need only look at the starting rotation’s ERA leader, now pitching in Japan, Donn Roach. The cupboard was pretty bare in Charlotte (besides Kopech) until mid-season when it was boosted by the arrival of Jimenez, RHP Jordan Stephens and C Seby Zavala, to name a few.
With Charlotte the final proving grounds before The Show, you’d like to see success. Although the record didn’t reflect it, the Knights had their share of notable performances. So let’s take a look at what went right.
Position player highlights
Eloy is good. I’m not sure what else there is to say but that. Charlotte’s star won’t be there much longer, as he’ll be in Chicago as soon as the Sox can secure another year of team control. That should be in mid- to late April. I won’t rehash the argument about how much fun it would’ve been to see Eloy play in Chicago this year, but since every other team is doing it, the Sox might as well too.
Daniel Palka played in just 17 games to open the season in AAA but made his mark with .286/.384/.476 line to earn a promotion to Chicago, and we all know what happened after that.
Other notable performances came from rehabbing Major League players and one Jake Elmore. The 31-year-old Elmore is a career journeyman with time spent in the Arizona, Houston, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay and Milwaukee organizations. His .289/.397/.359 line and a wealth of multi positional infielders means Elmore won’t make the trip to Chicago anytime soon, but if he sticks around, who knows what could happen.
Midseason promotion Zavala swung a hot bat for Birmingham, but had his AAA debut hampered by a wrist injury. Despite that, Zavala was hit .267 at his peak in AAA before settling into a .243/.267/.359 slash line. The plus side is his glove continued to get positive reviews.
Other interesting tidbits:
- 2B Jose Rondon hit 18 homers in 80 games with the Knights. He had a slash of .249/.290/.495 before heading north to the Sox.
- 2B Elmore had 55 strikeouts to 58 walks
- 3B Patrick Leonard led the team in strikeouts with 145. Of players with at least 30 games, Eloy Jimenez had the fewest at 30.
Charlotte had a six guys start at least 10 games, but when you think of the 2018 season, Kopech is the pitcher who stands out.
Kopech started 24 games and threw 126.1 innings. Plagued with control issues early in the season, he came into form before earning an August call-up. We all know what happened next, and now we need to wait until 2020 for his electric stuff to captivate us once again.
Citing the aforementioned fun fact, Roach led the team in ERA and looked like a nice option to provide some relief to the main roster, before he decided his time would be better spent in Japan.
Midseason promotions Spencer Adams and Jordan Guerrero had delightful second halves in Charlotte. Adams continued to show why we might see him in 2019. He started 15 games, throwing 90.1 innings with a 3.19 ERA and 1.33 WHIP, but his peripherals suffered: 42 strikeouts to 38 walks. He also had a bit of a home run problem, tied for third on the staff giving up 10. (Asher Wojciechowski gave up 26 in 119.1 innings for the lead). Guerrero took steps to fix what plagued him in Birmingham, posting a 3.46 ERA in 65 innings with a 1.42 WHIP and 62 strikeouts to 28 walks.
Jordan Stephens also made his AAA debut after manhandling Southern League hitters for the Barons. He started 21 games for the Knights and threw 107 innings. He struck out 99 to 42 walks and had a 1.46 WHIP.
So here is the part of the column where I write about former first round pick Carson Fulmer. I’ll keep it short. He made the jump to the bullpen, and positive results eluded him there as well. In 67.2 innings, Fulmer had a 5.32 ERA. He struck out 62 and walked 41. Fulmer tied for third in home runs surrendered. Fulmer’s ship is sinking, and I’m not sure if he has it in him to fix it.
More notes on the bullpen:
- Rob Scahill appeared in 52 games, threw 60.2 innings and although he struck out 71 to 25 walks, he still had a 5.64 ERA.
- Tyler Danish had a resurgence in the pen. He had a 3.01 ERA in 71.2 innings. He struck out 53 versus 28 free passes.
- Jeanmar Gomez threw 40 innings, and was promoted to the main roster. He had a 2.03 ERA and 13 walks to 35 strikeouts.
What to expect next year
The aforementioned cupboards are going to start getting stocked. Adams, Guerrero and Stephens will all be repeating the level to get more seasoning, assuming none of them are taken in the Rule 5 Draft. Reliever Zack Burdi will (probably) open the season in AAA before making his MLB debut. And while I don’t expect immediate success, as the team will have an Eloy-shaped hole to fill, prospects like OF Luis Alexander Basabe, OF Joel Booker and C Zack Collins as well as pitchers Dylan Cease, Ian Clarkin, Dane Dunning and (maybe even) A.J. Puckett are waiting in the wings. 2019 could be very fun for the Knights, and eventually something special for the White Sox.
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