2019 Kannapolis Intimidators Preview

The Kannapolis Intimidators open the 2019 season at home against the Rome Braves on Thursday April 4th at 7:00PM ET. Ryan Newman will be the manager of the Intimidators after being in Birmingham last season with the Barons. Jose Bautista is returning to the South Atlantic League as pitching coach. Cole Armstrong will be the hitting coach after serving in the same position with the Barons last year. New to the staff and the organization is Ryan Johansen. Johansen is the owner of Johansen Baseball Inc. out of DeKalb, IL. His facility operates as a fully functioning data driven baseball training facility. While the White Sox haven't spoken of an official role for Johansen, he's likely similar to the addition of Everett Teaford but on the hitting side of things.

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. Players on the disabled list have an asterisk. 

Top 30 Prospects: Steele Walker (15), Bryce Bush (21), Konnor Pilkington (24), Lenyn Sosa (26), Luis Curbelo (27), Jonathan Stiever (28)

Pitchers

While we don't know the exact order of the starting rotation, it appears to heavily feature members of the 2018 draft class. Lefties Konnor Pilkington and Taylor Varnell are joined by righties Jonathan Stiever and Davis Martin. Rounding out the quintet will be 2017 6th-rounder Kade McClure. McClure returns to Kannapolis after throwing 41.2 innings for the Intimidators in 2018. He posted a 3.02 ERA with 42K and 14BB. The Louisville product battled a lower body injury and his stay in the SALLY League could be a short one if he pitches well at the outset. The 23-year-old stands out by being 6'7" and he throws a heavy fastball while mostly peppering the zone. Pilkington is a 21-year-old southpaw that was taken in the 3rd round of the 2018 draft out of Mississippi State. Seen as a top-50 draft prospect in the lead up to the selection meeting, the White Sox were surprised to and him at the top of round three. The 6'3" left hander offers pitch-ability and he's younger than most with similar experience levels. Konnor threw 12 innings at Great Falls last season after the Bulldogs were eliminated from the College World Series. He's the #24 prospect in the system on our preseason list.

Jonathan Stiever was a 5th round pick out of Indiana University in 2018. The 21-year-old has a 60-grade fastball and a 55-grade curveball to go with it. He was the #88 draft prospect according to MLBPipeline. The White Sox loved his presence on the mound and his experience in his wood bat leagues on the cape. The right-hander threw 28 innings for the Great Falls Voyagers after signing and struck out 39 hitters while only walking 9. Jonathan posted a 4.18 ERA. He could be a #4 starter if everything goes right. The White Sox gave Davis Martin $130,000 to sign as a 14th rounder out of Texas Tech. Martin is durable and pounds the zone with strikes. He was the #153 draft prospect according to pipeline. In 18 innings in the Pioneer League, Davis posted a 4.50 ERA with 21K and 6BB for the Voyagers. Rounding out the rotation will be lefty Taylor Varnell. The southpaw was selected in the 29th round of the 2018 draft out of Oral Roberts. The 23-year-old was fairly unheralded but posted a 1.97 ERA with 61K in 45.2 innings in the Arizona League after signing.

The bullpen will be a mixture of different names coming from different places. Andrew Perez and Bennett Sousa get lumped together often because they were 8th and 10th round picks respectively in the 2018 draft. Both seen as future left-handed relievers, they each moved through the system and spent time in Kannapolis to close out 2018. Perez is a 21-year-old who played at South Florida. In 25 innings with the Intimidators last year he posted a 2.88 ERA out of the pen. Sousa played at Virginia before signing with the White Sox. The 23-year-old posted a 2.01 ERA with 24K in 22.1 innings. Righties Jason Bilous and Lane Ramsey join them from the 2018 draft class. Bilous was the #193 draft prospect according to pipeline. He signed with the White Sox after being selected in the 13th round out of Coastal Carolina. The 21-year-old is equipped with a 65-grade fastball and 55-grade slider. He's always walked too many hitters however and the transition to the bullpen will occur this year after 24 walks in 36.2 innings at Great Falls.

Ramsey is a massive human standing at 6'9" 245 pounds. The 22-year-old was a 23rd round pick out of Oklahoma University last year. Lane struggled in 48.1 innings with the Voyagers but earned the full-season promotion anyway. 23-year-old right hander Johan Dominguez only threw two innings in the White Sox system after being acquired from the Brewers in the Xavier Cedeno trade. Dominguez compiled 36K in 33 innings in rookie ball and the DSL affiliates with Milwaukee prior to the trade. 21-year-old righty Wilber Perez was also acquired from the Brewers before last year's trade deadline. Perez came over with Kodi Medeiros in exchange for veteran reliever Joakim Soria. Wilber posted really promising numbers with the DSL Brewers but was noticeably older than the majority of the level. He also posted a 1.80 ERA in 30 innings for the DSL White Sox which apparently earned him this promotion to Kannapolis.

Position Players

The Kannapolis Intimidators will be an interesting bunch on the offensive side in 2019 and much of that is due to imports from the Pioneer League champion Great Falls Voyagers of 2018. The outfield for the Intimidators consists of multiple college hitters from recent drafts however. Steele Walker is the highest ranked prospect of the bunch and was the 30th ranked prospect in the 208 draft by pipeline. The White Sox gave the Oklahoma product a $2 million overslot bonus to sign in round 2. The left handed hitter was seen as one of the best college hitters in the country last year. The 22-year-old should receive much of his time in CF as scouts with the White Sox believe he can stay up the middle. Steele battled injuries at the end of last season and played for three levels of the system while not putting up very good numbers overall. Walker will get the chance to shine early and could earn a promotion up to Winston-Salem in short order.

Ian Dawkins, Logan Sowers and Alex Destino will join Walker in the Kannapolis outfield. Dawkins was a 27th rounder in 2018 out of Sacramento State and the righty played in 37 games with the Intimidators last season. Alex Destino was a 14th round pick out of South Carolina in 2017 and he really struggled in Great Falls last year before a brief promotion to Kannapolis. Logan Sowers went in the 28th round out of Indiana University in 2018 and he showed huge power in Great Falls. The 6'5" 230 pound masher posted a 123 wRC+ with 9 homers for the Voyagers. Romy Gonzalez is another name that should play quite a bit with the Intimidators in 2019. Romy was an 18th round selection out of the University of Miami in 2018. He played in centerfield for the Voyagers and smacked 10 homers with a slugging percentage of .498. Gonzalez suffered a minor injury at the end of spring training and won't immediately report with the rest of the club.

The Intimidators will possess a very young and promising infield for the 2019 season. Bryce Bush, Amado Nunez and Lenyn Sosa come up for their first tastes of full season ball after spending 2018 in Great Falls. There is a lot of prospect shine on 2018 33rd rounder Bryce Bush after his torrid start in pro ball. Bush was given an over-slot bonus of $290,000 to sway the Michigan prep product away from a commitment to Mississippi State. Playing in the midwest helped the scouting staff conjure the services of a potential top-5 round talent so late in the 2018 draft. The now 19-year-old destroyed the Low-Rookie level AZL upon entering the system but was humbled a bit in the Pioneer League. He possesses huge bat speed and plus raw power and will be given the chance to stay at the hot corner with his first full season assignment.

Sosa has held his own for two years after skipping the DSL and reporting stateside to start his pro career. The shortstop was signed for $350K out of Venezuela in 2016 and has been very young at every level to date. Sosa is listed as the #26 prospect in the system on our preseason rankings. Lenyn should stay at shortstop for the long-term and he hit .293/.317/.406 with the Voyagers last year. Amado Nunez raked in the Pioneer League last year and will look to continue that pace in the South Atlantic League this season. The 6'2" infielder may be about maxed out physically after signing out of the Dominican Republic for $900K in 2014. In 60 games last year, the 21-year-old hit .357/.394/.568 with 6 homers for the Voyagers. Amado posted a 141 wRC+ and a staggering .414 wOBA. 2016 6th rounder Luis Curbelo also will return to the Intimidators after struggling last year. The 21-year-old posted a 78 wRC+ but still possesses raw power that got him drafted out of a Miami area high school.

Ramon Beltre could be the utility guy for this loaded squad after a late season promotion to the Intimidators. Beltre played well in 32 games with Great Falls but struggled in 27 contests in Kannapolis. Corey Zangari will be one of the most interesting cases to follow in 2019. He's not on the Intimidators roster to start the year due to a hamstring injury suffered in the spring. He should be the primary first baseman for this club as the year moves along though. The right handed slugger was a 6th round pick out of an Oklahoma high school in 2015. The 21-year-old belted 9 homers and posted a 142 wRC+ in 17 games in rookie ball last season. Corey earned a promotion to the Intimidators and immediately was hit on the hand with a pitch in his first game causing him to the miss the remainder of the season. Amado Nunez and Michael Hickman should get most of the work at first in his hopefully short-lived absence.

The Intimidators presently have three catchers on the opening day roster. The aforementioned Michael Hickman may play some first base as well though. Hickman was a 13th rounder out of Chipola Community College in 2016. The left handed hitter crushed rookie ball back in 2017 but struggled in Kannapolis last year with almost 310 trips to the dish. Evan Skoug returns to the South Atlantic League as well for his 3rd straight season with the Intimidators. The 23-year-old from Libertyville, Illinois, was a 7th round pick out of TCU in 2017. Evan just hasn't hit and will need to be more productive to be given more chances in the future. The third catcher on the roster should see quite a bit of playing time. Gunnar Troutwine was taken in the 9th round of last year's draft out of Wichita State. The 23-year-old hit .316/.412/.419 with a 122 wRC+ in 35 games with the Voyagers last year.

Overall Thoughts

The Kannapolis Intimidators have 6 of the top 30 prospects in the system and some others on the fringe of that list. Steele Walker is the highest ranked prospect on the club and he could move up to the Carolina League to join the Dash rather quickly. The squad is still deep without him and the young and exciting players on the infield make the Intimidators a club to follow throughout the 2019 season. They have a glut of prospects on the infield in need of playing time that new manager Ryan Newman will be tasked with juggling to get everyone consistent looks. The mix of youngsters making up the infield paired with the experienced college outfield crew should make the offense one of the better groups in the South Atlantic League.

Jonathan Stiever and Konnor Pilkington are both top 30 prospects in the system and Davis Martin and Kade McClure could theoretically join that mix with solid seasons. The starting rotation is an experienced group that should fare well against opposing squads that will be made up of mostly younger peers. The bullpen has a good mixture of stuff and pitchability and should be a solid match with veteran pitching coach Jose Bautista. This team won't get gutted by promotions until after the June draft and should be in contention for the League Championship in the first half of the season.

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