Season in Review: 2016 Charlotte Knights

The 2016 season looked to be a promising one for Charlotte, as the opening day roster included six of the organization’s top 30 prospects, including five on offense/defense led by pre-season top prospect Tim Anderson at short. Unfortunately, due to injuries within the team and at the major league level, team continuity never existed as 21 players (not counting rehab assignments) shuttled back and forth from Charlotte to Chicago in over 70 separate transactions throughout the season.

The team only finished two full months over .500 (17-13 in May, 16-14 in August), but played over .500 for the season at home (37-35) and within the South division (39-34). The numbers were quite different on the road (28-44) and against the IL’s stronger North and West divisions (26-45) though. Despite the roster turmoil and finishing the season 14 games below .500 (65-79), the Knights efforts for an International League South title and a playoff berth weren’t doused until the final day of the season with a loss to the Gwinnett Braves.

The Knights led Minor League Baseball in attendance for the third straight season (coinciding with the opening of the new downtown BB&T Ballpark) with an average of 8,974 fans per game in 72 home dates (628,173 total) in 2016, which included 25 sell-out crowds. Charlotte also played host to the 2016 Triple-A all-star game which attracted an additional 19,614 fans to the ballpark for the Home Run Derby and the mid-season classic.

It seemed the Knights never quite knew who might toe the rubber on any given day, as 29 different pitchers made an appearance on the mound for Charlotte in 2016.

Notable performances included all-star reliever Brad Goldberg leading the team in appearances (43) and saves (10), while Chris Volstad led the team in games started (27), innings pitched (176.2), losses (11) and tied for the team lead in wins (8) with Terance Marin. Volstad’s innings total also led the IL, as did his 193 hits, 100 runs and 94 earned runs. Former top prospect Erik Johnson (2.94 before mid-season trade as part of James Shields deal) and mid-season acquisition Anthony Ranaudo (3.35) were the only starters with sub-4.00 ERAs in 8 or more starts. Volstad, Marin (110) and Jacob Turner (107) were the only Knight pitchers to rack up 100 or more innings pitched.

The bullpen was led by closer Goldberg, but also received contributions from Blake Smith (39 appearances), Will Lamb (39 appearances) and Tommy Kahnle (7 saves). Kahnle and Smith finished their seasons in Chicago.

The pitching staff as a whole ranked at or near the bottom of the entire IL in ERA, saves, strikeouts and WHIP, while allowing the most combined home runs, runs and earned runs, though the team did tie for the league lead in games completed (8).

Other notable pitchers making appearances for the Knights, included three first-round draft picks Carlos Rodon on rehab assignment (2014), Carson Fulmer (2015) and Zack Burdi (2016) and 14 different pitchers who also appeared with the big league White Sox. Burdi made the biggest impact out of the three top-rated pitchers, as he posted 22 strikeouts in 16 innings over nine appearances out of the pen.

While Rodon is already a mainstay in the Chicago starting rotation, Fulmer and Burdi may challenge for spots in the bigs in 2017. Former second round picks Tyler Danish and David Holmberg and reliever Brian Clark look to be key contributors to Charlotte’s 2017 pitching staff following 2016 promotions from Birmingham. 2016 draft pick Alec Hansen could also be starting games for Charlotte sometime in 2017.

The Charlotte offense ranked among the middle of the pack in most IL team batting categories. No Knight hitters compiled enough at bats to qualify for any individual league categories, as 35 different players made appearances at the plate and on the field for the Knights.

Former White Sox farmhand Jason Bourgeois, who was re-acquired by the organization mid-season for depth, appeared in a team-leading 89 games as only five other position players appeared in 75 or more games for Charlotte. The trio of Matt Davidson, Jason Coats and Danny Hayes tied for the team lead in homers (10). Coats (.330), utility man Leury Garcia (.313) and Anderson (.304) were the only .300 hitters on the team with over 200 ABs. Anderson’s hot start earned him IL Player of the Week honors for May 9-15 and a promotion to Chicago to take over the starting job at short for the White Sox.

Davidson, the team’s top run producer (46 RBI) before being promoted to the big leagues, broke his foot in his White Sox debut ending his season. Coats was the team’s offense MVP (154 total bases, 98 hits, .394 OBP, 34 XBH, 22 doubles and .519 SLG%) which earned him multiple promotions to the big leagues throughout the season when Avisail Garcia and Austin Jackson went down with injuries. Center fielder Jacob May paced the team in steals with 19, while Leury Garcia and Bourgeois contributed 18 and 14 respectively. Leury Garcia (45) and Coats (44) led the team in runs scored, with Garcia also leading the team with four triples. Davidson and Leury Garcia were named to the Triple-A all-star game, however, due to Davidson’s big league promotion and an injury to Leury Garcia, Goldberg was the Knight’s only representative for game held in Charlotte.

Catcher Kevan Smith, Coats, Davidson and outfielder Charlie Tilson (acquired via trade from the Cardinals) all earned promotions to the big leagues at different parts of the season and had the misfortune of becoming injured prior to or during their White Sox debuts. Top 30 prospects Hayes and May struggled with injuries that limited them to only 55 and 83 games, despite spending the entire season with the Knights. Smith’s bad back, that was injured prior to his major league debut, also limited him to only 49 games at the Triple-A level, delaying his MLB debut by four months. Leury Garcia’s season (84 games) was also limited by injuries, though like Smith, he was able to rebound for a late season promotion to the big leagues.

Other notable position player appearances for Charlotte included rehab visits by Avisail Garcia, Alex Avila and Justin Mourneau. In addition to Bourgeois, other major league vets to showed up in the box score throughout the season were Jerry Sands, J.B. Shuck, Travis Ishikawa, Vinny Rottino and Tony Campana.

Youngsters earning promotions from Birmingham looking to have impact at Charlotte in 2017 include infielders Nicky Delmonico, Jake Peter and Eddy Alvarez and outfielder Adam Engel. Members of the 2016 draft class like first round pick Zack Collins (C/DH) and outfielders Alex Call and Jameson Fisher could also be on the fast track for promotions to Charlotte in 2017.

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