2017 Kannapolis Intimidators season preview

The Intimidators opened play yesterday, starting another season at CMC-NorthEast Stadium, though it appears they may move to new digs in a couple years. A rising tide floats all ships, and the same factors that have dramatically improved the farm’s prospect depth – the Sale and Eaton trades and a strong 2016 draft class – are contributing to a Low-A club with more talent than in most previous seasons. The team will be managed by Justin Jirschele, who at just 26 years old and only a couple years removed from playing is a coaching prospect himself. Matt Zaleski, another relative youngster (35, retired from baseball in 2015) who drew rave reviews for his work in Great Falls last year, is the pitching coach. They are joined by a more seasoned Jamie Dismuke, who will be the team’s hitting coach.

Let’s dive into the players this Class A club will be running out against South Atlantic League competition…

Opening Day ages of the players are listed in Parentheses, along with position where warranted. Players on the disabled list have an asterisk.

Kannapolis Intimidators (2016 Record: 58-82 [34-36 2nd half]; 7th place overall in league)

Top 30 Prospects: Alec Hansen (7th), Dane Dunning (10th), Jameson Fisher (14th), Micker Adolfo (21st), Bernardo Flores (25th), Seby Zavala (27th)

Pitchers

There are certainly a number of intriguing prospects among the Kannapolis starting rotation. Hansen headlines the group as a borderline Top 100 MLB prospect, after suddenly finding control in 2016 to go with big heat and a serious hammer. Flores didn’t get much media attention at draft time, but he’s seen his stock jump after he too found the touchstone of strike-throwing after the draft and showing off an upper 90’s fastball. Dunning was a significant piece in the Eaton trade, and he’s already got advanced command of some of his pitches. Lambert is a 5th round pick with some promise and the fourth 2016 draftee in this rotation. Solorzano is the black sheep of the bunch – the youngest on staff at just 20 years old but with an extra year of pro ball under his belt, he relies on good command of two lower velocity band fastballs with a lot of sink.

The bullpen has some interesting arms as well. The most interesting might be Diaz, a righty with a big fastball that hits triple digits, but he opens the season on the disabled list. Ledo performed well with both rookie affiliates in 2016 in a starting role. Dopico has flashed plus velocity and a wicked slider at times, but inconsistency sent him on a whirlwind in 2016 that started in High-A, went back to rookie ball, then finally ended in Kannapolis where he returns. Southpaw Katz played in the WBC this past spring with Team Israel, where he pitched in both rounds and did not give up a run in 4 relief outings.

Infielders

Remillard, 10th round pick and member of the national champion Coastal Carolina Chanticleers last spring, may be the only infielder who is solidly attached to their position (third base in his case). Roman and Dutto are both strong defensive shortstops who have something to prove offensively, and it’s not yet clear which one will play each middle infield position consistently. Dulin was a recent fill-in signing with both Corey Zangari and Woods hurt. Massey rounds out the group as the utility man, having played all four slots at least once last year.

Outfielders

This is really a 4-starter bunch who will rotate through DH as well. Fisher is the highest ranked in the group, with the 2016 4th rounder bringing his sweet left-handed swing and a not-quite-broken-in glove to a corner slot. Adolfo isn’t far behind on our list, as the toolsy and powerful athlete faces an important campaign where he needs to show more translation to skills (and health). Booker will be patrolling center field, bringing blazing speed and a strong rookie league showing with him to the Sally. Rodriguez rounds out the four, and his goals are quite similar to those of Adolfo in 2017. Sullivan, a strong defender who can eat up a lot of grass with his speed, will back up the group.

Catchers

Now this is a curious pair, but there are reasons for both to be on this roster that may not be obvious. Zavala is probably the second best catching prospect in the system and seemed to handle Class A just fine in 2016, so why is he back? Because Zack Collins is slotted at Winston-Salem, and both need full playing time. Expect Collins, and therefore Zavala, to move up quickly. Nolan opened 2016 in Great Falls and posted an anemic .412 OPS in 16 games, then was promoted for 20 games in Kanny where he upped that number to .480. But the 22-year old has excellent defensive skills and they’d rather keep the likes of Carlos Perez and Jhoandro Alfaro in Extended Spring Training to get more regular time.

Overall Thoughts

With six of the top thirty prospects in the system here, there is certainly a good show in play and likely some of these players will be major leaguers in a few years. The rotation should be a strength, as will the outfield most likely. Defensively though it’s flipped a bit, as the infield is a much stronger group than the outfield in that regard. This should be a competitive team in the South Atlantic League, though as with any Low-A team, there’s plenty of gap between floor and ceiling for the players and the team. In any case, they should be a fun watch.

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