Season in Review: 2018 Kannapolis Intimidators

Team: Kannapolis Intimidators
League: South Atlantic League (A)
Final record: 74-63 overall (39-28 1st half, 35-35 2nd half)
Final placement: 2nd in 1st half, 4th in 2nd half in Northern Division, wild card winner. Lost in 1st round of playoffs.
Complete Team Stats

The White Sox’ Class A affiliate had gone from 2009 to 2016 without a postseason appearance. But in 2018 the club grabbed a playoff spot for the second year in a row as the peak wave of talent in the rebuild has washed through A-ball. In fact 2018 was very similar to 2017, with the club having a strong first half followed by some drop-off in the second half. A .500 record in the 2nd half should be looked at as a success given the key players that were promoted to Winston-Salem during the year.

The Intimidators rode a balanced attack, with both the pitching and hitting numbers team-wide being above average in the SAL (though they didn’t lead in any one key category). The hitting did stand out a bit more in the first half before falling off some. 2nd year Manager Justin Jirschele has done well with his clubs so far, weathering huge roster turnover and some key injuries to get the I’s into competitive September baseball.

Unfortunately the playoffs were not as kind this year as last year. Kannapolis was swept out in the first round, two games to none, by the Lakewood BlueClaws.

Position Player Highlights

If you look at the top offensive performances for Kannapolis in 2018, you will find a lot of names who left the team during the season. Two performances at the plate stood out especially during the first half: Outfielder Luis Gonzalez (.300/.358/.491, 8 HR, 7 SB in 55 games) and shortstop Laz Rivera (.346/.395/.502, 6 HR, 7 SB in 63 games). Both players were deservedly promoted to High-A Winston-Salem mid-season. The team also got short boosts from MLB Top 100 prospects Luis Robert (hit .289 and swiped 4 bases in 13 June games) and Nick Madrigal (hit .341 in 12 July games). No wonder the team went 13-20 in August.

There were players who provided some of the stronger overall lines for the offense that actually stuck around for most of the year. Outfielder Tyler Frost didn’t hit for much average (.241) but he put up some big power numbers (18 home runs), drew walks at a 10% rate and showed well defensively in the outfield. Tate Blackman, who moved from second base to third base later in the season, added 17 home runs of his own, and outfielder Craig Dedelow hit 12 long balls. Catcher Carlos Perez continued his high-contact (10.8% K/PA), low-walk (1.4% BB/PA) ways, hitting .290 on the full year and getting especially strong in the 2nd half (he hit .353 July through September) in his age 21 campaign.

Pitching Highlights

The Intimidators’ starting rotation had an even bigger bite taken out of it during the middle of the season. Kade McClure was their Opening Day starter and was cruising through his first seven starts (2.63 ERA, 42 K in 41 IP) before injuring his knee in his 8th outing and missing the rest of the season as he recovered from surgery. Lincoln Henzman (2.23 ERA in 13 starts), Blake Battenfield (2.00 ERA in 13 starts) and John Parke (2.82 ERA in 14 starts) all laid down the law from the mound until they were promoted nearly en masse to the Dash in June. 80% of the opening rotation were gone before July.

Parker Rigler was the only starter to remain with Kannapolis for the full year, and the 23-year-old was a workhorse, posting 140.1 innings posting a 4.43 ERA in 27 starts. Later additions to the team and movers from the pen posted mixed results: Zach Lewis posted a 2.40 ERA and struck out more than a batter an inning after moving from the pen to the rotation, while Yosmer Solorzano put up a 5.95 ERA after he made the same move.

The bullpen produced some impressive performances throughout the season. Flame-thrower Tyler Johnson was dominant in 27 innings out of the pen for Kanny (5.3 H/9, 3.3 BB/9, 15.3 K/9) before he too was rightfully promoted. Kevin Escorcia (62 K in 44 IP), Jake Elliott (86 K in 75.1 IP), Luis Ledo (59 K in 56.1 IP), Will Kincanon (42 K in 34.2 IP) and Bennett Sousa (24 K in 22.1 IP) all whiffed more than a batter an inning in relief work.

Looking Forward to 2019

With quite a few 22- and 23-year-olds taking up a lot of the reps this year, including many who put up decent to good numbers, the Intimidators will likely look a lot different come April. The only position players likely to repeat the level are catcher Evan Skoug, infielder Luis Curbelo and outfielder Ian Dawkins, the last whom only joined the team late in the season. Most or all of the starting rotation isn’t likely to return either, and the bullpen should see substantial turnover.

Kannapolis is also likely to be a much younger squad for 2019. An infield combination of Amado Nunez, Lenyn Sosa, Corey Zangari, Curbelo and possibly Bryce Bush would mean an infield of 19- to 21-year-olds. 2017 draft picks like Konnor Pilkington, Jonathan Stiever, Jason Bilous and Codi Heuer should anchor the rotation. Some of the late-season additions to the bullpen like Sousa, Andrew Perez and Jose Nin will probably be joined by J.B. Olson returning from Tommy John surgery and a number of 2017 draftees.

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    I enjoyed this season because I discovered the farm system. The A teams were a joy to watch. Unfortunately I hardly got to see Kanny play.

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