2022 White Sox affiliate preview: Charlotte Knights (Triple-A)

Jake Burger (Laura Wolff / Charlotte Knights)

In terms of wins and losses, the Knights had a brutal 2021 season, finishing last in Triple-A at 47-81.

Yet, the team sent more than a dozen players to Chicago to fill in for the injury-riddled White Sox, with terrific results.  So, even though the quality of baseball on the field in Charlotte was often painful to watch, at the end of the day, 2021 was a smashing success.

Manager Wes Helms returns for his second season, along with pitching coach Matt Zaleski and hitting coach Chris Johnson. Corey Barton will serve as the athletic trainer while Katie Stone has been added as the assistant athletic trainer. Shawn Powell will serve as the performance coach. The International League has returned after a one year hiatus and the Knights will begin their 2022 campaign tonight in Norfolk as they take on the Tides.

Here is how the Knights look to open the season and what to expect from the squad in 2022.

Opening day ages of the players are listed in parentheses along with position for non-pitchers.

Starters

For years, the Charlotte Knights have been an offense-first team, with power-laden squads routinely hammering the ball out of one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in the minors. But this could be the year that formula changes — though not exactly by design.

We probably won’t know the official, final Knights’ roster for a few more days, as the major-league roster gets sorted out in Chicago, but Charlotte, on paper, appears lighter than usual on power — but with a stronger pitching staff.

The rotation will be anchored by a trio of arms likely entering make-or-break seasons with the White Sox: Jimmy Lambert, Kade McClure and John Parke.

Lambert is at full strength again after being more than a year removed from TJ surgery, though a recent bout with Covid has him a bit behind schedule. McClure and Parke, meanwhile, had up-and-down seasons with Charlotte last year after mid-year call-ups from Birmingham, where they both excelled.

Rounding out the rotation is Emilio Vargas and Wes Benjamin. Vargas, a 25-year-old righty, had a strong season in Birmingham in 2021 while Benjamin, a 28-year-old lefty, struggled with the Rangers last year. Righty Jason Bilous appears ticketed back to Birmingham to start the season but could find his way to Charlotte if reinforcements to the rotation are needed.

Another highly-regarded arm, Jonathan Stiever, continues to recover from lat surgery and is not expected back until midseason. Big league veteran Johnny Cueto, recently signed to a minor league pact by the White Sox, will begin the 2022 season with the Knights as well. The 36-year-old righty can opt-out of his agreement if he’s not added to the 40-man roster in advance of May 15.

Relievers

Like the rotation, the bullpen should be markedly better in 2022, with a long list of power arms.

Anderson Severino headlines a large group of lefties for Charlotte. Others include an off-season addition, Brandon Finnegan, with 62⅔ innings of MLB experience, and Zach Muckenhirn, up from Birmingham after a solid year in 2021.  There also are three southpaws from the 2021 team: Tanner Banks, Kyle Kubat and Hunter Schryver.  

Banks and Kubat were unsung heroes last year, as multi-inning relievers on a team with starters that routinely failed to pitch deep into games.  Schryver, meanwhile, is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and appears poised for a big year. Rounding out the group will be Andrew Peréz. The former eighth-rounder from the University of South Florida posted a 3.50 ERA in Birmingham last season.

Three right-handed returnees from the 2021 Charlotte pen are Will Carter, Matt Foster and Tyler Johnson.  Newcomers are Yacksel Rios, who most recently pitched for the Mariners and Red Sox; and Jhan Mariñez, a 33-year-old righty remembered by White Sox fans as being one of two players acquired from the Marlins for Ozzie Guillen. That was a decade ago. He’s since bounced around four MLB teams in the 2016-2017 seasons and then spent the past few years in the Mexican League. The 6-foot-9-inch Lane Ramsey will be in Charlotte as well, but will begin the season on the injured list.

Catchers

Up from Birmingham, Carlos Pérez is likely the team’s primary catcher, though Nick Ciuffo, a former first-round pick of the Rays in 2013, will be a late add from big league camp as well. Defensive catcher Nate Nolan will join the mix and handle this pitching staff as well.

Infielders

The Knights’ offense begins of course with Jake Burger. The question remains who can protect him. After his multi-year sojourn dealing with lower body injuries, the 2017 first rounder debuted in Charlotte last season and quickly showed why he was once the 11th overall pick in the country. In 82 games with the Knights, the 25-year-old hit 18 homers with a triple slash of .274/.332/.513 while playing second and third base. Burger murdered lefties and even posted a 120 wRC+ in a small big league sample.

There’s a long list of potential table-setters in front of Burger, led by Romy González. The former 18th rounder out of Miami really burst onto the prospect in 2021 after posting a 136 wRC+ in 344 plate appearances with the Barons in Double-A. The 6-1 215 pounder can play center field and shortstop and launched 20 homers while swiping 21 bags in Birmingham. After earning a late season call-up, González hit .370/.417/.704 with a 192 wRC+ and four homers in 15 games with the Knights.

Rivera split 2021 between Birmingham and Charlotte before an injury ended his season early. Remillard also returns to Charlotte after a tough 2021 campaign. Jones, 27, was most recently in the Arizona system, though he was drafted and spent most of his career as a Giants’ prospect. He has 158 major-league at bats. Kivlehan, 32, has been with several organizations and has 156 dingers in just over 3,300 minor-league at bats. He also has 10 homers in 216 major-league at bats.

Outfielders

The outfield is a bit of a crap shoot. Haseley offers the most intrigue in the group. Acquired recently from Philadelphia, Haseley was the Phillies’ first-round pick in 2017 and is a career .281 hitter in the minors.

It was Haseley’s acquisition that forced the White Sox to drop another former first-round draft pick (of the Yankees in 2016), Blake Rutherford, who had spent last year in Charlotte, with so-so results. But Rutherford cleared waivers and was reverted back to the White Sox’s organization. Smith is yet another former top draft pick who has found his way to Charlotte. Drafted 53rd overall by the Blue Jays in 2011, Smith has 17 homers in 512 major-league ABs.

Basabe, meanwhile, is starting his second stint with the White Sox. He was initially acquired in the Chris Sale trade and had some promising seasons in Winston-Salem and Birmingham before becoming a casualty of a 40-man roster crunch. Fisher comes to the Knights after a solid 2021 campaign in Birmingham, where the outfielder/first baseman hit 12 home runs in 328 ABs, with a slash line of .287/.359/.463. He was a fourth round selection of the White Sox back in 2016.

Payton brings a career MILB slash line of .287/.363/.456 to Charlotte, along with 85 major-league at bats.

Entering the spring, Yermín Mercedes and Zack Collins looked like potential bats behind Burger, but Mercedes is on the shelf six-to-eight weeks with a hand injury and Collins was recently traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. Likewise, uber-talented prospect Yoelqui Céspedes is expected to open the season in Birmingham but should reach the Queen City later this summer.

Overview

If this list isn’t overwhelming or sexy, keep in mind that the White Sox’ best prospects are in Kannapolis, Winston-Salem and Birmingham.; The primary objective of the Knights is to provide emergency fill-ins for the Chicago White Sox in case of injury.

And, to that end, the Knights are reasonably well-stocked, with Burger and González on the infield; Haseley in the outfield; and two capable catchers. If manager Wes Helms can develop still more depth, so much the better.

On the mound, however, it is hard to be as confident, especially in terms of the guys who can step up to make spot starts in Chicago. Lambert is the obvious first choice, after which it becomes an issue of which starter takes a big step forward in terms of command and control. Clearly, the lack of starting pitchers in the White Sox minor-league system who are MLB ready is troublesome, and Lance Lynn’s injury only intensifies the matter. Anderson Severino in addition to some of the other options in the bullpen could shuttle back and forth from Chicago throughout the season however.

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4 Comments
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jhomeslice

Cueto didn’t get the start tonight, I hope he gets one soon. Sox need him to get ready ASAP.

asinwreck

Congratulations to Tanner Banks, who has had a long journey to get here.

As Cirensica

Thank you for gge preview

Patrick Klivehan must be the oldest minor league player. (😋)

Wouldn’t Seby be part of the catchers tandem? That’s a lo of catchers

tbsoxfan

As a fellow USF Bull, I’m extremely excited that Andrew Perez has made himself an arm if intrigue