2022 Kannapolis Cannon Ballers Season Review

It was a tale of two halves for the Single-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. The first half of the season saw the Cannon Ballers struggle to string together sustained periods of success, leading to a 26-40 record — a handful of ticks above their miserable winning percentage in 2021.

Once the second half got rolling the Cannon Ballers performed with better results, although they still endured issues with sustained success. Kannapolis finished the second half with a losing record of 32-34. Overall the 2022 Cannon Ballers finished 58-74.

The team’s position player group was initially made up of an average age of 20.7 years old. As the season progressed, 2022 draftees and other organizational depth pieces provided reinforcements post ‘Project Birmingham’ promotions.

Generally speaking, the offense for the Cannon Ballers was once again a sore spot for the squad. 2021 first round pick Colson Montgomery was the brightest exception to the team-wide struggles, as the 20 year old was terrific for Kannapolis before earning a promotion to Winston-Salem pre Project Birmingham. His .901 OPS accompanied a .324 batting average in 45 low-A games.

The Ballers still swung and missed too often as a team, finishing with the most overall strikeouts and the second worst strikeout percentage in the Carolina League.


On the mound, the Cannon Ballers fielded the oldest staff in the league by nearly half a year on the next club. The most eye-opening performance came from the youngest member of the pitching staff, Cristian Mena. Prior to his promotion to Winston-Salem and eventually Birmingham, Mena notched a 2.68 ERA in 53.1 innings as a Cannon Baller.

Though the team couldn’t strike out many, Kannapolis was one of the more efficient Carolina League clubs at limiting walks.



Cristian Mena (left): Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2019, Cristian Mena was one of the more intriguing arms for the Kannapolis pitching staff entering the season. The 19 year-old was coming off of mixed results from an aggressive assignment in the ACL in 2021 to an equally aggressive assignment in the Carolina League in 2022.

Impressively, Mena had a 30.7 K% against, a 7.0 BB% and a 2.77 FIP for Kannapolis. He also struck out eight or more batters in five of 11 starts while allowing no runs in six out of 11 starts. After the success in Kannapolis, Mena received a promotion to Winston-Salem in mid-June where he held his own pitching against players that were (on average) four years his senior before ending the year with the Barons and Project Birmingham.

Tommy Sommer: The 2021 10th rounder was quite impressive in his time in Kannapolis. Sommer was playing in his age 23 season for the Cannon Ballers against a bit younger competition, but was tormenting Carolina League hitters. Prior to his July promotion to Winston-Salem, the 6-foot-4 southpaw capped his Kannapolis season with 14 starts (15 appearances) and 75.1 innings pitched, a 2.75 ERA with a 1.17 WHIP and 87 strikeouts to 27 walks. While the stuff isn’t necessarily overpowering, he’s able to command his pitches well and attack hitters to both sides of the plate.

Jared Kelley: After what could only be described as a nightmarish 2021 season, this season the former second-round pick showed flashes as to what made him an intriguing draft prospect back in 2020. In 18 starts across 64.2 innings pitched, the Texan held a 3.34 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP with 59 strikeouts to 40 walks. As evidenced by the high walk total in a limited set of innings, the command still escapes Kelley from time to time, and that most certainly needs to be shored up. Injuries plagued Kelley during the 2021 season and a brief injury impacted the beginning of the 2022 season for the then 20 year-old, but the Refugio High School product made it through the rest of the year unscathed and was promoted to be a part of Project Birmingham.

Kohl Simas (See-miss): The 2021 undrafted free-agent out of San Diego State came out of the gates for the Cannon Ballers displaying surprising dominance. In nine starts through June 3, Simas had 41 innings pitched, a 2.41 ERA and a1.02 WHIP with 56 strikeouts to 13 walks. Unfortunately an injury side-tracked the 6-foot-1 righty’s season for about a month’s time. Upon his return, he made six starts and one relief appearance, although those appearances didn’t result in the early season dominance (20.1 innings pitched, 6.10 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 20 strikeouts to 12 walks) previously displayed. Simas was also promoted in late August to partake in the Project Birmingham festivities.

Norge Vera (left): After throwing 19 innings in the Dominican Summer League in 2021, the highly anticipated stateside debut of the Cuban righty was at the forefront of the 2022 watchlist. However, a lat injury sidelined Vera from the jump and he didn’t make it to a full season affiliate until June. Once in Kannapolis, the towering 6-foot-4 frame displayed what made him a top international signing for the White Sox.

In eight starts with the Cannon Ballers, Vera threw a total of 24 innings with a 1.88 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP with 35 strikeouts and 15 walks. Despite some wildness in a couple of starts, Vera was able to overpower Single-A hitters with his high 90s fastball and an above average curveball. The lack of innings being built up isn’t ideal, but Vera was promoted to Winston-Salem in early August before ending his season in Birmingham.

Jonathan Cannon: After a single tune-up appearance in the ACL, the 2022 third-round pick moved on to a cup of coffee with Kannapolis. Making three relief appearances, the former Georgia Bulldog starter threw 6.1 innings with a 1.42 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP, and three strikeouts to two walks.


Colson Montgomery (right) and Wes Kath (left): It may have taken nine years, but the White Sox finally bucked the trend of not selecting a prep player in the first round by using it last year on Colson Montgomery. A limited (but promising) debut performance in the ACL in 2021 left many counting the days until the 2022 season kicked off. Once the season got underway, the multi-sport Indiana prep star began his ascension onto the prospect lists across the industry.

Montgomery appeared in 45 games for the Cannon Ballers working a .324/.424/.476 slash line for an even .900 OPS, four home runs and a 152 wRC+. The 12.7 BB% against a 20.5 K% for a prep player playing against older competition (about a year younger than average) in his first taste of full season baseball was a promising development for a system needing an influx of plate discipline (and left-handed bats). In addition to what he was able to do at the plate, his defensive work at shortstop was also given praise in the industry, providing more credence in his ability to stick at the position moving forward. Montgomery was promoted to Winston-Salem in late June and was also a part of Project Birmingham.

Wes Kath, on the other hand, was challenged in his first professional season. Kath was given the task of an aggressive full season assignment with Kannapolis (about one and a half years younger than average) manning the hot corner. Kath ultimately appeared in 99 games for the Ballers and slashed .238/.343/.397 for a .740 OPS, 13 home runs and a 109 wRC+.

While the Arizona prep had a solid 13.4 BB% during that timeframe, his 33 K% was surely not. Despite the swinging and missing, Kath did produce positive monthly results in May (118 wRC+), June (133 wRC+), and August (152 wRC+), proving that he was able to make adjustments and build upon his success. Kath jumped to Project Birmingham at the end of August.

Wilfred Veras: Another 2019 international signing, Veras was looking to build upon a fantastic stateside debut in 2021. The 19 year old infielder spent most of his time manning first base and DH. Veras played in 101 games for Kannapolis, slashing .266/.319/.454 for a .773 OPS, 17 home runs and a 110 wRC+. The Dominican product struggled with some swing and miss (27.3 K%), but was able to string together successful months (May 116 wRC+, July 113 wRC+, and August 128 wRC+) after yet another aggressive affiliate assignment. Veras also participated at Project Birmingham.

DJ Gladney: A brutal 2021 saw Gladney come back to Kannapolis and repeat the level. The Illinois high school product had more promising results in his second go-round, batting .243/.322/.437 for a .759 OPS, 18 home runs and a 109 wRC+ across 106 games. Most notably, the strikeouts dropped rather significantly in Kannapolis part two, from 42.2 K% in 2021 to a 32.6 K% in 2022 and Gladney seemingly got hotter as the team got deeper into the season (113 wRC+ in June, 125 wRC+ in July, and 102 wRC+ in August) . Quite obviously that’s still too many strikeouts, but the improvement is a positive sign. Gladney was another member of the Cannon Ballers to get called up to the Project Birmingham squad.

Jordan Sprinkle: A brief tune-up in the ACL saw the 2022 fourth-round pick make his professional debut before being called upon to take over for one the vacancies left by the Project Birmingham promotions. Known for his defensive prowess as a shortstop, the UC Santa Barbara product appeared in 22 games slashing .237/.290/.301 with a .591 OPS and one home run.

Jacob Burke: The 2022 11th-round pick also had a tune-up in the ACL before heading to Kannapolis to finish out the season post Project Birmingham promotions. Once arriving in Kannapolis, the Miami (FL) product mostly manned centerfield for the club and slashed .269/.380/.410 with a .790 OPS and one home run in 22 games.

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