Charlotte Knights 2023 preview: Examining the pitching staff

Davis Martin (Laura Wolff / Charlotte Knights)

Knights’ correspondent Jeff Cohen introduces the Charlotte pitching staff in the second of a two-part series.

The Knights didn’t win many games the last two seasons and mediocre pitching was the key reason why.  A big part of the problem in 2022 was the lack of starting pitching depth as the team was forced to rely on bullpen games at least four times a week.  And those rarely went well.

THE STARTERS

At the outset of this season, at least, that doesn’t appear to be an issue with Davis Martin, Sean Burke and John Parke forming a nice core for the rotation.  But injuries and/or call-ups could unfortunately necessitate another heavy dose of bullpen games, unless other starters emerge.

Martin is likely first man up to Chicago for a spot start.  Despite a so-so spring, there’s every reason to believe he’ll regain his form in Charlotte and wait for the call from Chicago.  

If he falters, however, Sean Burke is a rising star in the Sox system and is believed to be poised for a breakout season in 2023.  Burke made five starts in Winston-Salem last year, along with 19 in Birmingham and two in Charlotte.  The results were mixed but that doesn’t dampen the optimism surrounding the 23-year-old this year.  Burke will miss a start or two as shoulder soreness delayed his spring progress, but will ultimately operate as a Knight when he’s ready.

Parke, meanwhile, returns for his third season in Charlotte.  When he keeps the ball down in the zone, he is a ground ball generating machine.  The question is whether he can finally find the consistency to take his game to another level.

Of course, three starters does not make a rotation. 

Jesse Scholtens and AJ Alexy are candidates for two more starting roles while Jonathan Stiever and Johan Dominguez continue working their way back from injury with the possibility of providing starting depth as the season moves along.

At 6-foot-4, 230-pounds, Scholtens passes the eye test as a starting pitcher.  The 28-year-old righty was a ninth round pick of the Padres in 2016 and signed as a free agent by the White Sox this past December.  He has yet to make his MLB debut and has a career 4.26 ERA in the minors.

Alexy was also a 2016 draftee, but by the Dodgers in the 11th round.  The lanky righthander was traded to the Rangers and had solid numbers in the lower minors until a rough 2022 in the PCL.  The White Sox claimed him off waivers this past January.

Both Stiever and Dominguez had intriguing upsides prior to their injuries.  Stiever struggled to find consistency in 2021 before a lat injury resulting in a subsequent surgery that shelved him until final week of the 2022 season.  Dominguez made three brilliant starts in 2022 before needing Tommy John surgery.  His return to the field remains unclear but mid-season seems a reasonable expectation.

THE BULLPEN

There will be a lot of familiar faces in the Knights’ pen this year: Tanner Banks (L), Nate Fisher (L), Declan Cronin, JB Olson, Nicholas Padilla, Sammy Peralta (L), Andrew Perez (L) and Lane Ramsey. 

There are a couple of reasons that guys find their way into reliever roles.  Sometimes it is the lack of a third pitch.  But more often than not, relievers just lack consistency.  Several of these Knights’ hurlers had nice stretches last year and one or more will likely separate from the pack and be in position to contribute in Chicago this year. 

It is possible that it could be one of three newcomers who stands out: Franklin German, Kenyan Middleton and Ricardo Sanchez.

German, 25, was a fourth-round pick of the Yankees in 2018.  He was later traded to the Red Sox and then last month to the White Sox in exchange for pitcher Theo Denlinger.  The 6-foot-2 righty boasts impressive minor-league numbers and easily could end up being a steal for the White Sox, a lackluster spring not withstanding.

Likewise, Middleton did not have a great spring, but the 29-year-old righty has 143 major-league innings under his belt with a career 4.01 ERA.

Despite only being 25 years old, Sanchez is a bit of a minor-league journeyman, with over 600 innings across six organizations and mixed results for the lefty.

OUTLOOK

The White Sox have some interesting arms in the lower levels of the minors, but the cupboard is still a bit bare in Charlotte.  Hopefully, some additional arms will emerge from the bullpen, Birmingham or as a late free-agent addition.

While the rotation depth gives me pause, I’m cautiously optimistic that this will be a much-improven bullpen compared to the previous two years.  It is an experienced pen and guys like Perez, Olson and Cronin in particular could really excel in 2023.  Padilla was a late-season add in 2022 and I’m curious to see him as well over a full season.  And I can’t wait to get eyes on German.

Let’s go!

Take a second to support Sox Machine on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!
1 Comment
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Wayne

Are NRI veteran types less likely to sign i Chicago (like Cueto did) based on the AAA home games? I am thinking Pineda, Minor, Anibal, Archer, Brett Anderson types.