Cohen: Fresh faces in Charlotte inspire improved play from Knights

Charlotte Knights manager Justin Jirschele
Justin Jirschele (Laura Wolff / Charlotte Knights)

The Charlotte Knights are not winning much these days, but they’re interesting again for the first time in two months, if only for the fact that they have so many new faces.

While most of the new players are pitchers, there are two notable additions to the offense, and both are catchers: Korey Lee, a former first-round pick in 2019 who was acquired from the Astros for Kendall Graveman, and Adam Hackenberg, an 18th-round draft pick of the White Sox in 2021 who was recently promoted from Birmingham.

They are both in Charlotte in part because Carlos Perez appears to be finally getting an audition in Chicago after 758 plate appearances with the Knights.  He’s just been recalled to fill in for Seby Zavala, who moves to the IL, but hopefully Perez will finish the season with the big-league club.

That leaves Lenyn Sosa as the most obvious Knights’ player who deserves a long look as the White Sox play out the string on the 2023 season.

On the pitching side, the mass exodus of White Sox arms at the trade deadline has brought MLB opportunities for a number of hurlers, including Sammy Peralta, Declan Cronin, Lane Ramsey and Edgar Navarro.  

Chief among their replacements in Charlotte is Jordan Leasure, part of the return from the Dodgers for Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly.  The 6-foot-3, 210-pound righty joins the Knights from the Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate, where he dominated, holding opposing hitters to a .169 batting average.

In addition to Leasure, I’m most interested to see two new Knights’ starters, Johan Dominguez and Luis Patiño.

Dominguez appeared to be breaking out last season before an arm injury required TJ surgery.  He’s finally back after rehabbing in Winston-Salem and made his first start for the Knights this past Sunday, tossing three shutout innings and giving up just one hit against the toughest team in Triple-A, the Norfolk Tides.

Patiño, meanwhile, joins the Knights from the Tampa Bay organization, where the once highly-touted prospect enjoyed only modest success.  He’s a bit of a longshot but the perfect guy to take a flier on. 

Much of the rest of the staff is a combination of call-ups from Double-A and former major leaguers.

However, the guys from Birmingham are of particular interest because they’ll like serve as the basis of the 2024 Knights’ staff, including starters Garrett Davila and Chase Solesky, as well as relievers Caleb Freeman, Nick Gallagher, Haylen Green, Alejandro Mateo and Andrew Perez.

What’s Up In Kanny And Winston-Salem?

The ongoing arrivals of 2023 draftees in the Sox Low-A and High-A affiliates make these teams increasingly of interest as well.

Already, three players from this year’s draft are in Kannapolis: first-round pick and shortstop Jacob Gonzalez; fourth-round pick and catcher Calvin Harris; and eight-round pick and outfielder Eddie Park. 

I imagine that more 2023 picks and perhaps a few guys from the DSL may be headed to Kanny and perhaps Winston-Salem in the coming weeks.  Regardless, Cannon Baller games are worth a visit from Charlotte if only to see an exciting, young pitching staff led by Noah Schultz but including Mason Adams, Tanner McDougal, Shane Murphy and Peyton Pallette.

I am fascinated as well to watch the progress of three starters in Winston-Salem, international signee Josimar Cousin; Tyler Schweitzer, who was recently promoted from Kanny; and Juan Carela, who was acquired from the Yankees for Keynan Middleton.  Carela started on Sunday for the Dash and scattered six hits over six innings while giving up a lone earned run and striking out five.

And, finally, a trip to Winston-Salem is a chance to watch Tim Elko mash and Jacob Burke continue his magical season in which he now has 64 hits, 27 walks and a .413 OBP in 64 games.

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