KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – The Kannapolis Cannon Ballers have completed their 2022 season, putting together an amazing year of developing young White Sox talent and giving fans great times to remember at Atrium Health Ballpark.
The Cannon Ballers finish the season with an overall record of 58-74, going 26-40 in the first half and 32-34 in the second half. Kannapolis put together a good start in the second half but did not find a way to keep the wins coming in later in the season, unable to clinch a playoff spot.
Kannapolis opened the season on April 8 against the Fayetteville Woodpeckers, creating a fantastic start to the season with a three-game sweep of Fayetteville and an addition of one more win in Kinston against the Down East Wood Ducks to win the first four games of the season. Over the first four games of the season, the Ballers outscored opponents 47-22, picking up two games of 16+ runs in the first weekend against the Woodpeckers.
A notable hot start from early in the season came from RHP Kohl Simas, who shifted from a bullpen role to a starting job. Simas began the year on fire, striking out 22 in his first two starts, going five innings in each outing. The Fresno, California native enjoyed a successful 2022 season in Kannapolis, going 2-2 with a 3.65 ERA in 16 games before earning a promotion to AA Birmingham late in the season.
Atrium Health Ballpark became the host of a great Ballers team early in the campaign, with six of the top 30 prospects in the White Sox system beginning the 2022 season in Kannapolis. Of the six big-name prospects, none shines quite as bright as INF Colson Montgomery.
The 22nd overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft out of Holland, Indiana, Montgomery played 45 games in a Ballers uniform, batting .324 with 55 hits, including hitting his first professional home run on April 21 against Fredericksburg at Atrium Health Ballpark. Of the 45 games appeared in, Montgomery reached base in 41 of his 45 games, finishing his tenure in Kannapolis on a 32-game on-base streak and continuing it into High-A Winston-Salem up to 50 total games.
The big games and flashy pool of top prospects shined early for the Ballers, who found success until running into a loaded Fredericksburg Nationals team in late April. After winning the series opener, Kannapolis dropped each of the next five games at home against the FredNats. Even worse, in the series finale against Fredericksburg, Montgomery departed early with an upper-body injury and did not return until a few weeks later.
One name that stuck around for the better part of the first half is RHP Cristian Mena, who asserted himself as more than the number 30 overall prospect in Chicago’s system. The righty from Pimentel, Dominican Republic put himself on the radar in Fayetteville on April 28, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning of a seven-inning game before losing it with one out in the frame. Mena struck out 10 in the 6.1-inning outing, one of five total starts for Kannapolis in which he struck out at least eight.
As the season shifted out of the cold April evenings and into a warmer May, the Ballers held onto a mostly .500 ledger with mostly series splits and narrow series wins and losses. Kannapolis put together their first win of a road series in mid-May in Fredericksburg, swiping four of six against the second-half champion Nationals, who got off to a hot start themselves in the first half.
With all kinds of momentum on their side, Kannapolis returned home against a Woodpeckers team that they swept at home to open the season, only to be swept in six games that proved to be too much for Ballers pitching. This sweep at home sent the Cannon Ballers into a spiral headed into two weeks of road games against Carolina and Augusta. Over their next 12 games, Kannapolis only mustered three wins away from home, searching for a spark from the pitching staff and a consistent offensive approach.
Right when the Ballers needed an electric arm to join the rotation, the Chicago White Sox assigned top pitching prospect RHP Norge Vera to Kannapolis, where he occupied a slot in the rotation for eight weeks. The righty from Santiago de Cuba, Cuba made his Ballers debut on June 9, tossing 2.2 shutout innings against Down East in front of a rowdy crowd at Atrium Health Ballpark.
Vera completed his eight appearances in Kannapolis with a masterful 1.88 ERA despite an 0-2 record. The number five prospect in the White Sox system, Vera struck out 52 batters in 35.1 innings, including a stellar month of July in which he struck out at least seven in three consecutive outings.
The addition of a top arm to the rotation sparked Kannapolis’ pitching in the later part of the first half, rolling into June in search of a good finish despite being out of contention for the first-half division title and a playoff spot. Over the course of June, the Ballers kept the record right around .500, rattling off five wins in a row from June 12-17 against Down East and Fayetteville before going on a six-game losing streak to end the first half.
As the second half kicked off on Friday, June 24 against Myrtle Beach, the roster immediately shifted with the promotion of Montgomery to High-A Winston-Salem, leaving the Ballers roster without their best bat in the lineup. This presented a challenge that worked itself out with big games from another top name in INF Wes Kath, the number six overall prospect in the White Sox system.
A native of Scottsdale, Arizona, Kath tallied a fantastic first full season of baseball, batting .238 in 99 games with the Ballers before earning a promotion to AA Birmingham. Kath batted .238 with a team-high 20 doubles, 13 home runs, 42 RBI, and an astounding 60 walks, also good enough to lead the squad. The 2021 second-round pick used most of his opportunities in Kannapolis this season, becoming a cornerstone at third base for manager Guillermo Quiroz.
Following the final trip of the season to Down East, Kannapolis returned home for a matchup against the Carolina Mudcats on July 4. Despite dropping the game against the Mudcats, the Ballers welcomed the largest crowd in Atrium Health Ballpark history of 5,391 fans for a great game, and an astonishing fireworks show postgame. Fans were later rewarded in the rest of the series with the Ballers negating a hot bat from Milwaukee top prospect Jackson Chourio just enough to win five in a row, the rest of the series.
July proved to be an up-and-down time for Kannapolis, earning wins that deserved to be losses, and losses that deserved to win. One name that stood out over the heat of the July stretch of action is INF Andy Atwood, who became a fixture in the early part of the lineup for Quiroz.
A free agent signee by the White Sox out of the independent Great Falls Voyagers, Atwood was a standout at Texas-Rio Grande Valley, where he earned enough of a resume to get looks from Chicago. Atwood joined the Ballers at the beginning of the second half, immediately contributing with seven multi-hit games in the month of July. The scrappy infielder held as high as a .341 batting average with the Ballers before being one of many promoted to High-A Winston-Salem on August 23.
The Ballers rolled into the final week of July on the doorstep of first place in the Carolina League South Division, setting themselves up for a crucial matchup at home against the Columbia Fireflies. In one of the most evenly matched series of the season, Kannapolis clawed their way to a series split, capped off by a 9-0 shutout win on Sunday, July 31 in which RHP Jared Kelley tossed the best outing of his professional career.
Back for a second season in Kannapolis, Kelley entered 2022 in search of consistency. The righty struggled with injuries and no routine in 2021, yielding a return to Cannon City. Kelley slowly worked back to form in the early part of the season, eventually becoming the normal Sunday starter for Quiroz and pitching coach John Ely. The 2020 second-round pick finally found his way in June and July, grinding his way to 5.0+ inning outings for the first time in his pro career. Kelley finally broke through on July 31 for his first pro win, striking out eight in five shutout innings in front of a packed Atrium Health Ballpark full of Hawaiian shirt-wearing fans.
Following a crucial series against Columbia, the Ballers entered the dog days of summer, with hot temperatures becoming the norm in road stretches in Carolina and Columbia. Kannapolis traded wins and losses for the majority of August but could not find ways to win the series. The Ballers started to crumble in mid-August with a series loss at home against a Salem Red Sox team that had already seen departures of notable top prospects.
With Kannapolis’ struggles came new hope against the Red Sox, marking the arrivals of the first 2022 draft selections by the White Sox taking place on August 12 in INF Jordan Sprinkle (4th round) and OF Jacob Burke (11th round). Burke immediately made an impact, tallying a 2-for-3 night at the plate with 2 RBI in his Ballers debut. The former Miami Hurricane also made his presence felt nationally on Thursday, August 25 with a diving catch in center field that landed on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10. It is the first SportsCenter Top 10 play in Kannapolis baseball history, putting Cannon City on the national viewing eye.
Burke’s catch in that week against the Mudcats is far from the only star performance, with the Cannon Ballers and Atrium Health Ballpark hosting the second annual Starry Night on Saturday, August 27. Adding a big 11-4 win, Kannapolis hosted families and guests from the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, raising over $30,000 for research and support for the deadliest pediatric sickness known to man.
The fans truly made 2022 a memorable season in Kannapolis, with 192,161 total fans enjoying 66 home games in the second season inside the beautiful Atrium Health Ballpark. The loyal supporters of the Cannon Ballers made noise every game; from a loud roar for a home run or a big strikeout to the chants and cheers when fan favorites took the field.
No other name came close in 2022 to being a fan-favorite than INF/OF DJ Gladney, who was awarded the 2022 Five Star Transmission and Total Auto Care Star of the Year for the Cannon Ballers. Gladney finishes his tenure in Kannapolis with 18 home runs, third in the entire Carolina League in 2022, also becoming the all-time leading home run king for the Cannon Ballers with 25 in 177 games in a Kannapolis uniform. Gladney earned 65 RBI, 44 walks, and stole 10 bases in a season that saw a shift from a corner-infield role to now first base and right field. Despite not being listed as a top-30 White Sox prospect, Gladney is a name to watch closely in the system who can easily become a fan favorite at any level.
Despite no playoffs in Cannon City in 2022, Kannapolis’ talent on the field set the table in the White Sox organization for a mountain of success in the near future. Chicago’s farm system is one to watch for years to come, both on and off of the top 30 prospect lists.
The Kannapolis Cannon Ballers end their second season at Atrium Health Ballpark hopeful for the future, excited for a new batch of the top talent in the White Sox organization, and thrilled to be a part of the wonderful growing community of Kannapolis, North Carolina.
Fans can keep up with the team’s social media outlets for off-season content and events at Atrium Health Ballpark, as well as information on 2023 scheduling and tickets in the near future.