KANNAPOLIS, N.C. –The Kannapolis Cannon Ballers have completed the 2021 season, wrapping up their season in Columbia with a six-game sweep of the Fireflies. The Ballers end 2021 in fourth place in the Low-A East Central division with a record of 40-79.
Though Kannapolis struggled on the field in 2021, the Ballers welcomed fans to the brand-new Atrium Health Ballpark and provided world-class entertainment for all who stepped foot into downtown Kannapolis. 11 nights of post-game fireworks, two bobblehead giveaways, a human cannonball, and the team’s first annual Starry Night are just a small sample size of the great times provided by the team off the field.
On the field, the Ballers began the season with 11 of the top 30 prospects in the White Sox organization on the roster. The youth movement on the roster for manager Guillermo Quiroz and his field staff stumbled out of the gate, going 2-22 to open the season in the month of May.
Despite the early struggles as a team, INF Jose Rodriguez shined through May, batting .278 with seven RBI, eight multi-hit nights, and six stolen bases. The man known as “Popeye” in the organization posted a remarkable 4-for-5 night with two doubles, a homer, and two RBI at the plate on May 22 versus Columbia.
The Ballers got a spark of more talent on June 1, receiving INF Harvin Mendoza and OF Luis Mieses from the Winston-Salem Dash.
Mendoza finished 2021 with the best batting line of any Cannon Baller with 70+ games under their belt, batting .314 with 31 RBI and 82 hits in 71 games. The Venezuela native became a staple of the offense as well as the infield at first base. Mieses also contributed mightily in his 52 games, batting .305 with 41 RBI and 19 extra-base hits.
As the team rolled into June with no more than one win per series played, Kannapolis hit their stride in front of the home fans with their first winning streak of the season from June 9 to June 11 at home against the Carolina Mudcats. Chase Krogman’s four-hit night on June 9 sparked the offense, as RHP Drew Dalquist tallied seven punchouts in five innings, good enough to earn his first victory of the season.
Dalquist, RHP Jared Kelley, and RHP Matt Thompson each began the year not only on the Cannon Ballers roster, but in the top five of the 2021 MLB Pipeline Top Prospects list for the Chicago White Sox.
Kelley (No.1) finished the season with a 0-5 record and a 6.86 ERA, battling injuries and struggles with control all year. Dalquist’s 3-9 record with a 4.99 ERA came with a large amount of work as the Redondo Beach, Calif. native faced the most batters and tossed the most pitches of any Cannon Baller arm in 2021. Finally, Thompson fought through an injury in the middle of the season to complete the year with a 2-8 record and a 5.90 ERA. The Houston, Texas native notched at least four punchouts in 14 of his 19 starts for Kannapolis in 2021.
As the season progressed into the warm evenings of late June at the ballpark, the Cannon Ballers rallied for their best homestand of the 2021 season from June 22 to June 27, winning four of six against the Fayetteville Woodpeckers. Rodriguez tallied the first walk-off in Kannapolis Cannon Ballers history on June 26, slashing an RBI single to center field on June 26 to clinch a victory in front of a sold-out crowd at Atrium Health Ballpark.
INF Samil Polanco continued his hitting streak through the series at home, reaching 15 straight games of hits and 16 games of reaching base before the Charleston RiverDogs snapped both on July 2. The infielder from the Dominican Republic spent his entire 2021 campaign with the Cannon Ballers, missing almost the entire first month with a stint on the injured list. When Polanco returned, he quietly contributed in a lineup filled with talent and top prospects, being largely overshadowed until the hitting streaks started to reach double digits. Polanco’s final batting line for 2021 completed at .256, with 40 RBI in 78 games played.
The regular season champion Charleston RiverDogs arrived in Kannapolis June 29 and immediately backed the Ballers into a corner. The two teams combined for 26 runs and 30 hits in the series opener, with the RiverDogs claiming victory 16-10. The Ballers allowed at least eight runs in each of their five losses in the series before welcoming a record crowd to Atrium Health Ballpark on July 4. In front of 5,387 fans, Rodriguez tallied three RBI and Ty Madrigal shut down the Charleston bats over 2.1 frames late to clinch the win before lighting up the sky with fireworks.
Madrigal and RHP Jordan Mikel shined out of the bullpen in the middle of the season for the Ballers in late-game situations. Madrigal ends 2021 second on the team of all pitchers with zero starts in strikeouts (48) and first in opponent batting average of all relievers with 20+ games (.250).
Mikel joined the roster in late May and immediately contributed with a six-game shutout streak to begin his time with the Ballers. The Illinois native was notorious for keeping runners off the basepaths in June and July, earning a promotion to High-A Winston Salem on Aug. 10.
The roster saw 29 changes in the month of July, a small fraction of a whopping 146 roster moves for the Cannon Ballers in 2021. The high amount of roster turn-around added to an already difficult season for Quiroz, pitching coach John Ely, hitting coach Charlie Romero, and bench coach Pat Leyland.
Atrium Health Ballpark was recognized in the latter half of July with the title of Best Low-A Ballpark in the annual contest put together by Ballpark Digest. The five rounds of voting lasted over the span of about a month, with the home of the Cannon Ballers beating out LECOM Park in Bradenton, Florida in the final round of the contest.
As the season winded down into August, Kannapolis started to welcome some of the freshest faces in the White Sox organization. The first 2021 White Sox first-year player draftee to make it to the Ballers was RHP Theo Denlinger on Aug. 3, who finished out the season with a 2.45 ERA and two saves.
Aug. 9 saw seven roster edits in one day, most notably with Rodriguez departing for Winston-Salem and Kannapolis landing RHP Kohl Simas, an undrafted free agent signed shortly after the draft. The former San Diego State righty made a name for himself quickly with the team, posting a 2-0 record and a 1.50 ERA in 10 games. Simas opened with the Ballers with eight straight games of no earned runs allowed and 23 strikeouts.
The Cannon Ballers continued to struggle in the dog days of August, dropping 15 straight games from August 4 to August 20. Five losses to the Carolina Mudcats, six to the Augusta GreenJackets, and four to the Down East Wood Ducks sent the team into the basement of the Low-A East Central division. Despite the constant defeats, the team never lost hope and called upon more fresh faces to rejuvenate the locker room.
The “Berg Brothers,” INF Shawn Goosenberg and C Adam Hackenberg, arrived Aug. 19 and sparked the lineup immediately for Quiroz and Kannapolis. Goosenberg smacked a triple in his first at-bat at Atrium Health Ballpark on Aug. 20, adding a hit in each of his first three games. Despite the strong start, the former Northwestern product completed 2021 with a batting line of .213 with five RBI. Hackenberg added an offensive boost to the catcher’s position in August and September, tallying eight multi-hit games in 21 appearances. The former Clemson backstop slashed a .326 batting average with six multi-hit games and 11 RBI.
One of the more fun homestands for the Cannon Ballers came in late August in a six-game set with the Lynchburg Hillcats. Kannapolis saw their second three-game win streak of the season occur at home, with the third win of the streak being an 11-5 victory on Friday, Aug. 27. INF Bryan Ramos and the rest of the lineup crushed Hillcats pitching for 10 runs on seven hits, sending 15 batters to the plate. Ramos tallied his 24th multi-hit night of the season in the first inning alone en route to the blowout win.
Later in the same homestand against the Hillcats, the Ballers held their first annual Starry Night on Aug. 29 in support of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. Kannapolis donned special star themed jerseys during the game, following up the action with a postgame ceremony involving fireworks in the sky and lanterns scattered across the field. The support from the team as well as the community resulted in over $20,000 raised for the fight to end pediatric brain tumors.
Ramos’ 2021 season saw the 19-year-old on top of most offensive categories. Ramos finishes the year in first place in HRs (13), RBI (57), doubles (23), triples (6), walks (51), hits (105), games (115), and at-bats (431). The high production on offense as well as consistency in the infield at third base and second base is good enough to earn Ramos the distinction as the 5 Star Transmission and Total Auto Care Star of the Year for the 2021 season.
One of the brightest spots of the season on the field happened in the final six games, in which the Ballers pulled out the victory in the final home game of the 2021 season on Sept. 12 against Fayetteville 6-2, as well as each of the final five games of the year in Columbia against the Fireflies. The strong completion to the season came to fruition mainly from effective pitching in the bullpen from arms like RHP Everhett Hazelwood and RHP Zach Cable as well as timely offense across the board. The Ballers used seven pitchers in the final game of 2021, with all seven allowing zero runs and no more than two hits, a sharp way to complete the year.
The Kannapolis Cannon Ballers endured through 2021 with a large number of roster moves, struggles on the field, and, at times, rough luck from Mother Nature. Despite all this, 2021 was an incredible inaugural season for Cannon Ballers baseball at Atrium Health Ballpark.
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 2022 scheduling and tickets in the near future.