KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Sept. 17, 2017) - The Kannapolis Intimidators, Class A Affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, completed the 2017 campaign with the team's first South Atlantic League Northern Division Championship since the franchise's 2005 championship. In addition to postseason baseball, the season featured nearly two-dozen player promotions as the Intimidators roster showcased numerous White Sox prospects as part of the best farm system in baseball.
Kannapolis, the SAL Northern Division First Half Champions, swept the Second Half Champion Greensboro Grasshoppers in the Northern Division Series, 2-games-to-0, to advance to the SAL Championship Series. The Intimidators fell to the Greenville Drive, 3-games-to-1 in the best-of-five championship series to conclude the season.
Led by first-year manager Justin Jirschele, who at 27 years old served as the youngest manager in Minor League Baseball, Kannapolis clinched the Northern Division First Half Championship with a 39-29 record. The team opened the year 1-7, falling into last place in the 7-team division before beginning a steady climb to the top that culminated with six wins in the final seven games of the First Half to secure a playoff berth on the final day of the half. The surge of success included a 4-game series sweep over the then-first place Hagerstown Suns, catapulting Kannapolis into the drivers seat in the division with three games to play. On June 18, Micker Adolfo and Seby Zavala hit home runs to push the Intimidators past the West Virginia Power, 5-3, to clinch the Northern Division First Half Crown, edging out the Lakewood BlueClaws (40-30) with a better winning percentage to reach the playoffs.
Seven Intimidators represented Kannapolis in the South Atlantic League's Mid-Season All-Star Game on June 20 at Columbia's Spirit Communications Park. Starting pitchers Alec Hansen and Jimmy Lambert, relievers Kyle Kubat and Mike Morrison, outfielder Joel Booker, infielder Mitch Roman, and catcher Seby Zavala helped Kannapolis tie for the league lead with the most players in the All-Star Game.
Kannapolis promoted 21 players to the Class A-Advanced Winston-Salem Dash during the 2017 season with 19 first-time promotions to the Carolina League, including Dane Dunning (April 28), Luis Martinez (May 25), Lane Hobbs (June 3), Joel Booker (June 22), Jameson Fisher (June 22), Alec Hansen (June 22), Jimmy Lambert (June 22), Kyle Kubat (June 22), Mike Morrison (June 22), Seby Zavala (June 22), Bernardo Flores (June 26), Victor Diaz (July 1), Tyler Sullivan (July 4), Sam Dexter (July 5), Brandon Dulin (July 7), Matt Foster (July 25), Mick VanVossen (Aug. 1), Jake Elliott (Aug. 4), and Yosmer Solorzano (Aug. 29). Daniel Gonzalez and Kelvis Valerio also earned promotions to the Dash in 2017.
With so many Intimidators earning promotions, nine members of the White Sox June 2017 First-Year Player Draft class took the field for the Intimidators during the Second Half, including third baseman Jake Burger (first round), first baseman Gavin Sheets (second round), outfielder Luis Gonzalez (third round), pitcher Tyler Johnson (fifth round), pitcher Kade McClure (sixth round), catcher Evan Skoug (seventh round), outfielder Craig Dedelow (ninth round), pitcher J.B. Olson (10th round), and pitcher John Parke (21st round). Kannapolis also saw a handful of new players added through mid-season trades as the White Sox reloaded its farm system, now widely considered the best in baseball. The Intimidators received pitcher Dylan Cease as part of the Jose Quintana trade, outfielder Blake Rutherford from a 7-player deal with the Yankees, Mick VanVossen from Hagerstown (A, Nationals), and Andre Davis from Lexington (A, Royals).
The 2017 season featured several memorable performances. Jake Burger, the first White Sox top pick to play for Kannapolis since 2013, hit for the cycle on Aug. 24 at home against Greensboro as part of a 5-hit night, becoming the first Intimidators player to cycle since 2012. Burger went 5-for-5 on the night, his second 5-hit game of his professional debut season. White Sox pitching prospect Alec Hansen spun three double-digit strikeout performances in the first half, including a career-high 15-strikeout game on May 28 at Greensboro.
The Chicago White Sox introduced monthly awards for its farm teams in 2017, and Intimidators players were consistently recognized throughout the season. In April, pitcher Dane Dunning was named the organizations Pitcher of the Month, going 2-0 with a 0.35 ERA in four starts before earning a promotion to Winston-Salem at the end of the month. Outfielder Micker Adolfo earned back-to-back monthly awards in May and June as the White Sox Minor League Player of the Month, batting a combined .299 (59-197) with 34 doubles, a triple, 10 home runs and 37 RBI in 50 games for Kannapolis over those two months, helping Kannapolis win the First Half crown.
As the Intimidators closed the 2017 season with a playoff run, White Sox major league outfielder Willy Garcia spent a week with Kannapolis on a rehabilitation assignment, the first current big leaguer to rehab with the Intimidators since 2009.
The 2017 season will be one Intimidators fans remember for a long time, not just for the success on the field but for the bright futures of all the talented prospects as they represent Kannapolis moving forward on their journey toward the Major Leagues. Six former Intimidators made their Major League debuts in 2017, including Jacob May (White Sox), Adam Engel (White Sox), Brad Goldberg (White Sox), Nicky Delmonico (White Sox), Mike Marjama (Seattle), and Myles Jaye (Detroit), bringing the total number of players to go from Kannapolis to the Major Leagues to 99 since the team came to town in 1995.