Kannapolis Intimidators second baseman Daniel Wagner doesn't have to worry about the rigors of playing on a team based far from his home as a minor league baseball player.
Some of his teammates won't have it half bad, either.
Wagner, a Kannapolis native and 2006 South Rowan High School graduate, begins his first full season of professional ball and will live in his childhood home, only a couple of miles from Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium.
Between his dad's and his uncle's homes, five of Wagner's teammates will be living with him or nearby. That foretells a team chemistry that Wagner thinks could lead to a solid season for the low-Class A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.
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Kannapolis' home opener against Rome (Ga.) was rained out Thursday, for the first time since the franchise moved to Kannapolis in 1995. It was rescheduled as part of a doubleheader Friday.
Last season, the Intimidators reached the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
Wagner played three years at Belmont University (Tenn.), then was chosen in the 16th round of last June's draft. He was called up to Kannapolis at the end of the 2009 season, hitting .293 in 11 games. Many of his Intimidators teammates last year are now playing for the White Sox' high-Class A farm team in Winston-Salem.
For that reason, Kannapolis manager Ernie Young thinks any momentum that might have carried over from last year is null and void. Most of this year's players cut their teeth in rookie-level leagues in 2009, at either Bristol (Tenn.) or Great Falls (Mont.).
Still, Young likes his team, his second as skipper.
"Our team this year will have some decent team speed," he said. "Unlike last year's team, I think we may have some more team power. But you're going to see the same type of play this year as you did last year.
"We're going to hit-and-run, and bunt.... We're not going to rely on the three-run home run."
Speed and power
Although last year's pitching staff was near the top of the league in many categories, Kannapolis' offense was around the middle of the pack. But some of this year's hitters stood out for their 2009 teams.
Outfielder Brady Shoemaker, whom Young describes as "hard-nosed," hit .351 against Appalachian League pitchers and had a 1.011 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). He had nine home runs and 21 doubles in 57 games.
Outfielders Kyle Colligan, Nick Cioli and Jordan Cheatham all played well at Great Falls. Cheatham hit .330 with 14 stolen bases. Cioli batted .317 with seven homers, tying Colligan (.273) and two others for the team lead in long balls.
There should be a lot of competition at first base. Jose Vargas hit seven homers at Great Falls and batted .333, but his average dropped to .191 in 31 games at Kannapolis. Jorge Castillo batted .242 with 27 RBIs in half a season at Kannapolis, and Ian Gac hit 22 homers in the California League before signing with the White Sox in the offseason.
On the left side of the infield will be third baseman Juan Silverio - who batted .321 and had a team-leading 56 RBIs in 61 games for the Dominican Summer League White Sox - and light-hitting shortstop Kyle Davis (.233 at Bristol).
Baseball America rates catcher Miguel Gonzalez as the 10th-best prospect in the White Sox' farm system. He hit .311 in 45 games at Bristol.
Bullpen among the best
Joe Serafin, who went a combined 7-2 with a 2.40 earned run average between Kannapolis and Bristol last year, was slated as the opening-day starter. Terry Doyle, Garrett Johnson, Matt Wickswat, Jimmy Ballinger and Justin Collop all started at least seven games at Great Falls.
Drew O'Neil (2.54 ERA in 40 relief appearances at Kannapolis) and Kyle Bellamy (1.23 ERA in 20 games at Bristol and Kannapolis) will anchor a bullpen that Serafin said could be among the White Sox organization's best.
All the players hope to do what pitcher Dan Hudson did after starting the 2009 season in Kannapolis. He made it all the way to the White Sox.