To honor one of the world’s greatest trailblazers, Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, the Cannon Ballers have created a list of the Top 5 Black Minor League Baseball players that have ever worn a jersey in Kannapolis. Making its debut in 2022, MiLB announced that they created “The Nine,” an initiative that will engage and welcome Black fans, businesses, schools and civic leaders. In 1946, Robinson wore the number nine in his only year at the minor league level. The criteria to make the Top 5 list broke down to the player’s success at the major league level.
In 1997, the former second-round draft by the Phillies quickly became a household name in Kannapolis by leading the team in a plethora of offensive categories. That season, Rollins (18 years old) topped the team in games played (139), runs (94), hits (151), triples (8), stolen bases (46), and total bases (207).
Nicknamed “J-Roll,” the California native went on to play 17 MLB seasons, including his first 15 years with the Phillies. In 2001, 2002, and 2005, Rollins earned a spot on the National League All-Star team, with the 2001 season being his rookie year. Despite not getting an invite to MLB’s Fall Classic in 2007, Rollins took home the league’s Most Valuable Player award, proving to be the only Kannapolis baseball alumnus to do so.
The talented shortstop brought back more hardware throughout his luxurious career, collecting a Silver Slugger award in 2007 and four Gold Glove awards (‘07, ‘08, ‘09, ‘12). Although his time in Kannapolis in 1997 was not spent while under a contract by the White Sox, Rollins played his last season in the majors in 2016 with the Sox in the South Side of Chicago.
Anderson, the current Chicago White Sox everyday shortstop, sported a Kannapolis Intimidators jersey in 2013 for 68 games, getting his first crack at baseball at the professional level. At 20 years old, Anderson batted .277, along with 24 stolen bases, and 10 doubles.
Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, “T.A.” moved his way up to the White Sox by 2016, batting an impressive .283 in 99 games. That season, Anderson came in seventh in the Rookie of the Year voting. Just a few seasons later in 2019, Anderson slashed .335/.357/.508 from the right side of the plate, with his .335 batting average earning him MLB’s American League Batting Title, the only such award won by a former Kannapolis ball player. With the entire country now knowing his name, Anderson established himself as the leader of a White Sox rebuild, helping the team make a birth to the playoffs in 2020, their first since the 2008 season.
During the 2021 campaign, Anderson led the Sox to their most wins (93) in a season since their World Series championship in 2005, while also earning his first trip to the All-Star game. T.A. remains a beacon of light for young African Americans around the country, as he started “League of Leaguers” in 2019, a youth-focused charity to empower kids in Chicago's South Side and Tuscaloosa after losing his best friend to gun violence.
The California Golden Bear product began his professional baseball career in Kannapolis after being drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 MLB draft. In 229 at-bats, Simien batted .253 with 15 doubles, and three homeruns. After making it to the majors in 2013 and playing two seasons in Chicago, Simien was traded to the Oakland A’s, allowing him to return to his home state from 2015-2020.
Simien’s name leaped towards the top of all second basemen in baseball right after the 2019 season, a year in which he batted .285 with 33 home runs, leading to a third-place finish in that year’s MVP voting. The Toronto Blue Jays were in need of a second baseman following the 2020 season, as they signed Simien to a one-year deal. In 2021, Simien made a start at second base in his first All-Star game, and also won a Gold Glove, and Silver Slugger award. In that same season, Simien smacked 44 home runs, breaking Davey Johnson’s MLB record for the most home runs in a season by a player who played 75 percent or more of his games at second base.
Concluding that historic season, the nine-year veteran signed a seven-year, $175 million contract with the Texas Rangers, now playing up the middle with Kannapolis native, Corey Seager, who signed a 10-year, $325 million contract.
In 2000, Byrd appeared in 133 games with the Piedmont Phillies, putting his name on the map as a top power-hitter in the Phillies organization. A former 10th round pick in the 1999 MLB draft out of college, Byrd hit 17 home runs, 29 doubles, 13 triples, and swiped 41 bags.
After two more seasons in the minors, Byrd received his call up to the majors in 2002 at 24 years old, seeing himself play in 10 games. In his rookie year in 2003, Byrd came in fourth place in the Rookie of the Year voting, putting up an impressive .303 batting average, including 28 doubles and 11 stolen bases. Byrd spent two more seasons in Philadelphia before being traded to the Washington Nationals in 2005.
Byrd went on to play for 13 of the 30 MLB, including two years with the Cubs in Chicago. The 15-year MLB veteran earned his first and only All-Star appearance almost halfway through his career in 2010 with the Cubs, finishing the year with a .293 average. Byrd finished his career with 159 home runs, smacking 20 or more in a single season five times.
Young had his way at the plate once he walked onto the field in Kannapolis in 2004, hitting 24 home runs, 31 doubles, and collecting 31 stolen bases. Skipping over Class-A Advanced ball in Winston-Salem, Young was named the Chicago White Sox Minor League Player of the Year in 2005 after his stellar play with the Birmingham Barons. Following his second MiLB season, the White Sox traded Young to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Just one year later in 2006, Young made his debut for the D-Backs, and began the 2007 season as the D-Backs’ everyday center fielder. Young set multiple Diamondbacks’ rookie records, including hitting 32 home runs in his historic first season. A few years later in 2010, the Houston native made it to MLB’s Fall Classic, a year in which he batted .257 with 27 homers and 28 stolen bases.
Young jumped around the league after completing seven years in Arizona, with stops in OaklaKannapolis Selects Top 5 Black MiLB Players in Organization’s History in Conjunction with “The Nine”
nd, New York (Mets and Yankees), Boston, and Los Angeles (Angels). The 13-year veteran finished nine home runs shy of 200 and just 12 doubles shy of 300.
Full list of Black MiLB players that have made it to the MLB after/before playing in Kannapolis:
Jason Boyd, Piedmont Phillies, 1995
Reggie Taylor, Piedmont Boll Weevils, 1996
Jimmy Rollins, Piedmont Boll Weevils, 1997
Marlon Byrd, Piedmont Boll Weevils, 2000
Chris Young, Kannapolis Intimidators, 2004
Brandon Allen, Kannapolis Intimidators, 2006-07
Chris Carter, Kannapolis Intimidators, 2008-07
Marcus Simien, Kannapolis Intimidators, 2011
Tim Anderson, Kannapolis Intimidators, 2013
Micah Johnson, Kannapolis Intimidators, 2013
Jacob May, Kannapolis Intimidators, 2013
Keyvius Sampson, Kannapolis Cannon Ballers, 2021