Charlotte, NC — New Charlotte Knights manager Wes Helms expects a break-out year for Gavin Sheets in 2020. “His make-up is top-notch,” Helms said. “He is one guy to really keep an eye on.”
Helms should know better than anyone. He managed Sheets last year in Birmingham, where the 23-year-old first baseman hit .267, with 16 home runs and 83 RBI in 464 at bats. Helms said Sheets has the intangibles to succeed, with a strong work ethic and a desire to always improve.
“When some guys struggle, they stop trusting the process,” Helms said. “But Gavin comes in every day and focuses on his routine. Success at this level is about how guys handle failure, and Gavin has the make-up to keep working and get better.”
According to FutureSox, Sheets is the 16th best prospect in the White Sox system. The 6’4, 230-pounder has yet to completely corral his 70-grade power, with an OBP last year of .345 and a slugging percentage of .414. However, Sheets continued to demonstrate solid plate discipline in 2020, with a 10.2% walk rate and an 18.8% K-rate.
Helms does not yet know which former Barons — or anyone else, for that matter — will be on his 2020 Opening Day roster. He’ll head to White Sox camp in Arizona in four weeks to help work with the major league squad until the minor leaguers arrive later.
The assignment in Charlotte is a homecoming for the 43-year-old Helms, who grew up about 20 miles from BB&T Ballpark in Gastonia, NC. Previously, Helms managed the Barons in 2019 and was a bench coach in 2018 for the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs in the Phillies organization.
Helms spent his 13-year MLB career with the Braves, Brewers, Marlins and Phillies. He credits several of his former major league managers, including Bobby Cox, Jack McKeon, Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel, for his approach to coaching.
Helms replaces Mark Grudzielanek, who managed the Knights for the past three seasons. Joining Helms in Charlotte for 2020 will be newcomers Matt Zaleski, pitching coach; Howie Clark, hitting coach; and Mike Daniel, coach.
Like Helms, Zaleski also comes to the Knights from another White Sox affiliate, Winston-Salem, where he spent last season as pitching coach. Zaleski is a former Knights pitcher, and stands the franchise’s all-time leader in starts with 74, and second in innings, with 437.2. It was under Zaleski’s tutelage that Jonathan Stiever enjoyed a break-out season in 2019 in Winston-Salem. Clark, meanwhile, spent the last two seasons as assistant hitting coach for the Baltimore Orioles.
The Lighter Side
- At his press conference in Charlotte, Helms dispelled the notion that he is the nephew of former Charlotte Knights manager and big league ball player Tommy Helms. “That was mistakenly printed on the back of my first baseball card,” he laughed.
- Helms said he played multiple sports growing up in Gastonia and didn’t have the time to take in minor league games in Charlotte, with one exception — The Silver Bullets, an all-female baseball team that toured the US from 1994-97. Coached by Phil Niekro, the Bullets played an all-star team from the Northern League, a Class A independent league in 1974 in Knights Castle, the former home of the Knights.
- Helms joked that he probably received 500 messages from friends when they heard the Gastonia native was returning to the area, including someone that he had not seen since elementary school.