It all ended with a whimper. A 2-1 loss that seemed almost orchestrated. Hanging fastballs, defensive indifference in the 8th inning in a 1 run game. The Barons players excitedly claiming that they would be swinging at everything. Wouldn't have been the first time though, in 2007, the lowly Barons squad played their last game on Labor Day as well against the playoff bound Huntsville Stars. Chris Getz, of all people, hit a walk off homerun for a dramatic finish to the season. One in which he missed significant time due to a severe knee contusion. As the players rushed the field, Barons manager Rafael Santana gave a thankful thumbs up to Huntsville manager Don Money. Casual fans wouldn't have noticed any of the shady goings on during these "fixed" games, but us hardcore fans sniffed it out immediately. Kind of a lame way to end the season, didn't even see someone try to play all 9 positions or anything like that. Well, in the immortal words of Tom Cruise from the classic film "Risky Business," sometimes you just gotta say "f*** it."
So, let's take a look at the good, the meh, the bad and the ugly of the 2010 Birmingham Barons season...
The Good: Tyler Kuhn, Eduardo Escobar, Dale Mollenhauer, Josh Phegley, Anthony Carter, Deunte Heath and Jim Gallagher.
Although he wasn't awarded the team MVP, Tyler Kuhn was my pick for that award. Granted, he may have been the beneficiary of the absence of Jared Mitchell on the Barons roster, but he made the most of it. While he may be versatile defensively, Kuhn only played second base and left field this year, only making two errors and playing outstandingly. He began the season as a reserve, but by the end he was the leadoff hitter and a big offensive contributor. In only 384 at-bats, he hit .279 with 5 home runs, 50 RBI and 107 hits. He finished in the top five in many of the team's offensive categories. I certainly hope the White Sox give him a shot in AAA next year, as I could see him becoming the White Sox version of Skip Schumaker.
Dale Mollenhauer was the definitely the hardest worker on the team this year. After an abysmal start to the year, he made adjustments, started taking the ball the other way and was willing to play third base even though he had never done so before. A .262 average is a great result after the way things started for him (.195 average in April). I imagine he will return to Birmingham in 2011.
Eduardo Escobar and Josh Phegley both handled the promotion to Birmingham well, putting up solid numbers in their brief stints. Phegley looks to have outstanding power, even though he doesn't look as if he does. Imagine a stockier Russell Martin. He hit the prettiest ball I saw all season, a high majestic foul home run. He puts nice backspin on flyballs. Escobar finshed the season hitting .262, getting 49 hits in 202 at-bats. I expect to see both starting for Bimingham in 2011.
Jim Gallagher ended up being named the Barons team MVP for 2010. Deservedly so, as he led the team in most offensive categories. I've already stated before that I see him as a Ross Gload type if he were to make it to the majors. He certainly is passionate enough to put forth the effort to get there. I expect him to be in Charlotte for 2011.
Anthony Carter was named Barons pitcher of the year after having a fantastic run as a closer. Hopefully he can build on that and put himself into consideration as a future big league reliever. Deunte Heath pitched excellently for the Barons in relief, striking out 84 in 57.2 innings. The White Sox made a good call giving him a second chance. Both Carter and Heath should be in Charlotte in 2011.
The Meh: John Shelby III, Salvador Sanchez, Justin Greene, Christian Marrero, Cole Armstrong and Kyle Bellamy.
I expected better things from John Shelby III this year. Stefan Gartrell benefited greatly from repeating AA in 2009. Unfortunately, Shelby didn't. While his power numbers were mostly good, leading the team in home runs, overall he regressed some. I still maintain that Shelby is clearly a power hitter that the White Sox are trying to turn into a 1 or 9 hitter. That just isn't going to work. He needs to bat no lower that 6th, or no higher than 2nd. He's still my favorite White Sox minor league player and I expect them to send him to Charlotte for 2011.
Justin Greene had a blah showing in his first AA action, but he displayed lightning quick hands and bat speed. Bat speed equivalent to Dayan Viciedo, but smoother. He almost seemed to have rubber wrists. If he can put it all together, he could be a serious talent. I expect him back in Birmingham to start 2011.
Cole Armstrong and Salvador Sanchez weren't expected much of. But Armstrong is 27 and has spent a lot of time in Birmingham, granted he was in Charlotte all of last season. He started very slow, but ended the season hitting for a lot of power. I don't know what to expect for him going forward and where he may be in 2011. Sanchez's numbers were mostly good, but he missed time due to injuries and is likely not going to make much of an impact as prospect at 25. I'm not sure what the future holds for him either.
Kyle Bellamy was considered to be on the fast track to the majors, but he struggled in his first AA stint and likely needs more seasoning. He's still only 22, so there's no need to panic. He does have good stuff and should benefit from more time in Birmingham in 2011.
Christian Marrero had an outstanding 2009, but fell back to Earth somewhat in 2010. Although he finished the season strong, his power numbers dropped. He began the season in an awful slump, but managed to accumulate almost the same amount of hits and extra base hits as he had in 2009. He could be back in Birmingham or in Charlotte to start 2011. I still think he could be a role player in the majors.
The Bad: The pitching staff as a whole.
While Charlie Leesman pitched well in his time with the Barons, there wasn't much else to write home about. Charlie Shirek missed much of the year after a great start, getting shut down after a shelling he received pitching for Charlotte. Justin Edwards was lit up early and often, but seeing as he's only 22, he should return to Birmingham in 2011. Henry Mabee seemed to always give up leads when he was brought in to relieve the starters. Johnnie Lowe pitched better this year, but Matt Long hit a wall and had an awful year. Justin Cassel missed most of the year due to surgery on his shoulder. Brian Omogrosso finally got back to action after missing most of the year recovering from a torn labrum and a broken scapula. He said himself that if there's a fluke injury, it will happen to him.
The Ugly: C.J. Retherford.
What the hell? I don't understand why he lost almost 100 points off his batting average. I think that this year was an anomaly and he will bounce back in 2011. His numbers from 2007 through 2009 were mostly consistent, so 2010 had to be a fluke. I think that a combination of the new found attention he received as a prospect as well as struggling to adjust in AAA led to his downward spiral. I'm guessing he'll start 2011 in Charlotte.
I expect to see most of the current Winston-Salem lineup in Birmingham in 2011. Hopefully, they can carry over their success in 2010 to 2011, making a successful jump to AA. I can't take another season like this one. I'd also like to thank everyone for bearing with me this year. A bad team didn't give me much to write about and new fatherhood has altered my priorities quite a bit. There's still hope, it's only hope for a new season. Until next year, I'll be lurking over at Soxtalk...