Finally a playoff team! The Barons won the first half title in the Southern League's South Division, but fell to Mobile 3-2 in the best-of-five division championship round. Birmingham went 40-30 to win the first half by two games, but limped into the playoffs by finishing last in the second half at 31-39 for a 71-69 overall record.
Birmingham had a healthy dose of top 25 prospects entering the season, but none of them were top ten worthy. Brandon Short and Jon Gilmore were on the opening day roster, though Gilmore had so many injuries he barely played the first half of the year. On the pitching side, Gregory Infante, Charlie Leesman and Nathan Jones were the early names to watch though Infante got promoted to Charlotte in May. Addison Reed made an appearance in AA while Hector Santiago and Dylan Axelrod had breakout years to put themselves in the top 25. Terry Doyle, Dan Remenowsky and Tyler Kuhn also made the 2011 midseason rankings to make for a good collection of talent throughout the year for the Barons.
Offense (team ranks out of 10 teams)
Team stats: .260 avg (t-6th), .720 OPS (8th), 4.29 runs per game (9th)
Top hitters: Tyler Kuhn (.341/.401/.464), Christian Marrero (.293/.385/.476), Seth Loman (.274/.372/.464)
From a prospect standpoint the Barons' lineup wasn't very exciting. Of the three listed above only Kuhn has marginal/debatable prospect status. Marrero and Loman look like organizational players despite success at a high level. Jose Martinez joined the team with moderate buzz in July, but hit for virtually no power and posted a mediocre .729 OPS.
Jon Gilmore actually did alright when he was healthy, but he only played 50 games this year (not including playoffs). On the upside Gilmore showed the best ISO (.134) of his career. That isn't saying much, but it's improvement.
Brandon Short was streaky, hitting well in May and June, but slumped in the second half to the tune of a .214 batting average. He has good athleticism and some decent pop, but it's hard to see him as more than a fourth outfielder in the Majors.
With the Barons you have to consider the ballpark they play in. Regions Park is spacious and Short and Martinez showed big disparities in their home/away splits. It's reasonable to think they could bounce back in Charlotte.
Team stats: 3.77 ERA (2nd), 1024 strikeouts (4th), 555 walks (10th), 4.39 runs per game (3rd)
Top pitchers: Terry Doyle (3.24 ERA, 73 K, 22 BB in 100 IP), Brandon Kloess (1.31 ERA, 31 K, 7 BB in 34.1 IP), Hector Santiago (3.56 ERA, 74 K, 39 BB in 83.1 IP), Dan Remenowsky (2.79 ERA, 53 K, 10 BB in 38.2 IP)
If Regions Park hurts the hitters, it undoubtedly helps the pitchers. The Barons had some breakout pitchers this year and maybe a couple of them can turn into Major League arms.
Doyle and Santiago both joined Birmingham after starting the season well for the Dash. Both pitchers maintained the success in AA. It was Santiago's first season as a starting pitcher and his new found screwball earned him a pair of appearances in the Majors. The lefty could be either a starter or a reliever in the bigs, but his emergence added much needed pitching depth to the system. Doyle, 25, is a workhorse control pitcher. He has a shot to be a No. 5 in the Majors.
The rest of the rotation wasn't as noteworthy. Dylan Axelrod and Matt Zaleski got moved up to Charlotte in the first half and were replaced by the duo above. After that there was a lot of inconsistency. Nevin Griffith posted an ERA over 6 and showed a lack of control. The ship has sailed on his prospect status. Charlie Shirek, Justin Edwards and Charlie Leesman round out the other starters, with Leesman being the only one of note. Leesman walked way too many batters, but could have a future as a lefty reliever.
Addison Reed, Brian Omogrosso, Remenowsky and Kloess were valuable out of the pen, but other than Reed it's hard to judge how good these relievers are. Remenowsky and Omogrosso got moved up to Charlotte and were fairly mediocre there while Kloess started the year in Winston-Salem and is already 26.
Santiago was a breakout prospect, something the system needed badly, but other than him there doesn't appear to be any future Major Leaguers. A few of the pitchers mentioned could have short stints or bounce around between AAA and the Majors for a few years, but I don't see any MLB regulars outside Santiago (and obviously Reed).
The Barons are usually successful in the Southern League and their trip to the playoffs was good to see. However, there wasn't a lot of prospect talent to get excited about. When a chunk of these players go to Charlotte next year, I'd expect another mediocre Knights team. They might be marginally better if Santiago and Doyle can anchor the rotation like they did for Birmingham, but the lack of offensive talent stands out.