It's Opening Day! Three White Sox affiliates open the 2012 season tonight, which means it's time to break down the rosters. Continuing the series is the AA Birmingham Barons.
The format is the same as for the A ball previews, breaking down the rosters based on where the players were last year. The Barons have a lot of AA repeats and a lot of players new to the organization, but they also feature the most top 25 prospects of any of the four affiliates. Check AL.com for info on the Barons throughout the year, including their own season preview. A player's Opening Day age is listed in parentheses.
Birmingham (2011 record: 71-69, 1st half South Division champs)
Repeats: Nevin Griffith (23), Brandon Kloess (26), Henry Mabee (26), Dan Remenowsky (25)
Up a level: Cameron Bayne (23), Ryan Kussmaul (27), Santos Rodriguez (24), Matt Wickswat (25)
New to org.: Simon Castro (23), Pedro Hernandez (22), Nestor Molina (23), Jose Quintana (23)
It’s pretty clear when comparing the AA pitchers to the A ball teams the difference in player backgrounds. Most of the Barons’ pitchers either came from another organization with some AA experience or are returning to Birmingham after pitching there last year. Remenowsky is the most notable repeat and he’s actually coming back from finishing 2011 in Charlotte. His stock took a big hit with a mediocre International League showing.
The four pitchers moving up from Winston-Salem bring only moderate intrigue as well. Rodriguez continues to tease talent, but now 24 his time to figure it out is running thin with the White Sox.
Arguably the four best prospects on the Barons’ pitching staff are all players acquired in the offseason. Castro and Hernandez (Carlos Quentin trade), Molina (Sergio Santos trade) and Jose Quintana (free agent signing from NYY) headline the staff. Molina is starting the opener tonight. Bayne joins the other three in filling out the rotation.
Quintana (2.91 ERA in 102 IP in High-A in ’11) is the only member of the starting rotation that doesn’t have AA experience and the others all faired pretty well in their AA time. The rotation has the potential to be very, very good.
*Remenowsky turns 26 Saturday. Castro turns 24 on Monday. Hernandez turns 23 next Thursday.
Repeats: Luis Sierra (24), Drew Garcia (25), Jon Gilmore (23), Seth Loman (26), Justin Greene (26), Jose Martinez (23), Kenny Williams Jr. (25)
Up a level: Kevin Dubler (25), Tyler Saladino (22), Andy Wilkins (23), Jared Mitchell (23)
New to org.: Damaso Espino (28), Erik Morrison (26), Corey Smith (29)
Unlike the pitching staff, the best hitting prospects come from in house promotions. Saladino, Wilkins and Mitchell give the Barons a trio of top 20 prospects. Saladino really came on in the second half last year and turned a few more heads in the Arizona Fall League. For the first time on Opening Day Mitchell should be fully healthy and ready to go. Here’s hoping his struggles last year were because of time missed due to the injury.
Of the new acquisitions, Corey Smith played with the Barons in ’06 and has spent parts of four years in the Southern League. Morrison, released by the Rangers last year, only has a few AA at-bats but brings some power to the table. Espino is another vet that will get time at catcher with Sierra while Dubler starts the season on the disabled list.
Throw in Gilmore and Martinez and the lineup could be pretty deep, but it won’t be the strength of the team. If the Barons have a strong season, it will come from the rotation. Even once a couple pitchers earn promotions or big league call-ups, Andre Rienzo and Jacob Petricka will likely come up to replace them.
Top 25 Prospects: Nestor Molina (1st), Simon Castro (3rd), Tyler Saladino (4th), Jared Mitchell (11th), Pedro Hernandez (17th), Andy Wilkins (18th)
Sleeper: Jose Quintana