2012 Bristol Season Preview

The minor league season is finally in full force. Bristol debuted its 2012 squad last night, managing just two hits in a 7-2 loss. As the second rookie affiliate for the White Sox, Bristol usually struggles in the Appalachian League. Let's take a look if they have the weapons to turn it around this season after last year's 24-44 mark.

The full roster is here. The roster is currently at 37 with 18 pitchers. There are 17 2012 draft picks, 8 foreign born players (7 of which are rookies) and a number of undrafted free agent rookies and non-rookies as well. Just five players return from last year.

Pitching
Returnees: Jake Cose (27th round, 2011), Todd Kibby (37th round, 2011), Timothy Kiley (UDFA '11), Euclides Leyer (Dominican Republic)
Leyer is probably the biggest talent of this group. He posted a 2.65 ERA in the Dominican Summer League as a 17-year-old in 2010 and made his US debut with the BriSox last season. He wasn't as effective (6.38 ERA), but he's still just 19. He has been used as a starter and could be a key pitcher for Bristol. Meanwhile, Cose and Kiley struggled out of the pen last summer, but Kibby was pretty effective.

2012 draft picks: Kyle Hansen (6th), Tony Bucciferro (14th), Adam Lopez (21st), Storm Throne (25th), James Hudelson (28th)
It's a bit of a surprise to see Hansen and Bucciferro here given their success at good college programs. That said, the BriSox staff has only five 2012 draft picks, which seems a bit lower than normal. If the White Sox are willing to add to their workloads, the aforementioned duo could anchor the rotation.

US debuts: Jose Bautista (20 years old), Jose Brito (21), Evandert Diaz (20), Leopoldo Sanchez (21), Jefferson Olacio (18)*
Off the top of my head I don't remember so many foreign born rookie pitchers. Olacio gets an asterisk because he spent the earlier part of the year with Kannapolis, but it's still his first year of pro ball in the US. Only two of the 2012 high school draft picks on the roster are younger than him and he's already got 37 innings of full season ball under his belt. It's easy to scoff at his numbers at Kannapolis on the surface, but he did pretty well considering his age and lack of experience. Olacio struck out 34 (against 26 walks, ahem) in 37 innings to make for a 5.35 ERA. Still, he showed a mid 90s fastball and the ability to get Ks against hitters much older and more experienced (Did I mention he's a 6-foot-7 lefty?). I'd call it a successful debut. Now let's see how he fares against competition closer to his level.

As for the other pitchers making their US debuts, Bautista is the only lefty and he had a nice season in the DSL in 2011 (59 K, 23 BB, 3.14 ERA in 51.2 IP). Brito and Diaz don't have the same resume so this could be a tough jump for them. However, Sanchez showed nice control in the DSL (60 K, 19 BB, 3.22 ERA in 64.1 IP). He pitched three innings of relief in the opener, striking out four and walking none while giving up four hits and a run.

Sprinkle in a few more UDFA signings and a pitcher on rehab (Taylor Thompson who started the season in Winston-Salem) and the staff has an interesting mix. Mitch Mustain should be a familiar name if you follow college football. The former Arkansas and USC quarterback made his pro debut last night, throwing two scoreless innings in relief. Overall, the pitching staff could be good. If even just a couple of the foreign born pitchers do well this pitching staff could be the best Bristol has had in a long time.

Catchers
Jose Barraza (7th, '12), Jeremy Dowdy (UDFA, '12), Angel Rosario (Dominican Republic), Zach Stoner (12th, '12)

Barraza has the honor of being the youngest player on the roster. Last year Kevan Smith was a 7th round pick at catcher that debuted at Bristol and he went on to have one of the best seasons in all of rookie ball. It would be a great sign if Barraza has a third of that success considering he hasn't yet turned 18.

Actually, catcher is one of the best positions on the team potential wise. Rosario is making his US debut at 20 years old and Stoner was another high school draft pick. It will be interesting to see how the playing time gets divvied up. Rosario and Stoner split time in the opener.

Infielders
Keon Barnum (2nd, '12), Joey DeMichele (3rd, '12), Nick Basto (5th, '12), Alex Williams (19th, '12), Eric Grabe (24th, '12), Jake Brown (30th, '12), Corey Thompson (31st, '12), Joe De Pinto (21st, '11)

Holy cow this is the Bristol infield?! All those college rookies make it look like a grouping the Sox usually send to Great Falls. The infield was the strength of the offense a year ago and that could hold true yet again. Barnum and Basto could struggle like many high schoolers do at first, but there's plenty of other experience and talent to make up for it.

As a highly drafted college pick, DeMichele is the type of player the Sox usually send to Great Falls. He went 1-3 in the leadoff role last night and will probably be a mainstay at that spot as long as he's with Bristol. Between him and the high schoolers three of the White Sox top six 2012 picks are in this infield. Not bad.

As for the others, expect one or two of them to handle the jump to pro ball well. There's too much experience there for someone not to break out. De Pinto, the lone non-rookie among the infielders, was Great Falls' MVP last year, but hit just .198 after being assigned to Kannapolis.

Outfielders
Courtney Hawkins (1st, '12), Kale Kiser (23rd, '12), Thurman Hall (37th, '12), Dustin Hayes (29th, '11), Cory Farris (45th, '11), Juan Ramirez (Dominican Republic)

Obviously, everyone is going to want to see how Courtney Hawkins does. He may or may not be debuting tonight. Hayes is interesting because he signed last year as one of those infamous 'no school' guys, but didn't play anywhere. He made his pro debut last night, drawing a walk in a pinch hit appearance. Ramirez, 21, also made his debut, but he may want to forget after striking out in all three plate appearances. He hit .319 in the DSL last year.

Outlook
If ever there was a team for Bristol to finally compete in the Appy League with, this is it. The mix of talent (six of the first eight 2012 picks are here) and experience (just five high school picks on the roster) should give Bristol the chance to compete for once. That said, the high schoolers will likely get a lot of time and they don't always handle the jump to pro ball right away. There should be enough elsewhere to make up a competent team though, which is a nice change of pace considering Bristol has just one winning season (2008) in the last nine years.

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