It's Opening Day, the minor league version! Three White Sox affiliates kick off their seasons tonight. One of those is the Birmingham Barons, the AA affiliate in the Southern League. Let's take a look at the outlook for the Barons' season ahead.
The Barons play at Montgomery at 7:05 p.m. Their home opener at brand new Regions Field is Wednesday against Mississippi.
The Opening Day ages of the players are in parentheses unless otherwise noted. For the hitters position is also listed.
Birmingham (2012 record: 63-76, no playoffs)
Repeats: Spencer Arroyo (24), Ryan Kussmaul (26), Nick McCully (24), Nestor Molina (24), Jacob Petricka (24), Salvador Sanchez (27)
Up a level: Ryan Buch (25), Erik Johnson (23), Stephen McCray (25), Scott Snodgress (23), Taylor Thompson (25), Kevin Vance (22)
Former Major Leaguer: Wes Whisler (30 on April 7)
Johnson, Snodgress and Molina make for a very exciting starting rotation. Petricka and Arroyo will fill out the starting five and both pitchers have a chance to be successful in AA.
Johnson and Snodgress were two of the standouts among White Sox prospects last season and if all goes well will be pushing to make their MLB debuts in 2014. Molina was supposed to be pushing for the Majors this year, but was fairly mediocre in AA and returns to the level as a result.
Petricka was once one of the better pitching prospects in the system, but a lack of control has cost him as he's moved up the minors. Arroyo was a good performer in the lower levels, but his lack of standout stuff seems to have caught up with him. Hopefully he can show improvement.
Buch and Vance are a pair of interesting arms out of the bullpen. Buch has good stuff, but hasn't quite refined it and his control yet. Vance is the youngest pitcher on the staff and had a strong 2012, blowing through both A ball affiliates. He could be a breakout relief prospect this year.
Repeats: Tyler Saladino (SS, 23), Brandon Short (OF, 24), Andy Wilkins (1B, 24)
Up a level: Dan Black (1B, 25), Mike Blanke (C, 24), Michael Earley (OF, 25), Miguel Gonzalez (C, 22), Marcus Semien (MI, 22), Trayce Thompson (OF, 22), Daniel Wagner (IF, 24), Keenyn Walker (OF, 22)
New to org.: Cody Puckett (OF, 26)
There are a lot of interesting names to follow here. On first glance it's impressive to see such a relatively young group of hitters.
Even the three repeats are legitimate prospects. Saladino was one of the biggest disappointments last year, but he still drew a lot of walks and proved to be a stolen base threat. Similarly Wilkins struggled with his batting average, but has some nice pop in his bat. Short was injured for most of 2012 so he'll be hoping to show his ability in a full season.
Obviously, the most attention prospect wise will go to Thompson and Walker. Thompson got a taste of AA (and AAA) at the end of last year, but Walker will be making his debut at the level after a somewhat disappointing stint in High-A in the second half of 2012.
The two youngest players on the team, Semien and Gonzalez, are coming in under the radar a bit. Gonzalez has been a prospect for so long so it's hard to forget he's still just 22. Semien hasn't dominated in the minors, but has done enough to keep moving up.
The offense has as much talent prospect wise as the Barons have had in recent years. It will be interesting to see how the new park plays and with power hitters like Thompson, Wilkins and Black we should find out quickly.
Top 25 Prospects: Trayce Thompson (2), Erik Johnson (4), Keenyn Walker (8), Scott Snodgress (9), Nestor Molina (12), Tyler Saladino (14), Marcus Semien (16), Jacob Petricka (22)
Sleeper: Kevin Vance