For the last, and best, season in review: the 2013 Birmingham Barons.
The Southern League champions were the best team in the league throughout the year, capitalizing on some strong returning talent and an infusion of talent from the 2012 Winston-Salem Dash that made the Carolina League finals.
The Barons went 44-26 to win the first half title in the Southern League North. Despite limping to a 33-37 record in the second half, Birmingham turned it on in the playoffs beating Tennessee 3-2 (despite blowing a 2-0 series lead) and Mobile 3-2 (despite also blowing a 2-0 series lead). It is the Barons' first SL title since 2002.
Leading the Barons was league MVP Marcus Semien. While Semien wasn't a part of the postseason triumph, he obviously left enough of an impression on the league to win that award before earning a promotion to Charlotte and later a September call up to the White Sox.
Semien displayed a strong contact rate, an excellent walk rate and surprising power. That's all you need out of a hitter, let alone one playing middle infield. He just turned 23 a week ago and proved to be a big prospect.
Centerfielder Trayce Thompson entered the season as the best hitting prospect on the roster and failed to make a major impact. His standout defense keeps him a valuable prospect, but a line of .229/.312/.383 left a meh feeling. His season was very streaky and that's an emerging concern about his game.
First basemen Dan Black (.881 OPS) and Andy Wilkins (.863) were both solid bats, but neither are standout prospects.
On the downside, prospects like Tyler Saladino (.630 OPS), Jared Mitchell (.572), Brandon Jacobs (.618) and Keenyn Walker (.596) were disappointing. Jacobs only had 43 games in his AA debut upon being traded from the Red Sox so don't write him off yet, but the story is less encouraging for the other three.
Walker, Saladino and Mitchell all showed good walk rates and little else. Too many strikeouts for not enough power. Mitchell, especially, was a huge bummer. After getting demoted from AAA he was no better in AA. He's not much of a prospect anymore. Saladino and Walker are another bad year away from fully joining that club.
Entering the season the starting pair of Erik Johnson and Scott Snodgress were top prospects after finishing 2012 strongly. Johnson lived up to that and then some by blowing away the Southern League, earning a midseason promotion to Charlotte, where he was also excellent, and is now earning starts for the big league club. He's easily the top prospect in the entire system
Snodgress wasn't as dominant, but showed flashes throughout the year. His problem was a lack of strikeouts (90 in 143.2 IP), but he has good stuff and a 6-foot-6 lefty will always get a chance.
The rest of the starting pitchers were filled by non-prospect pitchers, though most of them put up good numbers. Chris Bassitt deserves some mention as a sleeper prospect that had a strong 2013 that finished with 10 AA starts, including a pair of Game 1 playoff victories.
The bullpen was a major part of the Barons' success. Jacob Petricka, Daniel Webb, Kevin Vance, Taylor Thompson and Salvador Sanchez were all good for the level. Petricka and Webb asserted themselves as quality relief prospects and even joined the White Sox.
The Barons didn't feature a ton of prospects, but had their fair share and had a number of relatively non-prospects step up to have good season. That's the mix necessary to win a championship.