2015 Birmingham Barons Season Preview

Regions Field

Birmingham opens play Thursday, April 9th, along with the other three full-season clubs. Julio Vinas returns to manage the White Sox' AA team. The Barons begin Southern League play at their Regions Field home park, hosting the Mobile Bay Bears, first pitch at 7:05pm CT.

Here is a look at how the Barons' roster is constructed, who to watch and what to expect from the club.

***NOTE: The roster published is tentative and seems to be potentially missing one player - article will be updated when it becomes full and official.

Opening Day ages of the players are listed in parentheses, along with position for non-pitchers.

Birmingham Barons (2014 record: 60-80, no playoffs)

Top 30 prospects: Tim Anderson (2), Frankie Montas (3), Tyler Danish (5), Courtney Hawkins (7), Jacob May (14), Nolan Sanburn (18), Mike Recchia (28)

Pitchers

Repeats: Frank Montas (22), Kyle Hansen (23), Myles Jaye (23), Mike Recchia (26), Cody Winiarski (25)

From Winston-Salem: Tyler Danish (20), Raul Fernandez (24), JB Wendelken (22)

New to Org: Nolan Sanburn (23), Mark Blackmar (23), Miguel Chalas (22), Onelki Garcia (25), Junior Guerra (30)

Frank Montas and Tyler Danish, both among the top five prospects in the entire system, headline a talented starting rotation. Both look like 2016 candidates for Chicago, and both feature some big stuff, though at different ends of the velocity spectrum. Mike Recchia had no trouble with AA hitters in half a season last year and should be solid or better. Myles Jaye struggled in AA last year, but he's still somewhat young for level and a talented pitcher who has flashed two above average to plus pitches. Nolan Sanburn has a legit starting prospect pitch set and could be very successful if his arm can handle a full season of starting (which is the big question for him) - he may be the 5th starter, but could also slide to the pen.

The bullpen has a number of good arms as well, much more so than Charlotte (which of course means some could see AAA early on). Onelki Garcia could easily be in AAA now, and while he missed most of last year to injury, he had a legit prospect profile before and could regain that level (he could also perhaps be the 5th starter instead of Sanburn). Kyle Hansen kept improving as last year went on, and has taken well to the return to relief pitching, where his down-plane fastball-slider combo works well. JB Wendelken makes his inevitable return to relief work after starting last year in Winston-Salem, and his peripherals indicate he's got good command. Raul Fernandez (who is on the 40-man roster), Cody Winiarski, Mark Blackmar, Miguel Chalas and Junior Guerra all bring some potential to the table as well.

Position Players

Repeats: Tim Anderson (SS, 21), Jason Coats (OF, 25), Joey DeMichele (2B, 24), Christian Marrero (1B/OF, 28), Martin Medina (C, 25), Jeremy Farrell (INF, 28)

From Winston-Salem: Courtney Hawkins (OF, 21), Jacob May (OF, 23)

From Kannapolis: Danny Hayes (1B, 24)

New to Org: Marcus Lemon (INF, 26)

OTHER: Adrian Nieto (C, 25)

*On Disabled List: Michael Johnson (INF, 26)

The starting lineup will feature three prospects among the org's top 14, a catcher who has played a year in the majors and would be a Top 20 name if he qualified, and a few intriguing players on the edge of the radar as well. Tim Anderson is the number two prospect in the system and a Top 100 name in all of MiLB, and his middle infield counterpart will be a fairly polished Joey DeMichele. Danny Hayes makes a big leap from Low A (jumping over Keon Barnum) to play 1B at an age-appropriate level, but that will be a serious challenge. Third base is the question mark - this could be recently re-signed Juan Silverio or offseason acquisition Nick Delmonico, but neither are officially on the roster at this time. Or it could be org soldier Jeremy Farrell.

The outfield looks like a real strength for the Barons. Courtney Hawkins will be challenged as a young 21 year old in AA, and he did look very good in Spring Training for what that's worth. Jacob May will be playing center field, and he's seen by some as a Top 10 player in the system with his combination of speed, contact and defense. Jason Coats will play the other corner, and while he's on the older side (just turned 25) he was the offensive leader of his Winston-Salem club and should be a core bat here. The catcher will be Adrian Nieto, who spent all of 2014 as the backup backstop in Chicago despite having not played above Advanced A ball prior - now he's headed back to catch up on development and full time play.

Christian Marrero will likely be the regular DH, and he provides OBP and power, which one would expect from a 1B/OF/DH type who's been playing AA or higher since 2009. Marcus Lemon, Martin Medina, Jeremy Farrell (who could also be the starting 3B) and Michael Johnson (when off DL) make up a veteran bench.

Overall Thoughts

This is a fairly young team, with 14 of the 24 listed players being at or below an age-appropriate 24 year old level in AA and just two players over the age of 26. It is also probably the most prospect-stacked among the full season clubs, featuring 7 of the top 30 prospects in the system plus another handful who just missed that list.

The likely starting rotation of Montas, Danish, Recchia, Jaye and Sanburn (or Garcia) should be very good. But there are also a number of intriguing arms in the bullpen, especially Garcia, Hansen, Wendelken and Fernandez. On the hitting side the lineup is a broad spectrum, with a trio each of proven hitters (Marrero, Coats, Nieto), talented ranked prospects who could put up big numbers (Anderson, Hawkins, May), and fringe or org guys (Hayes, DeMichele, Farrell if he gets that job).

This is a team that will be fun to watch for prospect hounds, as there is a lot of talent. And certainly they should be competitive in the Southern League, with hopes to compete for a post-season berth like the 2013 team.

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