Season in Review: 2015 Birmingham Barons

The White Sox AA affiliate Birmingham Barons finished their season with an overall record of 69-70, in 3rd place and 7 games back in the Southern League North Division's 2nd half standings. The team was actually in first place for a significant chunk of the 2nd half, but the offense disappeared (thanks in part to key injuries) and the team fell out of playoff contention near the end. Their record was was a marked improvement over the 60-80 mark in 2014.

Birmingham had one of the best collections of ranked prospects in the system, including the likes of Tim Anderson, Tyler Danish, Frankie Montas, Courtney Hawkins and others. Expectations were high, but injuries to Anderson, Hawkins and May at various points in the season made it difficult for the team to produce runs. Let's look at the individual performances of some key Barons...

OFFENSE

Tim Anderson started the season at age 21 and was even more raw than that in baseball years, so his success at this level was even more impressive than the numbers indicate. His .312/.350/.429 line made him the best overall offensive presence on the club (among true prospects), and his 49 stolen bases (in 62 attempts) led the Southern League by a healthy margin. Perhaps even better, his defense has improved significantly and he now appears likely to stick at the position. He still shows signs of impatience and lack of recognition at the plate and the game power isn't there yet, but overall this was a very successful year for the #2 prospect in the system.

An outfield of Courtney Hawkins, Jacob May and Jason Coats looked to be a strength for the Barons. Coats was that for a month but was then sent quickly to AAA. Hawkins, who at 21 was also quite young for level, struggled (somewhat predictably) to a .243/.300/.410 slash with 9 HR in 330 PA, missing time to plantar facitis and striking out at a too-high clip (). Hawkins will likely repeat AA as he continues to work on improving his plate approach. Jacob May started the season very well, hitting .311 and stealing 25 bases in his first 52 games, but was then sidelined for two months after a scary collision and resulting concussion. The 23-year old struggled on his return and also is likely to repeat the level, but his start was encouraging. He also stole 37 bases and finished 2nd in the Southern League behind Anderson, despite missing time.

A couple pop-up prospects are worth discussing. Nick Delmonico joined the organization in the offseason after going AWOL from the Brewers, joining Birmingham in June and showing flashes of his talent but not quite putting it all together. With the big club lacking a near term option at third base, Delmonico will likely get another shot next year. First baseman Danny Hayes skipped A+ to go to AA in a surprise move, and predictably struggled at first. But from May 1st on he hit .261 with a very nice .401 OBP and seven long balls in 112 games, which was a better than expected showing. He led the Southern League in walks and is strong defensively at first, making him somewhat similar to former White Sox prospect Rangel Ravelo (though the hit tool may not be quite as strong and he's much older for the level than Ravelo was).

Adrian Nieto went from the majors back to AA, and it appears that his bizarre jump from A+ the bigs may indeed have messed with is game. The Rule V catcher hit just .207 with minimal power, but did draw quite a few walks. Second baseman Joey DeMichele posted a .635 OPS but did steal 15 bases in 19 attempts. Outfielder Keenyn Walker joined the team in June for his third trip through AA, but posted a .484 OPS in 62 games, stealing a dozen bags but being caught 10 times.

The best hitting performance on the team (among players who spent any significant time there) was actually from Christian Marrero. The 29-year old minor league journeyman posted an .821 OPS with his usual showing of walks and some power.

PITCHING

The Barons also had some highly ranked starting pitchers in Frankie Montas and Tyler Danish. The third-ranked prospect in the system, Montas had another nice year: 2.97 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 3.9 BB/9 in 23 starts. Montas still has command issues and a habit of throwing for the gun, but both his fastball and his slider can be plus when he's under control. He's with the big club now with expanded rosters. Tyler Danish on the other hand, had his first long-term struggles as a pitcher, likely ever: 4.50 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 5.7 K/9, 3.8 BB/9. As a 20-year old, Danish was far younger than most players in AA, so some struggles were to be expected, and his results shouldn't make anyone jump off a bridge. Patience is required here. He'll repeat the level next year, and we'll see how he adjusts.

Myles Jaye had a bit if a renaissance season, with a revamped slider to add to his sinker resulting in a very strong April to July period (2.73 ERA, 68:28 K:BB in 94.2 IP). The 23-year old did fade a bit late in the season (4.92 ERA the rest of the way, though with similar K:BB numbers), in another indicator that he may be a reliever in the future, but it was a nice step forward. Mark Blackmar  was effective despite a lack of significant stuff, logging more innings than any Birmingham starter (151.1) and managing a 3.63 ERA while only striking out 3.9 batter per nine.

Looking at the bullpen, the Barons actually have a number of arms worth some attention. Robin Leyer and his big fastball was in the rotation for a bit, but has now settled into his inevitable home in the pen where he was effective in 6 games. Nolan Sanburn opened the season working relief and started strong, but struggled with injuries on and off and only managed 30 innings (striking out 30, but walking 23). Kyle Hansen threw more innings (67.1) than any other full-time reliever on the club, and posted strong numbers in the heart of the season (40.1 IP, 35 H, 9 ER, 18 BB, 32 K for May-July), but got hit a bit towards the end of the year.

Jeffrey Wendelken and Junior Guerra both did strong work from the bullpen and could see the White Sox in 2016, as they were both promoted to AAA Charlotte during the year. On the flip side looking at pitchers adding during the season, Peter Tago put up very nice numbers across A, A+ and AA (66 IP, 49 H, 20 ER, 29 BB, 73 K) with his last 12 appearances with Birmingham. As analyzed here, Tago has re-tooled and now looks like a legitimate future relief piece for a major league club.

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