2018 Birmingham Barons Season Preview

The Birmingham Barons opened play last night with a 5-4 win in Chattanooga. Julio Vinas was originally slated to manage the Double-A Affiliate but he will be taking some time away from the team indefinitely due to family/personal reasons. Ryan Newman will return to the dugout after managing the Arizona League White Sox in 2017. Newman did manage the Barons in 2016 as well. He will be joined by Richard Dotson as the pitching coach as well as Cole Armstrong as hitting coach. The Barons will open Region's Field on Wednesday April 11th at 7:05 against Montgomery after opening with five on the road.

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

Opening Day ages of the players are listed in parentheses, along with position for non-pitchers. Players on the disabled list have an asterisk. 

Birmingham Barons (2016 record: 53-85; 5th place)

Top 30 Prospects: Eloy Jimenez (1), Alec Hansen (4), Zack Collins (5), Spencer Adams (11), Jordan Stephens (15), Seby Zavala (16), Jordan Guerrero (19), Ian Clarkin (23), AJ Puckett (25), Ian Hamilton (26), Tito Polo (29)

Alec Hansen's delivery and pearly whites, for Great Falls Voyagers, 2016 (photo provided to FutureSox by Michael Grennell)

Alec Hansen's delivery and pearly whites, for Great Falls Voyagers, 2016 (photo provided to FutureSox by Michael Grennell)

Pitchers

While the full order hasn't been announced, the rotation at Birmingham is loaded with top pitching prospects. All of the projected rotation options feature prominently on publication top 30 lists and ours here at FutureSox is no different. Jordan Stephens, Jordan Guerrero and Spencer Adams are familiar faces in the Southern League and they will re-join the Barons. Left-hander Ian Clarkin and big righty AJ Puckett were both acquired in mid-season trades last year and both will join the Double-A rotation as well. Alec Hansen was the White Sox 2nd round pick in 2016 and he's cemented himself as a top 100 prospect in the game at this point. He's currently on a throwing program in Arizona and will join the Barons when ready, with one of the more AA-polished arms likely to move up to Charlotte at that point. The big right-hander from Oklahoma is the highest rated pitching prospect in Birmingham and he's being nurtured back to the mound slowly after dealing with some mild forearm soreness during spring training.

Stephens battled some injuries last season but returned to throw 91 innings for the Barons. The 2015 5th rounder out of Rice posted a 3.31 FIP with 83 strikeouts and 35 walks last year. Jordan is the #15 prospect in the system. The 21-year-old Adams missed some time in spring training this year after rehab for an off-season finger injury, but he certainly looked healthy on Opening Day. The slender 21-year-old was the 44th overall pick in the 2014 draft and he threw 152.2 innings in the Southern League in 2017. The former Georgia prep star posted a 4.08 FIP with 113 strikeouts and 40 walks. Adams needs to strike out more hitters but he doesn't walk many guys and his athletic profile fits that of a back-end big league starter. Lefty Jordan Guerrero is another Barons' stalwart that will return to start the 2018 season. He's been displaying his plus changeup in front of the home fans for the last two seasons now. Jordan threw 146.1 innings in Double-A last year and pitched to a 2.91 FIP. The 23-year-old is a candidate to be promoted to Charlotte early in the season and it's not out of the question that he makes his debut in Chicago this year.

23-year-old Ian Clarkin was acquired in a trade deadline deal with the Yankees last year and this seems to be a bit of an aggressive promotion for the young left-hander. Clarkin was a 1st round pick back in 2013 and has spent his career battling multiple injuries to this point. He posted a 2.45 ERA in a very small sample in Winston-Salem last year but he did have a 2.62 ERA in 75.2 innings in New York's system prior to the trade. If he can stay healthy, Ian projects as a potential mid-rotation option at ceiling. A.J. Puckett was the 67th overall pick in the draft back in 2016 out of Pepperdine and he's been solid as a pro so far. The 6'4", 200 pound right-hander was acquired from Kansas City for Melky Cabrera and he posted a 3.84 FIP in his brief time in High-A. The former big-time quarterback recruit threw 135.2 innings last year while exhibiting a plus changeup. Mlbpipeline.com has the 6'7 Alec Hansen rated as the #54 prospect in baseball currently. He will start the season on the disabled list but should be ready to go fairly soon. The former Sooner averaged 14 K/9 in Birmingham last season in a tiny sample. Hansen did throw 131 innings across both levels of Single-A and he led the minors in strikeouts with 174. The 23-year-old projects as a #2 starter and the major leagues should be on the horizon if he continues his dominance.

The Barons bullpen features some arms returning from last season and some former Birmingham veterans returning to the club. Josh Norris of Baseball America is a big fan of right-hander Ian Hamilton and ranked him as the #23 prospect in the Sox system. The 6'0", 200 pounder also ranked #21 on the list over at mlbpipeline.com. Hamilton was an over-slot 11th round pick out of Washington State in 2016. He's returning to Birmingham to start the season and he's had a lot of success so far. The 22-year-old posted a 2.06 FIP with the Barons last season after striking out 52 hitters in High-A to start the year. He's the 26th ranked prospect in the organization on our list and he pairs a high 90's heater with a low-90's slider. Ryan Burr was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks last year for international bonus pool space. The 6'4" righty posted a 2.44 FIP in limited action with the Dash after joining the organization. The Sun Devils All-Time saves leader was dominant in High-A with the Arizona organization and struck out over 10 batters per nine innings. Burr and Hamilton should duel it out for most of the high leverage work for the Barons.

Righties Connor Walsh, Brandon Brennan and Brad Goldberg will join the Barons to start 2018 after pitching for Triple-A Charlotte in 2017. The 25-year-old Walsh has a big fastball and was listed as the #30 prospect in the system according to Baseball America this year. Goldberg also shows big velocity (as high as 99 with the fastball), as does Johansen, but the latter will open the season on the disabled list. From the left-side, Colton Turner and Brian Clark are taking another spin through the Southern League. Clark was a 9th round pick out of Kent State in 2014 and he posted a very respectable 3.64 FIP in 49.1 innings in the International League last year. 29-year-old journeyman lefty Matt Tomshaw likely takes the 5th starter role in Puckett's absence. 30-year-old veteran hurler Jorge Rondon is also joining the Barons after pitching in Japan last season.

Jace Fry is in Arizona on a throwing program and should come to Birmingham soon, after reaching the majors last season. He's on the disabled list for the time being.

Zack Collins sets to throw in the Carolina League All Star Game, 2017 (Photo provided to FutureSox by Michael Grennell)

Zack Collins sets to throw in the Carolina League All Star Game, 2017 (Photo provided to FutureSox by Michael Grennell)

Position Players

Outfielder Eloy Jimenez is among top five prospects in all of baseball. He can hit for average and power and he'll be an attraction for fans, scouts, and decision makers in the Southern League. He's not on the initial roster due to a strained pectoral muscle, but was hitting off a tee recently. He will begin the season in extended spring training but should join the Barons very soon. The likely center fielder will be former Yankee prospect Tito Polo. Acquired in a mid-season trade, the Colombian finished the year with a .731 OPS in Birmingham in 2017. He profiles as a 4th outfielder in the big leagues with a speed and defense profile. He plays with a ton of energy and did post a .460 .OBP for Trenton in the New York organization. Jameson Fisher will get work in left field and is receiving his first promotion to Double-A after being a 4th rounder out of Southeastern Louisiana in 2016. Fisher was known for his hit tool coming out of college but struggled in that regard in 2017. He did hit 10 homers last season across to levels. The enigmatic Courtney Hawkins also returns to Birmingham this season. The 6'3", listed 245 pound Texan has struggled since becoming the 13th overall pick in the 2012 draft. Hawkins has huge power but has struggled to get to it adequately in games. 26-year-old veteran Ryan Brett is also on the initial Barons' roster as the bench outfielder, along with Mason Robbins who is on the DL.

Two players acquired from the Cubs in the Jose Quintana trade will join the Barons on the infield this year. Matt Rose is a 6'4", 195 pound first baseman that hit hit 18 homers last season in High-A. Rose posted an .811 OPS in Winston-Salem but needs to walk more to fit the profile he's looking to fill. He was an 11th rounder out of Georgia State in 2015. Bryant Flete will be the primary Second Baseman for the Barons and the 25-year-old Venezuelan is packed with energy. Flete is 5'10" and only 145 pounds and doesn't hit a ton but he's an excellent defender. Shortstop Danny Mendick is returning to Birmingham after some initial struggles last year. The former 22nd rounder produced an .841 OPS at High-A Winston-Salem last year. Trey Michalczewski, Nick Basto and Keon Barnum are all former White Sox draft picks that are returning to Birmingham as well, splitting time at DH and backing up others at various positions on the field.

The catching situation in Birmingham should be very interesting. Zack Collins will be the highest rated prospect on the team in the early going with Jimenez and Hansen on the shelf initially. Collins strikes out a lot but also walks quite often. There was a narrative that Collins had a rough time last year and while he did struggle to make contact at times, he actually put up a pretty good season. The 6'3", 220 pound developing backstop posted a 130 wRC+ with a .367 wOBA in Winston-Salem. In a brief stint with the Barons at the end of the year, Collins showed off prodigious power and on base ability. The 10th overall pick in 2016 posted a 166 wRC+ and a .414 wOBA for the Barons. There are defensive questions surrounding Collins and staying behind the plate is important for his future but he did slug 19 homers across two levels last season. Collins isn't the only catcher with upside on this roster though. 24-year-old Seby Zavala will also be in Birmingham. Zavala is the 16th ranked prospect in the Sox system according to our pre-season list. The 5'11", 205 pounder furthered his prospect stock last year with 21 homers across both levels of A ball. There are some defensive concerns for the San Diego State product (just as there are with Collins) but he mashed last year. Seby posted a 145 wRC+ to go along with a .389 wOBA in A ball and will look to continue that success in Double-A this season.

Overall Thoughts

The Barons are packed with high impact prospects in 2018 and should be a destination for scouts and prospect followers. 11 of the top 30 prospects on our pre-season list will start the season in Birmingham. Hansen and Jimenez will not join the club immediately but should debut soon.

The pitching staff is loaded and a top 30 organizational prospect will take the bump on a nightly basis for the Barons, once Puckett joins the team. Regions Field should be a destination for strikeouts and home runs and the Barons should have a fun season in the Southern League. Birmingham should be competitive and there's a wave of talent that should be seen on the South Side in the not-too-distant future. This club should certainly eclipse last year's ugly record. Regions Field is a first class ballpark and that along with an exciting young core should entertain the fans in Chicago and in Alabama.

Want to know right away when we publish a new article? Type your email address in the box on the right-side bar (or at the bottom, if on a mobile device) and click the "create subscription" button. Our list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Comments

Leave a comment
  • I don't like Zavala and Collins playing on the same team. Both are top prospects that need to be getting as much defensive work as possible. Zavala's offense is ahead of Collins. Why can't he play for Charlotte?

  • In reply to samswede:

    I disagree that Zavala's offense is ahead of Collins. Neither of them is ready for Charlotte but Collins likely ends up there first in my opinion.

  • fb_avatar

    Burr and Hamilton should duel it out, huh? Nice.

  • In reply to Jim Pedigo:

    I have to mention their storied rivalry every chance I get. Thanks for reading.

Leave a comment

  • Advertisement:
  • Advertisement:
  • ChicagoNow is full of win

    Welcome to ChicagoNow.

    Meet our bloggers,
    post comments, or
    pitch your blog idea.

  • Recent posts

  • Tags

  • Advertisement: