On to part three of the season preview series and it’s the turn of the Birmingham Barons. After a record setting 2009 campaign, how will the Barons fare in 2010?
The Birmingham Barons are the Double-A
affiliate of the Chicago White Sox and they compete in the Southern League.
The Birmingham Barons set a team record last
year winning 92 games with a .662 winning percentage. The Barons’ nearest
rivals, the Jacksonville Suns, finished a whole 10.5 games back, however they
did sweep the Barons out of the playoffs. The Barons were an offensive
juggernaut, leading the Southern League in a whole host of offensive categories,
including OPS, R, RBI and HR. David Cook (25 HR), Stefan Gartrell (19 HR),
Tyler Flowers (.993 OPS) and C.J. Retherford (.813 OPS) were amongst their team
leaders. The Barons were also very strong on the pitching front as they
finished second in the league in ERA, WHIP and shutouts. They received solid
contributions from lots of different pitchers, but John Ely was the mainstay
and he led the team in ERA (2.82), wins (14), strikeouts (125) and WHIP (1.22).
Now to the 2010 team…
Shirek was very effective last
year, especially after his midseason promotion to the Barons, but his control
will have to remain sharp if he’s going to continue to be successful with a
measly 3.19 K/9.
Nunez is reportedly moving to
the rotation, which, if true, is an interesting move. It certainly would
explain why he’s back in Birmingham after having a successful stint with
Charlotte last year. He shows two plus pitches at times with his fastball and
slider but does he have a reliable third pitch to make this move work?
McCulloch is moving to the
bullpen for what will be his third straight year in Double-A. Hopefully he
shows more from the ‘pen than he has from the rotation.
Carter, Matt Long and Jhonnie Lowe should be filling out the
rotation for the Barons behind Shirek and Nunez. None of these three fill me
with much confidence, although Lowe did put up some decent numbers after his
promotion to the Barons last year.
Torres was a Southern League
midseason all-star with the Barons in 2008. He had a 2.68 ERA that year out of
the bullpen, so he should be able to get the job done.
Mabee is a decent relief
prospect. He’s not a big strikeout guy, but he gets good ground ball rates and
pitched very well splitting his time between Winston-Salem and Birmingham last
Armstrong shouldn’t have much
trouble beating out Jared Price for the starting job. Armstrong is a decent
hitter with some pop and good defensive abilities, whereas Jared Price hit just
.220 last year.
Morel is clearly the best
infielder of this group, and the best prospect on this team. He brings great
defense at third, with a solid approach at the plate. It will be interesting to
see how his power plays at a spacious field like Regions Park, because that’s
one of the knocks on him, he doesn’t have the power that you would typically
like from 3B.
Gallagher has good on-base
skills but just average power from 1B. He should be a good player at this
level, but he’s not a legitimate prospect.
Shelby made steady
improvements in the plate discipline department last year but was unlucky with
balls hit into play. Personally I think he’s in for a resurgent year and will
re-establish himself as a legit prospect.
Marrero is unheralded, but he
just keeps on producing. His walk rate needs to improve and he has to watch the
strikeouts but he should be one of the better hitters in this Barons lineup.
Sanchez was a consistent power
threat last year for the Dash and he displayed good speed on the bases stealing 20
bags. Like Marrero, he doesn’t walk as much as you’d like, but he did
improve his K% by almost 5% last year and continued improvements in this area
should help with his ability to hit for average.
This looks like a really weak team to me. After
Shirek, I don’t see one dependable arm in the rotation, and even Shirek has
question marks with his low K%. Jhonny Nunez could step up and pitch well, he
certainly has the stuff to do it, but he hasn’t started in almost two years
now. The bullpen has a couple of decent arms, but no shutdown reliever like
they had last year in Clevelan Santeliz. The offense doesn’t look particularly
strong either. Armstrong, Shelby, Morel, Marrero and Sanchez can swing the bat
a bit, but they aren’t going to provide a huge amount of power or OBP. I think
the Barons will be a below average pitching staff and an average at best
I predict the Barons will be one of the weaker
teams in the Southern League this year. I think just finishing .500 with this
roster would be a good achievement.