Eloy Jimenez was supposed to headline the Birmingham Barons’ initial roster, but his bad run of health luck continues. After overcoming knee tendinitis during spring training, Jimenez strained a pectoral muscle lifting weights, and it will set him back a couple of weeks.
Alec Hansen was supposed to be here, too, but he’s only starting to resume his throwing program after missing most of the spring with forearm tightness.
There’s still plenty of talent in the Magic City even without two of the White Sox’ top five prospects. The Barons are just missing the stud talents, leaving a lot of guys who have to overcome significant holes in their profiles. That’s part of the fun of following a minor league season.
On an ideal organizational depth chart, Collins and Zavala would deserve to start at different levels in order to maximize reps. Alas, the combination of Collins’ sluggish hit tool and Zavala’s breakout at the plate have them battling for starts behind the plate at Birmingham. Collins has the inside track due to his pedigree — a first-round pick with a world-class batting eye and stronger throwing arm — but the Sox are treating the 12th-round pick Zavala as a serious challenger after a huge season between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. The Sox love his game-calling, but his other defensive skills are lacking, although Collins has to work on his receiving, too.
Schroeder is around, maybe because whichever catcher isn’t starting is probably DHing, allowing manager Ryan Newman to pinch-run or otherwise sub out a catcher without fear of exposing an unprepared player to the unknown.
There aren’t any prospects with a clear upward trajectory in this group. Mendick has the best case for it as a promising defensive shortstop, but he hit .197/.280/.293 over 41 games with the Barons last season. Michalczewski has played 240 games at Birmingham, which is both a point in his favor (he’s still only 23) and against (he’s only hit .229/.313/.360 there). I don’t think the White Sox would mind if Gavin Sheets warranted a promotion, as Barnum is keeping that seat warm at first. Basto has had more success than anybody of this bunch, with a .247/.313/.392 line at Birmingham last year. He doesn’t have a clear position, and he could be in the outfield rotation.
Flete and Rose came over from the Cubs as the other two players in the Jose Quintana trade. Flete will be making his Double-A debut at 25; Rose is doing the same at 23, coming off a season in which he hit 18 homers over 101 games in the Carolina League, although with 103 strikeouts to just 27 walks.
It won’t be as interesting as the playing-time division at catcher, but this group of infielders could be fairly modular. Mendick might get the bulk of the shortstop starts, but Rose, Basto and Barnum have played plenty of first, and Getz said the Sox want to explore Michalczewski’s versatility in hopes that utility work puts his brain in a different mindset and maybe unlocks his switch-hitting bat. He’s played shortstop here and there, and you could see him on the other side of the infield, too.
This is a far less exciting group without Jimenez. Polo has fourth-outfielder potential and he had a decent introduction to Birmingham (.278/.342/.389 with seven steals in 21 games). Health was his bigger issue over the last two months and the Arizona Fall League, so a month or two of regular action will serve him well. After that, his advancement to Charlotte might be more contingent on whether that outfield cluster at Triple-A loosens up.
The rest are less qualified. Fisher should be in Winston-Salem after struggling there in 2017 (.221/.320/.387), but the A-ball outfield logjam forces him upward and his advanced batting eye gives him a chance to float in Double-A. Hawkins keeps starting in Birmingham, and he keeps doing less every year.
Mason Robbins slashed his strikeout rate dramatically from Winston-Salem to Birmingham, but it only resulted in a slash line for a backup shortstop (.265/.293/.310). Brett, 26, showed up at some point during spring trainng. He has a career major-league OPS of 1.750, albeit in four plate appearances.
This is a group of pitchers worth following every day, even without Hansen. Part of that is because guys like Adams, Guerrero and Stephens probably deserve spots in Charlotte. Maybe they’ll reach Triple-A within the first month or two. Adams got a late start to his spring due to a finger injury, so he could still be working his way into a routine. The Jordans had nice runs at Birmingham last year, so their conservative starting assignments are a little less clear. Guerrero is the changeup-oriented lefty, and Stephens an undersized right-handed starter who likes to attack with his fastball.
Clarkin and Puckett are making their Double-A debuts. Clarkin hasn’t had problem getting results as a lefty with advanced polish in A-ball, but he’s had difficulty staying healthy. The Sox liked him enough to put him on the 40-man roster. Puckett came over from the Royals in the Melky Cabrera trade. He has a classic righty’s build (6-4, 200 lbs.) and has a working fastball-curve-changeup arsenal that made him a second-round pick of the Royals, but there’s doubt whether any of those pitches stand out enough to stay in the big leagues, assuming he gets there at some point in some role.
- Brandon Brennan
- Ryan Burr
- Brian Clark
- Brad Goldberg
- Ian Hamilton
- Jake Johansen
- Jorge Rondon
- Colton Turner
- Connor Walsh
The veteran relievers who auditioned for MLB roles in spring training are probably in Charlotte, so guys like Clark, Goldberg, Turner and Walsh are back to Birmingham despite little to prove there. Somebody like Walsh can improve his command, but the rest are biding their time, more or less. Brennan, Johansen and yet another Rondon are veteran for the level.
The Hamilton-Burr combo will draw the most attention here, and not just because of the historical implications. The Sox have talked up Hamilton as somebody whose jump to relief work generated a huge jump in his arsenal. The upper-90s fastball and power slider were roughed up in a 14-game audition in Birmingham last season, but the enthusiasm remains high.
Burr struck out 88 hitters over 65 innings split between both A-ball levels last year. That’s not a relevation, because he was supposed to be a fast riser after setting Arizona State’s save record. Injuries slowed him down in 2016, and the White Sox acquired him from the Diamondbacks for international pool money last year. He turns 24 in late May, so this is the year for keeping himself interesting.
We’ll continue previewing the 2018 rosters when the others become official. We can make most of the inferences about Charlotte’s roster based on who’s assigned to Birmingham, but there are still 30 players on the Knights, including Michael Ynoa, whom the White Sox released. We may as well wait until they’re revised, and here’s hoping they give me at least one more to work with today.