2018 Birmingham Barons preview

White Sox Double-A affiliate missing Eloy Jimenez and Alec Hansen to start, but there's still plenty to follow

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.

Catchers

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.

Infielders

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.

Outfielders

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.

Starting pitchers

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.

Relievers

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.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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MadManx

Still a little disappointed not seeing Dunning on this roster. Sox are probably going to have to start making some decisions on moving starters to bullpen roles (Fulmer and Danish) and be a little less conservative about having 7, and 8 starters stashed in front of Kopech.

The three pitchers mentioned really should be at Charlotte

Trooper Galactus

I was actually shocked Adams didn’t get bumped to Charlotte. He had a great season last year (last three starts notwithstanding) and, despite still being plenty young for the level, has already made 35 starts at AA. I think he’s ready for his next incremental step in his development.

Eagle Bones

Yeah I’m still confused by all of those guys being stuck at AA. I don’t understand what they’re doing with the non-Kopech spots at AAA. I get needing a Volstad there that you can abuse if needed, but do you need four of them? What is the projected rotation there? Kopech, Covey, Volstad, Danish, and who? Danish should be in the pen at this point. Move Stephens and Guerrero up there.

PauliePaulie

Opening day that team is not very exciting. Hopefully guys get healthy and promoted and BHam is a stacked roster of future Major Leaguers come July/Aug.

Lurker Laura

That’s an exciting rotation. The rest of the roster – meh.

tommytwonines

How much longer can Hawkins last? Yeah I know he was a first-round pick, but shouldn’t they move on?

loch

I don’t remember which national analyst said that Hawkins had no business going in the first round, but I hoped he was wrong then. He wasn’t. 

Greg Nix

I wonder what a 30 grade player would even look like in the majors. Andy Gonzalez had the worst season I can remember watching for the White Sox — and I can’t imagine Hawkins hitting that well based on his AA numbers.

Eagle Bones

I don’t remember that either. I actually remember many being surprised he got to them.

Trooper Galactus

Bad as Hawkins has been, I recall the general consensus being he was drafted roughly where he was ranked. I’m sure there were detractors, but that’s the case with most prospects.

35Shields

I’m pretty surprised that Adams, Stephens and Guerrero are all starting out in Birmingham. Charlotte had five starters top 100 innings – three are now in the Sox starting rotation and one of the others is Chris Volstad.

PauliePaulie

I think the Sox wanted as many easily peelable layers as possible between Kopech and the Majors. Also, Hansen’s injury seems to have caused a AAA guy from being under-assigned as apposed to a A+ guy being pushed.

Greg Nix

This is probably right, but seems like they’re being overly cautious by prioritizing AAAA depth over prospect development. If they have Santiago, Volstad, and Danish for spot starts, not sure why they need Dylan Covey and TJ House too, especially since Guerrero and Stephens are already in their mid-20s.

That said, things could change fairly quickly and this may be much ado about nothing after a couple turns through the minor league rotation.

PauliePaulie

We may get a little more clarity tonight on whether Santiago or Volstad will be needed to fill someone else’s shoes in the ML rotation.

Trooper Galactus

I dunno, Volstad might be needed to join the bullpen if Infante, Farquhar, and Minaya keep getting shelled. Guy was pretty good out of the pen in ST.

Greg Nix

They’ve got plenty of higher upside veterans than Volstad in the AAA bullpen. Volstad’s one marketable skill is eating 5 innings as a starter. 

Trooper Galactus

I don’t know that Volstad is good enough as a starter to last five innings reliably any longer. What he showed out of the bullpen was rather surprising. And depending on the time of the year, Kopech will be ahead of Volstad in the call-up pecking order.

lil jimmy

Volstad will start in Chicago this year. book it.

Trooper Galactus

I’d prefer not to think about it. Shit, give starts to Danish…at least you can maybe dream he turns into something surprising.

Trooper Galactus

Just a guess, but I’m thinking Covey and House will both have really short leashes in Charlotte. If Covey sucks as badly as he did last year, he’s probably gone as soon as Hansen gets healthy for Birmingham, with Adams getting his spot in Charlotte. And when Dunning forces his way to AA, Guerrero or Stephens will be coming for the likes of House, Volstad, and Danish.

Greg Nix

You may be right (and I hope you are), but if the leash is that short I don’t understand the utility of keeping those guys around to begin with. 

Trooper Galactus

Believe me, if Dylan Covey had been lost to the Rule 5, I wouldn’t have shed a tear.

Eagle Bones

From Kiley McDaniel’s FG chat today:

12:24
Greg: Is it too early to connect teams to players? Any White Sox draft inklings?

12:26
Kiley McDaniel: Nope, we are hearing some stuff along those lines at this point, but still early to have decent intel on each team. Hearing college bat for the White Sox, they really like Swaggerty.

https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/kiley-mcdaniel-chat-4-4-18/

lil jimmy

Just what we need. A 20 year old outfielder.

PauliePaulie

Swaggerty? He’s not really 4th pick material. Also, can someone inform Hostetler that there is a level of schooling below College. It’s called High School. And the kids that graduate from there are also eligible for the draft. Thx in advance.

Josh Nelson

The White Sox will select nine college players in the first 10 rounds AND YOU WILL LIKE IT, MISTER!

All kidding aside, I’ll be writing more about this topic for the weekend. Speaking with others that cover the draft, there are two other names linked to the White Sox but we are two months away from the draft.

lil jimmy

Did you talk to Brian? He’s pretty good at this stuff.

Eagle Bones

I have no problem with college bats, it’s the ones they’ve chosen that have been the problem. I’d have no problem with Madrigal at 4.

Trooper Galactus

I hope they mean as a potential second round pick.

PauliePaulie

You can take Charlie Blackmon off your White Sox CF stopgap wish lists. Got an extension from the Rox.

Josh Nelson

Good deal for Charlie because I highly doubt any team was going to give him six years.

Not sure if it’s a good deal for Colorado.

Trooper Galactus

A.J. Pollock, anybody?

Eagle Bones

I really like Pollock, but depending on how they do this year, I feel like the right play for FA next year might be to go hard after Machado and if/when they don’t get him, try to be opportunistic buyers and see who ends up losing the game of FA musical chairs. I don’t like the idea of paying primo dollars for the second tier guys unless they make a big jump this year and end up closer to legit contention than I’m thinking they will.

Soxfan2

“He turns 24 in late May, so this is the year for keeping himself interesting”. When it comes to strictly reliever prospects, age doesn’t really factor in interesting. It takes some of these guys a while to figure it out. If he’s doesn’t make his MLB debut till he’s 27 like Nate Jones, that’s fine, as long as he can be an effective reliever. 

Trooper Galactus

It’s a good thing our infield is set for the forseeable future, because our depth left of first base is non-existent right now.

asinwreck

“The Hamilton-Burr combo will draw the most attention here, and not just because of the historical implications.”

Should we be concerned that Alabama is an open-carry state?

Ted Mulvey

This needs more pluses.

Trooper Galactus

Those pistols were probably brought to the duel in a case.