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The Birmingham Barons probably reflected the fortunes of the top-heavy farm system better than any individual affiliate. The big names enjoyed massive success and passed on through to Charlotte, while the undercard players mostly struggled with injuries, adjustments and/or shaky underlying numbers.
The Barons the year 64-72. They were at their best when Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal topped the lineup, and unremarkable otherwise. Robert aside, the greatest area of depth in the entire farm system turned out to be a massive disappointment, as none of Birmingham’s primary outfielders reached even a .700 OPS.
The only solace is that offense around the entire Southern League never really materialized. As much as the Barons struggled, they were around league average in the key categories.
The pitchers struggled more than the hitters, although the numbers were dragged down by big-time struggles from individual players, rather than a staff-wise malaise.
You just read about several of these players in the Arizona Fall League preview, unless you don’t read every word I write. For shame.
Gavin Sheets: Of the players who stayed in Birmingham the whole season, Sheets had the only decent performance. He hit just .267/.345/.414, but he shaped it the way you want to see, starting slow and figuring it out. He hit .289/.377/.478 in the second half, with 30 walks to 49 strikeouts over 62 games. That line looked stronger before he finished the year 0-for-13. He ended up with 16 homers, or 10 more than he hit in Winston-Salem.
He still has questions, but they’re more fun than they were last season. If he another Andy Wilkins? Is there room for him in a Sox organization with Zack Collins and Andrew Vaughn? Are the Sox sending him to the Arizona Fall League to dangle him in front of teams? First base is the only real area of depth the Sox have right now, if they want to deal him from any.
Luis Basabe: A broken hamate bone in February dashed hopes of Basabe cracking the White Sox roster in the second half, and a few leg injuries knocked him down after he returned. He played in 69 games, and the results were anything but nice: .246/.324/.336 and a strikeout in one-third of his plate appearances. I thought he might’ve been a candidate for the AFL, but maybe the Sox want to give his body a rest and want him to be 100 percent for his last option year.
Blake Rutherford: Of the outfielders to play the full season in Birmingham, Rutherford posted the highest OPS. That’s not saying much. He hit .265/.319/.365 with a sizable jump in his strikeout rate (18.5 percent to 24.6 percent). That’s not a great combination, especially for a guy who no longer plays center field and can’t hit lefties. The hope is that he figured something out during the final month, when he hit .315/.407/.391 with 17(!) walks to 20 strikeouts over 113 plate appearances. Maybe the Sox are sending him to the Arizona Fall League to see if this is sustainable. Maybe it’s also because he’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year, and they need to figure out his 40-man future.
Luis Gonzalez: After getting a chance to determine his own pace by waiting out last year’s logjam, Gonzalez couldn’t run with the opportunity. He hit just .247/.316/.359. He fared OK in terms of plate discipline (47 walks, 89 strikeouts over 535 plate appearances), and he had even splits while playing more center than anywhere else, but the hit tool and quality of contact didn’t carry over from Winston-Salem, where he hit .313 last year. With Steele Walker coming in hot, the Sox are back to having more players than spots in Birmingham.
Ti’Quan Forbes: He was mildly intriguing after developing a hit tool during an age-21 season in Winston-Salem last year, but Forbes took a step back in that department. Yet hanks to some newfound patience — or struggles putting the ball in play — while he lost 30 points of batting average, he gained 20 points in OBP. Alas, he fizzled to the finish and settled for a line that doesn’t hint at much (.242/.333/.327). Maybe he’ll tap into some power in his age-23 season, which is necessary for him as a third baseman. There isn’t a challenger for his playing time at the moment, so he might get one more show.
Laz Rivera: The hyper-aggressive approach that worked for him in A-ball was used against him in Double-A. He hit .248/.287/.318 with 17 walks to 81 strikeouts over 455 plate appearances, and his season unfolded in the opposite manner of Rutherford and Gonzalez. He drew just three total walks over Juuly and August, which nullified any gains he made from his hits. His monthly OBPs ranged from .253 to .309. In a number you’ll only see on an Omar Vizquel team, Rivera was 10-for-21 on the basepaths. He’s a 28th-round pick, so expectations should be adjusted accordingly, but it makes you appreciate what Danny Mendick’s done even more.
Bernardo Flores: Last year’s minor-league iron man fell well short of the 156 innings he posted for Winston-Salem in 2018 due to an oblique strain. When healthy, Flores fared decently over his 93⅓ innings, with pros and cons. His 3.33 ERA was masked by eight unearned runs, all at Birmingham. His strikeout rate increased by six points to 21.5 percent, but his home run rate doubled. He has to walk a fine line with his crafty kitchen-sink approach, and he’ll get time in the Arizona Fall League to work on keeping the ball in the park.
Jimmy Lambert: The pitching prospect known as Last Year’s Jonathan Stiever was limited to 11 so-so starts with Birmingham before succumbing to Tommy John surgery. He’ll lose most of 2020, if not all of it.
Lincoln Henzman: After a successful season converting from collegiate closing in 2018, Henzman didn’t impress across High-A and Double-A this time around.He posted a 5.24 ERA over 120⅓ innings, the first two-thirds of which he pitched for Winston-Salem. The sinkerballer is allergic to walks (28), but he’s also resistant to strikeouts (62). The silver lining is the late surge. He strung together three nice starts to end the season, allowing just three runs on 11 hits and two walks over 15⅓ innins, while striking out 10. That’s not enough to say the arrow is pointing up, but it’d be nothing but down otherwise.
John Parke: The 21st-round pick in the 2017 draft, Parke led all White Sox minor-league pitchers in innings with 145⅓, edging Jonathan Stiever by one whole out, so that’s good enough for a mention. He posted a 2.59 ERA over 12 starts at Birmingham, but that number is suppressed by nine unearned runs, and he gave up 15 of them over his 26 starts overall. He only recorded 75 strikeouts against 38 walks, which explains how a high unearned run total can happen.
Zack Burdi: His comeback from Tommy John surgery stalled an out short of 20 innings in Birmingham thanks to a torn patellar tendon in his knee. The Downers Grove South Mustang struck out 24, but against 13 walks and 24 hits, five of which left the yard. His velocity did return to about 96, but still several ticks short of his average fastball before the UCL repair. Kade McClure shows that pitchers can come back that knee procedure without issue, so it’s the TJ that still has precedence here.
Alec Hansen: It’s hard to imagine that Hansen would look like somebody who wouldn’t be added to the 40-man a couple years ago, but after walking 37 batters over 39⅔ innings with the Barons for his second straight season with massive control problems in relief, I don’t know where anybody goes from here. Every time he strung together a couple of outings without a walk, he’d overwrite his progress with a crooked number.
Codi Heuer: The White Sox wasted little time converting their sixth-round pick from 2018 into a reliever, and it yielded dividends in his first full season. He struck out 65 batters against 15 walks over 67⅔ innings, and he didn’t allow a homer over 20 games with Winston-Salem or 22 in Birmingham. The strikeouts dipped in Double-A (from 27 percent to 19), but the grounder rate ticked upward (61.8 to 65.1) to compensate. He might be seen in Chicago next season.
Tyler Johnson: So could Johnson, who might’ve been on the White Sox this year if he didn’t suffer a strained lat in the spring that cost him the first half of the season. He found his groove by the end of the year, posting four straight scoreless two-inning outings, over which he struck out nine while allowing just one baserunner. He’s in the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost time, and in position to be one of the first prospects called up next year.
Kodi Medeiros: The White Sox gave up on making a starter of Medeiros after his first nine games, but while he was far more effective in terms of run prevention (2.55 ERA, compared to a 7.75 ERA as a starter), he still walked too many for so few strikeouts (51 walks against 75 strikeouts over 83 innings). Throw in struggles against right-handed hitters and a league that’s outlawing the pure LOOGy lifestyle, and it’s hard to see the Sox getting a major league pitcher out of the Joakim Soria deal.
- 2019 Winston-Salem Dash
- 2019 Kannapolis Intimidators
- 2019 Great Falls Voyagers
- 2019 AZL White Sox
- 2019 DSL White Sox