The Barons played host to the most disappointing performances of any White Sox affiliate in 2012, which is probably as it should be considering the jump to Double-A is often considered to be the biggest in the minors. Still, quite a few prospects passed the test and improved their standing at the expense of those who didn't.
Birmingham began the season with probably the two top pitching prospects in the organization, RHP Nestor Molina and RHP Simon Castro, both newly acquired. Molina was a total disappointment, assisted in large measure by right elbow issues Buddy Bell attributed to mechanical changes imposed by the White Sox. Any way you slice it, 122.2 IP, 156 H, 26 BB, 84 K is just bad. While he continued to throw strikes, that 11.4 H/9 showed he wasn't fooling anyone. Other than, perhaps, Kenny Williams.
Castro's season was more mixed. He also dealt with injuries, which helped to keep him in Double-A for most of the season for the third year in a row - not something you want to see from anyone, let alone a 24 year old. In that light, his 90 IP, 89 H, 21 BB, 72 K line just looks like a guy beating up on hitters who aren't at his level.
RHP Jake Petricka was another disappointment. He began the year with Winston-Salem and he got promoted to Double-A not out of merit than but because he was 24 years old repeating High-A. His line for the Barons - 57.2 IP, 63 H, 35 BB, 27 K - showed a dearth of anything positive. The 2010 second round pick has shown nothing above Low-A and it's probably time for him to move to the bullpen, as it seems unlikely he will develop his secondary pitches enough to sufficiently complement his fastball.
RHP Andre Rienzo disappointed with his 50-game PED suspension but his performance was stellar. After serving his time, he got promoted to Birmingham where he showed that maybe he does have a chance as a starter. While walks are still a problem, the 24 year old showed his starting repertoire could get more advanced hitters out: 71.2 IP, 56 H, 33 BB, 72 K. The Brazilian got a late start to baseball so, practically speaking, he's not quite so old for the league.
LHP Santos Rodriguez kind of, sort of kept his (reliever) prospect status. While he, too, still continues to have control issues, his stuff is good enough to miss enough bats with strikes and to induce weaker contact that you're probably going to be seeing him in the left field bullpen soon enough. For the Barons: 64 IP, 33 H, 33 BB, 60 K.
The position player prospects were perhaps even more disappointing. Or at the least the ones who spent more than a month with the club. OF Jared Mitchell was a bit of a surprise to start the season at Double-A. But he initially put to rest any concerns when he sped out of the gate to a .341/.471/.561 April. After the first week of May, though, he was pretty blah the rest of the season, finishing up with a .240/.368/.440 line in his time with the Barons. The strikeouts continue to be totally excessive at 31%, although it was good to see his walk rate get back to a very respectable 15%. His defense and first round pedigree will get the 23 year old to the majors, almost certainly next season, but his offensive game simply hasn't progressed enough to project him as much more than a platoon or fourth outfielder.
INF Tyler Saladino shot up prospect lists after a very good 2011 season. His 2012 season, on the other hand, was bizarre. His power disappeared, even more than one would have expected in his transition to the offense suppressing Regions Park, and that skill was what made him most intriguing to me as a middle infield prospect. His plate discipline, though, actually improved. He upped his walk rate to almost 15% and cut his strikeout rate, which was another concern of mine, to 18%. And he was let loose on the basepaths to the tune of 38 for 46 in stolen bases. His defense at shortstop wasn't all that impressive, however, and it seems like second, or perhaps third, base will be his eventual home. The 23 year old's overall line for Birmingham was .237/.359/.321 - and his brief call-up to Charlotte suggests this wasn't some Regions Park aberration.
1B Andy Wilkins was the other prospect of note to start the year with Birmingham, a place that is a tough assignment for a guy whose main skill is power. First base prospects need to hit, and hit consistently, at every level or they find themselves as a 25 year old star of a High-A team. He did show a rather marked home/away split, putting up a weak .621 OPS at home compared to .885 on the road. The 23 year old still can't hit lefties and his minor league career doesn't show a guy who has the prodigious power one needs to have to be a major league first baseman. He'll certainly welcome an assignment to the far more hitter-friendly Charlotte where he will absolutely need to add about a couple hundred points to his final line for the Barons: .239/.335/.425.
The only position prospects who can count their Double-A time as successes, INF Carlos Sanchez (.370/.424/.462) and CF Trayce Thompson (.280/.379/.520), made small sample size pit stops with Birmingham before moving on to Triple-A.