2014 Birmingham Barons: Season preview

Chris Beck - Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Double-A affiliate

The starting rotation for the Barons is where the most important prospects are found: Chris Beck, Myles Jaye and Scott Snodgress. Beck is the opening day starter. The 23-year-old got seven late season starts with the Barons in 2013 and his stay in Birmingham is likely to be relatively short. The righty hasn't shown much ability to get strikeouts - he'll need a better slider for that - but he's got good command. He's in the mix for the "6th starter" role for the White Sox and, in any event, is likely to be in Chicago sometime this season.

Jaye also picked up a couple starts for Birmingham late last season. He's a guy with some serious helium potential in 2014, as the righty has shown two above-average pitches. If he can get his changeup to just average, the 22-year-old will look like a very good pitching prospect with mid-rotation potential. At a minimum, his 93-95 MPH fastball with late life and 81-84 MPH slider suggest late inning ability.

Snodgress also had late season starts for Birmingham but the lefty also had early season ones. The 24-year-old is repeating the level after a pedestrian showing in 2013. His strikeout rate nose-dived and he had significant issues with runners on base. He didn't show an acumen for inducing groundballs and pitch-to-contact is a treacherous approach for flyball pitchers. Snodgress is a big lefty, which helps play up his fastball, but this year will be critical in determining whether his future is in the rotation or the bullpen.

Chris Bassitt will also be part of the rotation but his long-term home is almost certainly in the bullpen and he's starting just to get more reps. Wherever he lands, he's going to need to develop an effective second pitch to pair with his low to mid 90s four-seam and two-seam fastballs.

In the bullpen, inhabitants of the 40-man roster, RHP Nestor Molina and LHP Frank De Los Santos, will look to bolster their fringe relief prospect statuses.

Catching those pitchers will be Kevan Smith. The 25-year-old will be getting the majority of the starts and he'll be looking to build on a .286/.370/.464 line last season in High-A. Moving from a hitter's paradise to Regions Field will likely dampen his power numbers and a repeat of the 12 home runs he hit last season would be an achievement. At least for right now, the path to the majors doesn't look particularly difficult for a catcher and, after moving slowly up the ladder since he was drafted in 2011, a good showing by Smith might yield a shot with the White Sox sooner rather than later.

The outfield includes two repeating the level. Trayce Thompson spent all of last season in Birmingham and still didn't find the key to unlocking his prodigious potential. A positive from last season was a career low 22.9% strikeout rate but the home park suppressed his power, which is his best tool. The 23-year-old will use his plus defense patrolling center field most of the time but will get starts in right field, too.

Those appearances in right field will be due to the presence of Keenyn Walker. The 23-year-old was another victim of an aggressive assignment by the White Sox. The switch-hitter had just 37 unremarkable games in High-A but still he played all of 2013 with the Barons. Including the playoffs, he batted below Mendoza and had a higher OBP than SLG by a pretty solid margin. Walker was and remains a pretty solid bet to flame out in Double-A because if he can't hit, he can't use his speed.

Micah Johnson is the star of the infield. The 23-year-old looked fully recovered during spring training from his second elbow surgery in two years. His attendance at this year's SoxFest suggest the White Sox see him in the majors in the immediate future. But first he has to perform in the upper minors. The left-handed hitter's game isn't the home run so he should enjoy Regions Park, which should let him pile up extra-base hits - assuming he makes enough contact. His defense at second base is still very much a work in progress.

Rangel Ravelo needs to add power to his game and Regions Park is going to be a difficult place to do it in. The soon-to-be 22-year-old first baseman has always made good contact but the need for slugging increased when he moved across the diamond to first.

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