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Birmingham Barons Season Recap

The team did not have as many MLB promotions as Charlotte or as deep a prospect pool as Winston-Salem, but it still boasts big names

Will Not Cease: Dylan had a breakout year that ended with the Barons when his innings limit was reached.
Birmingham Barons

The Barons did not have a great season in 2018, at 66-72 with a last place showing in the first half and a third place finish in the second. But, much like the Charlotte Knights, they sent a few players to the majors: Ian Hamilton, Ryan Burr and Jose Ruiz. However, many more Barons prospects saw their seasons end in Charlotte — including Eloy Jimenez.

So Birmingham was the place to be for Sox prospects for much of the season, but the best ones eventually left and the Barons suffered. The prospect depth should be even more impressive next season, with call-ups from Winston-Salem.

Dylan Cease

Cease started his year in Winston-Salem and was dominant there. He left with a 3.27 FIP to go along with 10.30 K/9 and 3.78 BB/9. However, Cease was more dominant after his promotion to the Barons. In 10 starts where he did not get tabbed with a loss, had a 2.39 FIP with 13.41 K/9 and 3.78 BB/9. That collection of seasonlong dominance earned him MLB Pipeline’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

Cease was good all-around with the Barons. He allowed a .167 batting average against and stranded runners on base 85.8% of the time, a career best. He also had a low mark of fly balls allowed at 29.7%. His fastball definitely helped with that.

and his breaking beauty helped as well:

The only knock on Cease is that because of his high strikeout and walk totals, he has a tendency to ramp up his pitch count early in games and misses out on six-inning outings too often. It may be an arbitrary number, but an arm as talented as his needs to be on the diamond for six-plus innings every five days. He did improve in his innings per start this year, but he still needs to find a way to do it more frequently, because he has ace stuff.

Dane Dunning

Dunning was one of the first big promotions of the year, when he got the call to go to Birmingham. With the Dash, Dunning stunned in 24 13 IP, with a 11.47 K/9, 3.34 BB/9, and a 2.49 FIP. He was clearly ready for AA.

With the Barons, he was just as good. He had 10.02 K/9 and 3.34 BB/9, for a 2.40 FIP. Even with terrible luck (.341 BABIP), Dunning allowed only 26.7% fly balls. The walks were high, but they should improve next season. The ground ball rate was low, and the batting average against was high at .242 — at least, high for Dunning. However, he did not allow a home run in 62 innings with the Barons. Batters just could not get good enough contact on him.

The typical outing was shorter for Dunning in AA because of the walks, but he rarely found himself in much trouble due to the contact hitters managed off of him. Earlier in the year, Dunning was put on the DL, and there was the scare of Tommy John surgery rumors. As of right now, Dunning is rehabbing in Arizona and has not needed surgery.

Zack Collins

Collins had an up-and-down year. He could not stay consistently good, but was still able to have an above-average offensive season. However, the question of his catching ability remains the same.

Collins had a much better first half than second, but his woes at the plate were a seasonlong problem. His walk rate fell 5%, and K-rate went up 5%. His ISO also fell to .170, which is still good for a catcher, but not close to last year’s numbers. A 128 wRC+ shows a good season, but that is a career-low RC+ for Collins.

A huge reason why Collins fell off in 2018 is the fall in fly balls. Collins seemed to be looking to drive the ball more often, but his fly balls fell about 5% compared to last season. His HR/FB rate also fell about 3%. And finally, his pull percentage fell, and most home runs are pulled. All of this points to a change in swing plane or approach, but it did not quite work out for Zack.

On defense, Collins was passed over for promotion as Seby Zavala was sent to AAA. That seems to send a signal that Zavala was better prepared to catch in MLB. But Collins’ base catching stats are not great, either. He allowed 93 stolen bases and only caught 38 runners; clearly, teams felt they could run on him.

Luis Basabe

Basabe started out in Winston-Salem and had a hell of a half season there. He left with a 146 wRC+ and a slash line of .266/.370/.502. He had a career-best ISO (.237) as well. It seemed like Basabe had finally clicked with the hit tool.

However, once in Birmingham, Basabe began to struggle. He walked slightly less and struck out more, but more alarming is that he showed considerably less power, with a .143 ISO. The wRC+ fell accordingly, to 111 in his 61 games in AA. Even the speed on steal attempts was inconsistent, as Basabe stole 16 bases but was caught 12 times.

On the bright side (maybe), the fly balls did not drastically drop for Basabe after he was promoted, it was the HR/FB rate that fell. Instead, those homers became line drives, as he had an uncharacteristically high line drive rate at 27.3%. That led Basabe’s fall in pull-percentage, as he used more of the diamond, just without contact that was as solid as his Single-A work. Even with the fall to a more average stat line in AA, Basabe had a breakout prospect year.

Kodi Medeiros

Medeiros was the prized prospect that Rick Hahn acquired this trade season. The former first round pick was having a successful year with the Milwaukee Brewers AA squad, with a 4.08 FIP, 9.32 K/9 and 3.92 BB/9. There were clear control issues before he arrived on the White Sox, but Medeiros’ talent is still undeniable. MLB Pipeline gave him a plus slider to go along with an above-average fastball. However, the lefty’s control issues got worse once he was traded.

The strikeouts fell to 8.91 K/9, but Medeiros’ walks skyrocketed to 5.77 BB/9, which led to a 5.08 FIP. That’s not exactly a good first impression, but his stuff, when on, was still electric. He did find himself allowing more home runs than ever before with the Barons, but the HR/FB rate was unusually high, so look for the home runs allowed to fall in 2019. Medeiros is a pure ground ball pitcher, as more than half of his batted balls stay on the ground. He should have had a higher pull percentage, but it seems that while he was able to fool many hitters, he got squared up too often. Scouts have wondered if a move to the pen is in his future, and next season should decide his fate.

Jimmy Lambert

Lambert, like a lot of other prospects on this list, started in Winston-Salem. However, he had his season in AA cut short because of an oblique injury; let me repeat, it was not an arm issue.

Before the injury, Lambert was fantastic with the Dash and Barons. He went from having a 10.19 K/9, with 2.16 BB/9 and a 2.99 FIP in Single-A to a 10.80 K/9, 2.16 BB/9 and 2.73 FIP in 25 Double-A innings. Compared to last season, which ended in A+, when Lambert had a 6.99 K/9, 3.43 BB/9, and a 4.78 FIP, 2018 was as true a breakout season as you’ll find.

In the shorter stint in Birmingham, Lambert proved his dominance despite a career-low ground ball rate (39.1%). However, the majority of batted balls allowed went to the opposite field. In other words, the balls hit off of Lambert that were lifted into the air were not hard hit. Though historically Lambert has been a ground ball pitcher, this season was such a success that his old batted ball data may not even hold sway anymore.

Jose Ruiz

Before getting the call to the White Sox, Jose Ruiz had two minor league stops, one with the Dash and one with Birmingham. With the Barons, Ruiz he proved he deserved that double-jump promotion.

Ruiz was striking out batters at a higher rate than ever, and it seemed like his walk issues were simmering down. However, in AA, his 3.77 BB/9 is still a little high, and that has crept into his time in MLB, though he has hardly pitched for the White Sox.

The former catcher turned closer was 16-of-18 in save opportunities in 2018 and added three wins on top of that, thanks to a .130 batting average against in A+ and .201 in AA. He does not allow much ground ball contact (just under 40%), but a large number of fly balls (35%) ended up as infield flies with the Barons. Batters were just not getting the barrel on the ball off of Ruiz that often. However, that’s still too much lift allowed, for a relief pitcher. Ruiz is still very raw, but his mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slider seem to have the White Sox excited.

Bernardo Flores

Flores is not overpowering by any means, but he gets the job done no matter what — and he was able to do just that in A+ and AA in 2018. In all but four starts between the Dash and Barons, Flores went six innings or more, as he continuously pitched to contact. His 54% ground ball rate in Winston-Salem and 50.6% rate in Birmingham helped him earn a 3.43 FIP and a 3.65 FIP in his respective leagues.

Flores’ command is impeccable, but is still getting better. His BB/9 fell from 1.97 to 1.61 after he was promoted. The strikeout total will never be high for Flores, but anything in the five to six range per nine innings should be a success for him in the majors. He only allowed 10 home runs in just more than 150 innings, as teams struggle to make good contact off of him. He did allow a high batting average in AA (.265) but as his stats, not stuff, are similar to an innings machine Mark Buerhle, that type of batting average is manageable in Chicago.

Honorable mention as top Birmingham prospects: Alex Call, Matt Foster, Joel Booker, and Ian Clarkin