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2015 Birmingham Barons Season Preview

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Plenty of interesting prospects

Do you know who I am?
Do you know who I am?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Pitchers

Frankie Montas and Tyler Danish headline this group. Double-A will be a big test for both pitchers but for somewhat different reasons. After a knee injury-riddled season in 2014, Montas will get another opportunity to show that he can handle a starter's workload. Necessity, however, may interrupt that. The White Sox bullpen certainly doesn't have the look right now of seven world beaters and Montas would be quite capable as a medium (and potentially high) leverage right-handed option should the White Sox have that need midseason.

Danish is getting a pretty tough assignment for a guy his age. In normal circumstances, I'd be lamenting the White Sox unnecessarily pushing another 20-year-old to a level where he's destined to fail. But this isn't a normal circumstance. Danish proved that he could handle High-A hitters in 91.2 innings for the Dash last season. The only logical thing to do is to send the righty to Double-A to see how he fares there. This is going to be another year to build up his strength and I imagine the goal will be to get him up to around 150-160 innings.

Nolan Sanburn, the righty acquired from Oakland for Adam Dunn, will be in Birmingham, as well, though it's unclear whether it will be as a starter or reliever. There's a bit of a conundrum with him, in that he's had a variety of injuries - so there's serious question whether he can handle a starter's workload - but since he's had a variety of injuries, he's low on reps and could really benefit from starting. He does have a major league arm.

In the bullpen, the 40-man roster man of mystery, Raul Fernandez, will attempt to show us why he's on the 40-man. It appears to have something to do with the righty's fastball. After the disaster that was last season, hopefully the White Sox will have RHP Myles Jaye transition to a reliever.

Position Players

The headliner, of course, is Tim Anderson. He got a 10 game look at Double-A at the end of last season, in which he didn't look over-matched offensively. A lengthier spell at the beginning of a season, however, is going to be much more telling. While there's certainly room for growth on the offensive side - sure, he could learn to take a few walks if he really wants to - I'm going to be much more interested in his defense. His second full season as a pro is going to tell us a lot about what his positional home in the majors will be. With Alexei Ramirez's contract up after 2016, the White Sox are certainly hoping it's shortstop.

Courtney Hawkins had a loud spring. That was nice but pretty meaningless. His second try at High-A absolutely went better than his first but it wasn't overly impressive. Still, he's just 21 and will be one of the youngest players yet again in Double-A. In marked contrast to Charlotte's, Birmingham's new park is decidedly stingy with home runs. Considering the left fielder's obvious power skill, I don't really care whether he hits lots of home runs or not - after all, he hit 19 of them in both seasons at Winston-Salem. What I want to see is consolidation or, better, improvement on the adequate-ish contact skills he showed in his second season there.

Patrolling center field will be Jacob May. Speed, defense and contact are his calling cards. Combined with being a switch-hitter, he has an attractive profile if he can realize on his potential in those areas.

With Adrian Nieto, it sort of looks as if the White Sox are pretending 2014 never happened, at least developmentally speaking. In 2013, he played 110 games in High-A and acquitted himself well. Normally, that would mean an assignment to Double-A the next year. Of course, the restrictions on Rule 5 picks changed that to a major league assignment where Nieto played probably better than one could have expected for a guy with his (lack of) experience. A return to the minors in 2015 was always in the cards. He'll get the chance to be a regular starting catcher again and get the reps he absolutely needs for his development, most particularly after catching just 300 innings and getting just 118 plate appearances in 2014.

Whenever they decide to finalize their roster, it will be here.