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2015 Birmingham Barons season review

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Tim Anderson and teammates had productive seasons despite plenty of adversity

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The standings say the Barons finished the season at 69-70, but they seldom looked like a .500 team over the last two-plus months. After a sluggish first half, the Barons opened July by winning 13 of 14 games, which helped put them in playoff contention into mid-August. But a combination of injuries and promotions eventually overwhelmed them, and they staggered to an 8-19 finish to close out the season.

Not that the struggles hurt the club's bottom line any. The Barons set an attendance record at Regions Field for the third straight year.

Southern League baselines:

  • Average age: 24
  • Average line: .253/.330/.369
  • Average walk rate: 9.6 percent
  • Average strikeout rate: 19.4 percent

Regions Field is one of the league's toughest parks for hitters, especially when it comes to home runs.

Position players

Tim Anderson: The White Sox' top prospect showed all sorts of improvement at Double-A, hitting .312/.350/.429 with 21 doubles, 12 triples and five homers. The White Sox wanted him to become more active on the basepaths, and he stole 49 bases in 62 attempts. His monthly splits are remarkably steady -- he never hit lower than .295, and he showed a gradual increase in walks every month. The only thing that isn't gradual is his August, as he hit .336/.397/.496 despite being less than 100 percent for most of the month.

Anderson took his lumps during the season. He hurt his shoulder and hip in this awful collision with Jacob May in early June ...

... and then injured his foot on an unplayable field shortly after. In August, he banged up his hip on a slide in August ...

... and then hurt his shoulder on one more slide, which ended his season with a handful of games left. He spent much of August at DH after coming back from that GIF to ensure plate appearances if nothing else, which makes that surge all the more remarkable. If it showed anywhere, it might've been his defense, as he committed three errors over his last five games. Even if that's just a random clump of mistakes, he still improved his playmaking ability drastically year over year: six fewer errors (25) in 44 more games (110).

He still needs reps at short, and while he may never see a ton of pitches, that walk rate needs to come up, but he's on the right track. Onward and upward.

Jacob May: May definitely got the worse of the collision. Not only did he suffer a concussion, but he also had bleeding in his brain. He missed 1½ months of action during the recovery process:

May got to know the concussion protocols very well. May spent the rest of June and most of July at the White Sox’s complex in Arizona to recover and get back in shape to resume his season. He took impact tests at least once a week, several memory and balance tests and cognitive drills, such as having books read to him, then having to "spit back what I remembered," as he put it. "They just did everything they could to make sure I was cognitively back to normal."

The concussion disrupted what was an excellent season for the 23-year-old switch-hitting center fielder:

  • Before: .311/.359/.359, 16 BB, 36 K over 228 PA, 25/36 SB
  • After: .235/.295/.306, 13 BB, 37 K over 204 PA , 12/17 SB

On the plus side, May hit both his homers during his second half (including a cycle on Aug. 11). More importantly, he was able to just get back on the field when he could've missed the rest of the season. He would've been a prime candidate for the Arizona Fall League, but he'll get a breather instead.

Courtney Hawkins: Here's another guy who dealt with multiple injures this season. Hawkins hit .243/.300/.410 with 19 doubles, two triples and nine homers over 78 games. His strikeout rate crept up to 30 percent, and his walk rate decreased to 6 percent, but there are a couple of caveats that keep hope alive. A finger injury caused him to miss a few weeks and sapped his power in June, and then he battled plantar fasciitis over the final month of his season, which was cut short at the end of July.

Moreover, Regions Park is most harmful to hitters to power-oriented hitters like him. Check out his splits:

  • Home: .217/.257/.350, 10 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR over 169 PA
  • Away: .273/.355/.476, 9 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR over 161 PA

That away line also included a more reasonable 27 percent strikeout rate. So there's still breakout potential here, even if there's more cause for pessimism than optimism. He'll get a shot to catch up with reps in the AFL.

Nick Delmonico: He came to Chicago under mysterious circumstances and with a suspension to finish. With that in mind, it's a success in itself that he finished the season without incident. He's heading to the AFL, so to crib Larry's notes:

In addition to all that, he's had back and left knee injuries, as well as a concussion, that made him miss time. He's also bounced around positions, playing second and first before settling at third. The left-handed hitter knows what he's doing at the plate but the lack of any plus skills looks like it will limit him to AAAA status. He's only gotten 1150 or so PA so it's still possible that the 23-year-old is a late bloomer. For Birmingham: .250/.333/.405 with a 9.7% BB rate and 18.5% K rate.

Adrian Nieto: Looks like carrying him on the 25-man roster for the entirety of the 2014 season failed to pay off. Nieto hit .207/.344/.316 in his first year at Double-A with on-base skills (a 16.5 percent walk rate) and little else. He ended the season on a tear (seven hits, 12 walks, .515 OBP over his last eight games), but he missed the last week of the season.

Pitchers

Tyler Danish: The 21-year-old (he turned drinking age after the season) finally encountered some measure of failure. The 4.50 ERA over 26 starts could've been worse  considering he allowed a .311/.379/.460 line. The league adjusted to him after April, and he spent most of the rest of the season trying to survive, including a bout of command problems bookended by seven-walk outings. He smoothed that part out, but the strikeout rate still needs work (14.2 percent).

The good news? He's still really young. In fact, he only faced a hitter younger than him six times. There's no shame in repeating Birmingham at this point, especially since he spent the year getting his delivery tweaked, and so he seems to recognize the stage of development:

"I notice a big jump. Guys don’t chase balls that are an inch off the plate – they just take them. What I’ve had to learn is that mentally I have to be stronger than I was before. I’ve never failed, and I needed to fail to understand what to do. Other than that, I’ve just learned so much this year. People might see this as a failed year – a terrible year for me – but I’ve learned so much to take into next year and future years. It’s a positive year for me in my eyes."

Frankie Montas: He's in Chicago, so you know the general story. In Birmingham this year, the big Dominican posted a 2.97 ERA over 112 innings (23 starts), including 108 strikeouts and a .218/.300/.308 line allowed. Inefficiency was a problem, as the control of his breaking stuff came and went, but he still has an outside shot of sticking as a starter if he can be more aggressive with his power stuff.

Myles Jaye: Danish can take a cue from Jaye, who was well-served by repeating Double-A while still ahead of the age curve. The 23-year-old righty improved in just about every way -- he walked fewer batters, missed more bats (17-percent strikeout rate), and held hitters to a .244/.310/.347 line over 147⅔ innings. He also had the best stretch of any Barons starter, rolling off five starts over which he didn't allow an earned run over 35 innings beginning in mid-June. He doesn't have a calling card -- a low-90s fastball with movement, a slider, a changeup -- but he learned how to pitch with what he has, and he's put himself in position to stay in a rotation another year, even if his future might be in relief. He was acquired from the Blue Jays along with Daniel Webb in the Jason Frasor deal.

Robin Leyer: The 22-year-old Leyer received a promotion from Winston-Salem at the break. He pitched in 12 games with the Barons, starting the first six, then shifting to the bullpen for the other six. The idea might be to estimate his bullpen potential before figuring out his 40-man roster status, which is one reason why he's pitching for the Sox in the AFL. From Larry's AFL write-up:

The 22-year-old is interesting. He's got a mid-90s fastball and, well, that's about it. He can throw a passable changeup that shows promise, as well as a slider. It seems like the White Sox have given up on the righty as a starter and now are developing him as a reliever. In a very limited sample, he's shown a better ability to throw strikes out of the pen. There's some stuff to like about the Dominican but he's still rather raw. The White Sox will need to make a 40-man roster decision on him and the AFL will certainly tell us whether he's someone to watch. Between W-S and Birmingham: 117 IP, 17.3% K rate, 7.8% walk rate.

Bonus content: Here's Josh talking Barons baseball with Birmingham broadcaster Curt Bloom: