Highlighting the remarkable 2022 Chicago White Sox at Double-A Birmingham
The Barons endured a difficult campaign in 2022, finishing last in the Southern League with a 61-77 record, 20 games behind league leaders Rocket City Trash Pandas (affiliated with the Los Angeles Angels). No matter how you split the season, the Barons come out on the losing end. Their first-half record was 31-38, and they followed that in the second half with a 27-40 mark and a -52 point differential on the season.
On the player development front, longtime affiliate Double-A became the organization’s focal point when top prospects, led by number one Colson Montgomery, reunited in Alabama as part of “Project Birmingham”. This article focuses on five of the most high-profile prospects who have spent most of the season at affiliate Double-A. The Birmingham project will be covered separately.
As good as Montgomery has played this season, he was not the most talked about player spending time at Birmingham. That honor went to the Cuban prodigy Oscar Colas. Highlight defensive plays from the reel, speed on base paths, and a few moonshots will have videos circulating on social media at breakneck speeds.
In 51 games and 225 plate appearances, the 24-year-old southpaw cut .306/.364/.563 with 14 homers for Birmingham. If those stats aren’t impressive enough, he had a respectable K-Rate of 24%, a whopping ISO of 0.257, and a wRC+ of 139. Defensively, he spent most of his time in right field, registering 277.1 sleeves in corner position. in addition to 36 innings in center field. Those staggering numbers earned him a late-season promotion to Triple-A Charlotte, where he continued to impress. This type of production has White Sox fans salivating that it could be the long-term answer to the right-field problem in Chicago.
Yoelqui Cespedes played 119 games for Birmingham in 2022. In 512 plate appearances, the 25-year-old right-hander cut .258/.332/.437. He landed 17 home runs, generating a wRC+ of 103 and an ISO of 0.179 while eliminating 30% of the time. The 5-foot-9, 205-pound Cuban has played 101 games in center field. Considering his age and his time at Double-A, Céspedes is in the running for a posting to Charlotte next season.
The 21-year-old infielder joined the Baron at the end of last season after a solid campaign at High-A Winston-Salem. His follow-up season at Birmingham did not disappoint. In 104 games, the right-hander cut .280/.340/.430, hit 11 home runs and stole 40 bases. Combine that with a walk rate of 7.9% and an impressive strike rate of 13.6%, and you have a top 10 prospect in the system.
The 6-foot-6 Maryland right-hander has played at three levels this season, getting most of his work at Yellowhammer State. After dominating at Winston-Salem, burk struggled in his first two months at Birmingham, posting a 6.75 ERA in June and a 7.71 ERA in July.
He changed things dramatically in August. In 21 innings of work over five starts, his ERA dipped to 2.45, opponents hit .176 against him, and his WHIP was .95. This performance was good enough to earn him pitcher of the month honors. In two starts in September, his ERA continued to drop, resulting in a promotion to Triple-A Charlotte.
Burke has electric stuff, with an above average fastball, curve and slider. Retiring 99 batters in 73 Double-A innings proves his stuff will play in the upper tiers of the minors. However, it is the walks that stand out. At Low-A Kannapolis in 2021, Burke walked a whopping 6.43 batters over nine innings. 2022 showed significant improvement in that department as his walk rate dropped to 4.07 during his time at Birmingham.
After being added to the 40-player roster for Rule 5 draft protection in November, big things were expected of Coastal Carolina’s 6-foot-2 right-hander. The season did not go as planned for the 13th round of 2018.
Command continued to be an issue as he posted a 5.92/9 walk rate and 1.59 WHIP in 83 innings. With a low to mid-90s fastball, plus slider and medium curve and shift, Bilous retired more than one batter per inning at the Double-A level in 2022. Despite a 5.27 ERA and 4.80 FIP, Bilous received a promotion to Triple-A Charlotte in early August, where he finished the season. He will enter his 26-year-old season in 2023.
In addition to these top prospects, Lenyn Sosa played 62 games in the Deep South, erasing the level with a 142 wRC+, breaking 14 home runs and driving in 48. He hit for contact, boasting an excellent 13.8% strikeout rate and power with an ISO of 0.218. Those astonishing numbers catapulted him to two stints in Chicago with the big league team and a long run in Charlotte to close out the season.
Whether rubber throwing or flat, fans have seen a season full of dynamic prospects playing Birmingham. There’s no doubt that fans of the longtime minor league affiliate Chicago White Sox remain engaged throughout the campaign, especially last month. The big question in the offseason is how the White Sox will handle the Birmingham project. Will they bring top prospects back to more appropriate levels, or will they keep the squad that ended the season intact? Either way, there should be an abundance of talent to captivate fans and watchers alike in 2023.
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