This series was originally planned to be a “preseason preview” type, where I previewed each team in the Southern League as minor league rosters were announced. However, as you all know, the sports world and the baseball season were put on hiatus by the global pandemic. So, while the information I will present to you now may not prove to be 100% accurate, hopefully you all can find some delight in pondering what could be for the 2020 Southern League.
We all miss baseball! I don’t think that’s a groundbreaking statement or anything. The question is, will we see MiLB baseball return in 2020? With the COVID-19 pandemic still at the forefront, the answer is not clear. Then there are the talks of contraction. If reports are true, two teams (Jackson Generals and Chattanooga Lookouts) could be part of a 42-team, MiLB reduction. If that were to take place, as is looking more likely, would those teams ramp everything back up for one last, shortened season?
OK, forget all that negativity. Let us take a look at all 5 teams in the North Division. We start off by “Going to Jackson” and checking in with the Generals.
The Generals will return as the two-time defending, Southern League champion. The 2019 Generals featured a trio of big time prospects in Jazz Chisholm (SS), Seth Beer (OF), and Daulton Varsho (C). Beer only had a cup of coffee in AA after being traded from Houston in the deal that brought Zack Greinke to the Astros. However, none of those 3 will likely be suiting up for the Generals in 2020. Beer and Varsho will almost assuredly be in AAA or the MLB in the coming year. As for Chisholm, he didn’t go far or have to change much about his city name. Jazz was traded to the Marlins in a deal that also netted the fish (see what I did there?) Jesus Sanchez, and he finished the 2019 season in Jacksonville, the AA affiliate for the Marlins, also a member of the Southern League. Perhaps there won’t be as many high profile prospects in Jackson this season but there are a few names from Matt Hammerling’s Dbacks Top 50 list that could see time there – Geraldo Perdomo SS (4), Josh Green RHP (22), and Dominic Fletcher OF (30). The Diamondbacks ranks of each prospect, according to Prospects1500, are shown in parentheses.
Lookout! We’re going to preview Chattanooga. OK, OK, I’ll stop with the play on words. The Lookouts had several top prospects spend some time with the AA club in 2019. Jonathan India, Tyler Stephenson, and Taylor Trammell, to name a few, were all highly ranked in the Reds‘ farm system last season. Trammell is now in the Padres‘ system by way of trade. India and Stephenson will most assuredly not be repeating at AA. Prospect1500’s own Rudie Verougstraete (@Seeing_Reds) thinks they will have no trouble keeping the pipeline of talent flowing through Chattanooga though. According to Rudie, the Lookouts could see upwards of seven of the Reds‘ top 50 prospects this season. LHP Nick Lodolo (9), SS Jose Garcia (3), IF Alejo Lopez (13), and OF Jameson Hannah (20) are all potential stars that fans could have the good fortune to catch in action, in what could be the Lookouts’ final season.
Next we head to my stomping grounds and check out the Birmingham Barons. During the 2019 season, I personally had the pleasure of watching several of the top 10 prospects in the White Sox‘s system and many others that fall just outside the top rankings according to Prospect1500’s William Shea (@0RunsIn1st). Nick Madrigal, Blake Rutherford, Micker Adolfo, Luis Alexander Basabe, and of course, Luis Robert were all exciting players in AA and will all be starting 2020 at the AAA or MLB levels. Still, the Sox have one of the top farm systems in baseball and I will be looking forward to watching the likes of RHP Jonathan Stiever (5) and 1B Andrew Vaughn (2) on a nightly basis.
Continuing in the North Division we take a look at the Cubs AA affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies. Prospects1500’s Tom Usiak (@The_Tom_U) makes no bones about it, the Cubs have a somewhat barren farm system at the moment. The Smokies didn’t really have any “top” prospects spend any time with the club last season. However, Tom gives us reason for hope in 2020 as he thinks we could see #5 ranked catcher Miguel Amaya and a pair of LHPs, Brailyn Marquez (2) and Jack Patterson (9) with Tennessee, at some point in 2020.
Last but not least, the newest team in the Southern League, it’s the Rocket City Trash Pandas. With their move to Madison, AL and one of the most unique team names in MiLB, the Angels hope to drum up lots of support for their AA affiliate. Lucky for me, I got to see top prospect Jo Adell play for the BayBears on several occasions last year. He will not be back in AA this season, but I spoke with Andrew Rhodes (@A_Rhodes77), who heads up our Angels coverage for Prospects1500. He thinks the Trash Pandas’ roster could be littered with top 50 prospects in 2020 (Oops! I said I would stop with the puns). He expects that a total of nine of the top 50 Angels prospects including Chris Rodriguez (13) and Aaron Hernandez (14), could make stops in the Rocket City!
That does it for the North Division. Make sure you keep an eye out for Part Two where I’ll preview the teams in the South Division.