Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 2/23/12

Welcome to this installment of "A Trip Around The Minors." Today, we will take a look at the Southern League, seen as the mid-point in both offensive and defensive production of the three Double-A leagues. The Southern League can trace its roots as far back as 1885, making it the second oldest league we'll cover in this series. Atlanta was one of the charter members of the league, and the only city that would go on to become a Major League franchise. However, that early incarnation was only around for 15 seasons, folding in 1899 after a midseason cancellation of play.

After a year and a half without a league going on, the Southern Association was formed, and that league spawned teams that would eventually have Triple-A franchises in New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville. That league was very popular for the next six decades, folding up in 1961 after the spread of the Major Leagues to other cities. This led to the formation of the South Atlantic League for the 1962 season, filling the eight team affiliate void left by the folding of the Southern Association. Interestingly enough, the SALLY League, as it became known as, only kept that name for one season before turning back the clock to the area's roots, and becoming the Southern League once more, which it has remained since the 1964 season. Fear not, Low-A fans. The SALLY League returned in 1980 and is still going strong.

This is how the modern-day Southern League looks like, with ten teams in two divisions:

North Division: Tennessee Smokies (Chicago Cubs affiliate), Jackson Generals (Seattle Mariners), Huntsville Stars (Milwaukee Brewers), Chattanooga Lookouts (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Carolina Mudcats (Cincinnati Reds).

South Division: Birmingham Barons (Chicago White Sox), Mobile Bay Bears (Arizona Diamondbacks), Jacksonville Suns (Miami Marlins), Montgomery Biscuits (Tampa Bay Rays) and Mississippi Braves (Atlanta Braves).

Outside of Huntsville, the other North Division teams are right on the I-40 corridor, stretching out from Jackson, TN to Zebulon, NC. I've actually seen the stadium in Jackson from the freeway as you drive through. REALLY nice facility. The South Division is a bit more spread out and isn't as accessible as the North Division, but is also home to some pretty nice stadiums themselves. But the highlight of the South Division is clearly...the Montgomery Biscuits.

(Let's be honest here. I am an unabashed fan of the fact that Tampa Bay's Double-A team in The Southern League is named the Montgomery BISCUITS. BISCUITS, people. Their mascot is a biscuit hiding behind an "M" with melted butter sliding down it. It's magical! And it makes you hungry. Mmmmmm...biscuits.)

But anyway. As a league, the Southern League plays right down the middle of the three Double-A leagues in runs per game at 4.66, which ranks right in the middle of the 11 affilated full season minor leagues. It has a triple-slash of .263/.339/.400, and that .739 OPS ranks fifth overall. On the pitching side, its 4.10 ERA is right in the middle, as well. The 0.7 HR rate is the lowest in Double-A, and along with three other leagues, tied for the second lowest rate in the minors. The balance of the league is pretty interesting. It's a warm-weather league for much of the year, and much like the Florida State League or the SALLY League, the humidity keeps the balls from flying out a majority of the time. 

In 2011, Paul Goldschmidt mashed his way to that Major Leagues with one of the more ridiculous home run totals in the history of the league while playing for Mobile. It's one thing to hit 35 homers in the California League like he did in 2010, but 30 in the Southern League? That's extremely impressive, especially with ith a 1.061 OPS on top of that. He's got a lot of swing and miss in his game, but if he mashes like that over a full season, the Diamondbacks should be very happy with him going forward.

The list of Southern League MVPs might be the most impressive list you'll see in this series. The following players have won the award: Alan Trammell (1979), Andres Galarraga (1984), Jose Canseco (1985), Jeff Conine (1990), Ryan Klesko (1991), Javy Lopez (1992 - back-to-back Braves), Carlos Delgado (1993), Jason Kendall (1995), Derrek Lee (1996), Corey Hart (2003), Delmon Young (2005), Joey Votto (2006), Evan Longoria (2007), Gaby Sanchez (2008) and the previously mentioned Goldschmidt. Not a bad list, eh?

So who are some players to look for in 2012? Well, that all depends on what happens in Spring Training for the player that probably ranks at the top of the list. Trevor Bauer is someone who many people think could pitch in the majors right now, but he still needs some seasoning to be effective, and the only choice Arizona will have to make is whether that's in Mobile or Reno. If it's in Mobile, he probably won't be there for long. So get your tickets, Bay Bears fans. On top of that, Tyler Skaggs, another Diamondsback prospect, was pretty good in his second-half performance at Mobile. His Spring Training will determine whether or not he goes to Reno, much like Bauer.

Other notable prospects to look forward to seeing in the Southern League this upcoming season include Christian Yelich (Marlins), Danny Hultzen (Mariners), and Hak-Ju Lee (Rays), who I will be most envious of due to him wearing the colors of the Biscuits. Next time, we finish up our look at Double-A with a trip to the Lone Star State and the Texas League. 

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This article first appeared on The Outside Corner and was syndicated with permission.

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