We recognized a handful of the great pro debuts by older players in the Rookie-level Appalachian League earlier this month. Since I’m ranking prospects for both that league and its Upper Rockies equivalent, the Pioneer League, it seems only fair to give them both equal play.
The tricky part about evaluating Pioneer League batters’ performance is the league’s high-offensive environment. It’s just a different brand of baseball than that featured in the majority of minor leagues.
Consider that the average Pioneer club scores 5.37 runs per game, compared with an average of 4.78 in the Appy. The average Pioneer batter hits for more (isolated) power than his Appy counterpart—.135 versus .127—but interestingly, the leagues’ home run rates are virtually identical at 0.7 per nine innings. Most of the extra offense appears to come virtue of singles, which is evident in the Pioneer League’s .273 league batting average—16 points higher than the Appy.
At any rate, here are five Pioneer League batters who were drafted in ’09 and enjoyed terrific debut seasons. None figure to rank prominently in our postseason league prospect ranking.
Orem 1B Dillon Baird (Angels)
Age: 21. Drafted: 11th round, Arizona
Baird batted .372/.452/.567 to win the Pioneer League batting title, fresh off winning the Pacific-10 Conference title by hitting .433 this spring. His lefthanded swing is geared to hit the ball straightaway and to left-center field, so while observers put a fringe-average hit tool on Baird, they wonder if he’ll hit with enough power to profile at first base. He homered seven times in 57 games during his debut. In part because of his strong throwing arm, Baird played third base at Yavapai (Ariz.) JC. But he spent most of his time at Arizona—and all his time with Orem—at first, where he’s an average-ish defender.
Casper LF Avery Barnes (Rockies)
Age: 22. Drafted: 11th round, Florida
Barnes finished fifth in the league batting race (.335) thanks to a strong showing in August and September, during which he went 35-for-96 (.365). He filled in for injured regular center fielder Eliezar Mesa down the stretch, appearing in 11 games. League observers thought that if everything breaks right, Barnes could develop into a useful outfield reserve who can hit a bit. He’s a plus runner who can outrun his mistakes in the outfield. A lefthanded batter with good instincts for the game, Barnes stays inside the ball and shows a feel for hitting for average. He knows he’s not a power threat, so he sticks to what he does best: setting the table for the big bats.
Casper 1B Jared Clark (Rockies)
Age: 23. Drafted: 12th round, Cal State Fullerton
A 23-year-old, fifth-year senior sign, Clark made a smooth transition to pro ball, showing strong plate discipline (29 walks, 34 strikeouts) and just enough power and athleticism to make things interesting. He finished at .348/.424/.591 with 11 homers in 58 games. Observers uniformly praised Clark’s grace around the bag, while singling out his good hands and plus arm. He’s got a longer, uppercut-oriented swing, but he made consistent contact against Pioneer League competition and did not resist hitting to all fields. People seemed to regard Clark as a more athletic version of Ryan Shealy, who played for Casper back in ’02.
Ogden RF Brian Cavazos-Galvez (Dodgers)
Age: 22. Drafted: 12th round, New Mexico
Cavazos-Galvez believes he was destined to be a Dodger because he grew up around the Triple-A Albuquerque club, back when it was a Los Angeles affiliate the first time. His father Balvino Galvez, a righthander, played for the Dukes in ’86 and spent his only time in the big leagues with the Dodgers that summer. The league player of the year, Cavazos-Galvez batted .322/.353/.618 in 71 games and led the Pioneer League in home runs (18), hits (97), doubles (29), extra-base hits (50) and runs scored (59).
Observers were split down the middle on whether his approach and swing would work as he moves up. Cavazos-Galvez earned praise for his strength and above-average bat speed, but his aggressive approach and long swing could be easier for advanced pitchers to exploit, especially those who can command their offspeed stuff. In terms of raw power potential, though, he’s at least a future 50 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, as he shows righthanded power to all fields. He’s a grinder-type player who grades out as an average runner suited to right field because of below-average range and above-average arm strength.
Missoula 1B Paul Goldschmidt (Diamondbacks)
Age: 22. Drafted: 8th round, Texas State
Like Baird and Clark, Goldschmidt is an older college first baseman who met little resistance in the Pioneer League. A righthanded batter, he finished at .334/.408/.638 with 18 home runs in 74 games. Goldschmidt took full advantage of Missoula’s cozy dimensions, clubbing 11 of those homers at home. An aggressive hitter with a long swing, he dealt with contact issues (74 strikeouts) in his debut, and one scout sensed a reluctance to hit with two strikes. Another thought he was selling out for power, pulling off the ball and whiffing on outside pitches. He played on the same The Woodlands (Texas) High teams as Kyle Drabek, but back in those days he was agile enough to play third base. Those days are gone, and the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Goldschmidt is anchored to first.
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