Does anyone follow minor league pennant races? Only a noble few. The same seems to go for minor league category leaders, which featured some drama this weekend as the batting, ERA and home run titles came down to the wire. Here's how they finished:
Top 5 finishers:
John Lindsey, 1b, Albuquerque (Dodgers), .353
Brandon Belt, 1b/of, San Jose/Richmond/Fresno (Giants), .352
Stephen Vogt, c/1b, Charlotte (Rays), .345
Kyle Seager, 2b/3b, High Desert (Mariners), .345
Brandon Guyer, of, Tennessee (Cubs), .344
Lindsey was drafted in the 13th round out of a Mississippi high school in 1995—the same year the Rockies drafted another first baseman, Todd Helton. He didn't get out of Class A in that organization and spent a couple of seasons in independent leagues, and until 2007, the only times he had hit .300 were in indy ball and at Triple-A Las Vegas. Last season, Lindsey hit .251/.331/.433 at Triple-A New Orleans. In other words, nothing indicated the 33-year-old was set for a year like he had, even if he did play half his games in Albuquerque's launching pad. Lindsey hit .353/.400/.657 and earned his first big league promotion over the weekend, so he missed the last two games of the Pacific Coast League season, unlike his chief rival in the batting chase, Giants farmhand Brandon Belt. In his first full pro season, Belt couldn't be more different from Lindsey in terms of his resume and obviously is the bigger prospect, but he wasn't able to cap his season with the minor league batting title as he went 2-for-8 to fall to .352 in the season's final weekend.
Stephen Vogt (pronounced Vote) is more of a prospect than the average 25-year-old in high Class A. He finished third at .345 and makes consistent hard contact from the left side. Defensively, he can catch, though not well, and also plays first base and left field. He plays none of them well. Seager led the minors in hits with 192 and hit equally well at home (.345) as on the road (.344). He was Dustin Ackley's wing man in college and hit .393 in 2009 for North Carolina, so it wasn't totally unexpected for him to hit for a high average at High Desert. The question will be how much power he has and whether or not he can handle second base defensively, because his contact-first approach leaves his power short for the third-base profile.
Top 5 Finishers
Mike Moustakas, 3b, Northwest Arkansas/Omaha (Royals), 36
Mark Trumbo, 1b, Salt Lake (Angels), 36
Paul Goldschmidt, 1b, Visalia (Diamondbacks), 35
Jerry Sands, 1b/of, Great Lakes/Chattanooga (Dodgers), 35
Joel Guzman, 3b, Bowie (Orioles), 33
Greg Halman, of, Tacoma (Mariners), 33
Two Southern California recruits who didn't make it to school tied for the title. Winning home run titles is nothing new for Moustakas, who set the state of California's prep home run records for a single season and for a career at Chatsworth High. He finished with a flourish at Triple-A Omaha, homering in six of the final eight games ever at Rosenblatt Stadium, with eight in that span. Trumbo, 24, had an impressive first turn in Triple-A and hit half of his homers away from Salt Lake's Franklin Covey Field. Still, with the year he was having, Trumbo didn't get a call to help the Angels at first base, despite Kendry Morales' injury and manager Mike Scioscia's indifference to Mike Napoli.
Sands stamped himself as a significant prospect with his breakout season and added 18 stolen bases in 20 tries. Impressively, he hit nearly as many homers in Double-A (17) as he did in low Class A (18), and he now has 54 long balls in the past season and a half. Stunningly, Guzman—who signed with the Dodgers back in 2001 for a then-Dominican record $2.25 million, is just 25. He spent most of the past four season playing in Triple-A.
Top 5 Finishers
Kila Ka'aihue, 1b, Omaha (Royals), .463
Brandon Belt, 1b/of, San Jose/Richmond/Fresno (Giants), .455
Matt Rizzotti, 1b, Clearwater/Reading/Lehigh Valley (Phillies), .430
Dan Johnson, 3b/1b, Durham (Rays), .430
Will Myers, c, Burlington/Wilmington (Royals), .429
All five players here have interesting stories. Myers stands out from this crowd as the only teenager and the most elite prospect, just edging another stud 2009 draft pick in Angels outfielder Mike Trout (.428). Ka'aihue, 26, had a .383 career OBP entering the season and has had more walks than strikeouts in each of his last three minor league seasons. He also won the 2008 minor league on-base title with a .456 mark, though he spent most of that season in Double-A. Rizzotti is a powerful masher whose prior claim to fame was hitting a home run for Manhattan off Nebraska ace Joba Chamberlain in a 2006 regional upset. He stumbled a bit in Triple-A (9-for-45), but he has size and power.
Top 5 Finishers
John Lindsey, 1b, Albuquerque (Dodgers), .657
Tagg Bozied, 3b/1b, Reading (Phillies), .631
Mike Moustakas, 3b, Northwest Arkansas/Omaha (Royals), .630
J.P. Arencibia, c, Las Vegas (Blue Jays), .626
Clint Robinson, 1b, Northwest Arkansas (Royals), .625
Robinson, like Moustakas, took advantage of amazing hitting conditions this season at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. How so? The 25-year-old hit .397/.482/.738 at home, and .285/.345/.532 on the road. (Moustakas' more publicized, more exaggerated splits were .437/.485/.894 at home, and .222/.318/.398 road). Robinson, a 2007 25th-round pick from Troy, also won the Texas League's triple crown, batting .335 with 29 home runs and 98 RBIs. Bozied, a BA cover boy in our 2000 College Preview issue along with Xavier Nady and Joe Borchard, hit 27 homers this season in his first year at Double-A since 2005. He's up to 155 career minor league homers. Arencibia famously homered in his first big league at-bat and has slugged .522 in six games so far with Toronto, while hitting .217 without a walk.
Top 5 Finishers
Tom Koehler, rhp, Jacksonville (Marlins), 16-2
Eric Hacker, rhp, Fresno (Giants), 16-8
Chris Archer, rhp, Daytona/Tennessee (Cubs), 15-3
11 tied at 14
Koehler, 24, was an 18th-round pick out of Stony Brook in 2008 and had a good start to his career, giving up just nine home runs in his first 199 innings. He gave up 11 in 158 2/3 innings this season and dominated the Southern League, with a career-high 145 strikeouts (after netting just 107 in 133 innings last year). Koehler has a good, hard curveball to go with a splitter and average fastball, and he has a durable 6-foot-2, 235-pound frame. He has a chance to be an innings-eating fourth or fifth starter. Archer has much louder stuff and had a huge year himself, ranking seventh in the minors in ERA and third in opponent average at .200. Hacker, 27, lost his last three decisions and couldn't shake Koehler, who won his final six decisions but got no-decisions in his final two starts.
Top 5 Finishers
Brandon Beachy, rhp, Mississippi/Gwinnett (Braves), 1.73
Matt Packer, lhp, Lake County/Akron (Indians), 2.04
Robbie Erlin, lhp, Hickory (Rangers), 2.12
Jimmy Fuller, lhp, Savannah/St. Lucie (Mets), 2.19
Danny Rosenbaum, lhp, Hagerstown/Potomac (Nationals), 2.29
So, there are four lefthanders who started their seasons in low Class A on this list, led by Erlin, who has a plus curve and changeup and could move quickly next season. Then there's Beachy, probably the biggest breakthrough prospect of the year as a nondrafted free agent from an NAIA school who finished the year in Triple-A. He's had plenty of BA love in the second half. Beachy just edged Twins righthander Liam Hendriks, who fell two innings shy of qualifying at 108 2/3 innings and had a 1.74 ERA.
Of the lefties, Packer has a three-pitch mix and a relief profile at higher levels, and that's a role he fulfilled well enough at Virginia to win a Division I ERA title in 2008; Rosenbaum has deception and average command to set apart his average stuff. Fuller is a smallish 5-foot-10 lefty with four pitches that he throws for strikes.
Top 5 Finishers
Jonathan Albaladejo, rhp, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees), 43
Cory Burns, rhp, Lake County/Kinston (Indians), 42
Brad Brach, rhp, Lake Elsinore (Padres), 41
Noah Krol, rhp, Brevard County (Brewers), 34
Yonata Ortega, rhp, South Bend/Visalia (Diamondbacks), 33
Albaladejo has pitched well for the big league Yankees and could earn a spot on the playoff bullpen roster, thanks to his low-90s sinker. Burns has amazing numbers other than his saves—try 13.25 strikeouts per nine and a 3.11 groundout/flyout ratio. A move to a lower arm slot late in his college career has given Burns excellent sink on his upper-80s fastball, and his slider and change are solid-average pitches. Ortega, a max-effort short righty with a fastball that reaches 94 mph, was better in a short stint in the Cal League (1.42, 11 saves in 13 games) than in the Midwest League.
Top 5 Finishers
Matt Moore, lhp, Charlotte (Rays), 208
Charlie Furbush, lhp, Lakeland/Erie/Toledo (Tigers), 183
Trevor May, rhp, Clearwater/Lakewood (Phillies), 182
Austin Hyatt, rhp, Clearwater/Reading (Phillies), 181
Joel Carreno, rhp, Dunedin (Blue Jays), 173
Moore has earned his ink throughout the year, first for his struggles in the first half, then for dominating the Florida State League in the second half. He ran away with this title and also gave up just seven homers this season. This is actually Moore's second straight strikeouts title—he fanned 176 batters last year in the low Class A South Atlantic League. Furbush burst on the scene in the Cape Cod League in 2006, but he's had Tommy John surgery since then and had his first fully healthy season as a pro in 2010. The results—183 Ks, a spot in Triple-A by season's end and three average pitches, according to scouts.
May has had issues with his mechanics this season and has improved his direction in his delivery after a demotion to low Class A. His best attribute appears to be the heaviness of his low-90s fastball. Hyatt has an average fastball to go with a plus changeup, and if his slider continues to improve—it's below-average now—he could stick in a big league rotation. Carreno 23, is the lowest-profile member of this quintet and had a nearly 6-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, yet he gave up 147 hits and appears to get by more on deception and a changeup that flashes above-average rather than velocity or a plus breaker.
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