The major league batting average dipped to .255 this season, the lowest figure since 1989. Similarly, runs scored per nine innings (4.30) and home runs per nine (0.94) at the team level reached their lowest points since 1992, as offensive levels continued their descent from the high-octane 1994-2004 period. In fact, run scoring declined for the sixth consecutive season in 2011, falling more than half a run per nine innings since registering at 4.91 R/9 in 2006.
That drop has not carried over to the high minors. The average Pacific Coast League team in 2011 scored 5.68 runs per nine innings, the highest average for a full-season league in the past five seasons. This year's California League finished two ticks behind at 5.66 R/9, trailing only the ’07 version of the Cal League (5.67 R/9). This ought to come as no surprise because those two leagues annually rank as the most hitter-friendly circuits in the full-season minors.
However, if we turn our attention to the short-season minor leagues, the average Pioneer League team this season scored 6.02 runs per nine innings, blowing away the Pacific Coast and California leagues. This year's Arizona League featured the second-highest scoring average (5.90 R/G) of the past five seasons (if we consider short-season leagues).
On the flip side, this year's Carolina League ranked as the third-lowest run-scoring environment of the past five seasons (full-season leagues only), featuring just an average of 4.35 runs per nine innings per team. This year's International League ranked eighth-lowest at 4.46 R/9. But neither could touch the ’09 Florida State League (4.24 R/9) for run scarcity.
An efficient amateur scouting department begets a strong minor league system which in turn begets a successful major league team.
Teams navigate choppy waters to get from point A to point B to point C, losing many prospects to burnout or injury along the way. A relative few will make it through unscathed this season to make their big league debuts.
Behind each of those debuts stands a scout and/or a scouting director who at one point put his job on the line to recommend that player. To give credit where credit is due, we’ll track those scouts and those directors for each player to make the big leagues for the first time in 2011.
Players are sorted in alphabetical order by debut date. Included with each listing is signing organization, year and draft round in parentheses, where applicable. Source indicates the high school, college or country from which each player signed his contract with a major league organization. The BA Executive Database supplies the names of scouting directors.
Players listed with an asterisk (*) were major league Rule 5 draft selections in December 2010, while a cross (†) indicates players who were drafted one year and signed the next as part of baseball’s defunct draft-and-follow process.
|Player, Pos, Team||Date||Age||Signed||Source|
|*Nathan Adcock, rhp, Royals||3/31||23||Mariners ’06 (5)||HS—Radcliff, Ky.|
|Signed By: Brian Williams||Director: Bob Fontaine|
|Brandon Belt, 1b, Giants||3/31||22||Giants ’09 (5)||Texas|
|Signed By: Todd Thomas||Director: John Barr|
|Tim Collins, lhp, Royals||3/31||21||Blue Jays ’07||HS—Worcester, Mass.|
|Signed By: J.P. Ricciardi||Director: Jon Lalonde|
|Aaron Crow, rhp, Royals||3/31||24||Royals ’09 (1)||American Assoc.|
|Signed By: Scott Melvin||Director: J.J. Picollo|
|Cedric Hunter, cf, Padres||3/31||23||Padres ’06 (3)||HS—Lithonia, Ga.|
|Signed By: Pete DeYoung||Director: Bill Gayton|
To give a better look at just how exceptional 2011 Minor League Player of the Year Mike Trout's 2011 season was, here's a look back at modern-era players who have posted 300+ at-bats in Double-A or above during the season where they turned 20.
|'02||Wily Mo Pena||1/23/1982||388||36||436||99||23||1||11||157||.255||.330||.405||.735|
Minor league baseball has changed dramatically through the years, so it's important to acknowledge that fact when considering the single-season home run champions for the 16 extant minor leagues.
Baseball as we know it today began to take shape in the 1960s. The Angels, Astros, Mets and Senators/Rangers franchises began play in the early part of the decade, and by the the time the ’70s dawned the game had grown half again as large, expanding from 16 to 24 teams.
Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby, baseball pioneers, retired in the late ’50s. Against that backdrop, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Roberto Clemente began to establish themselves as the greatest position players of the ’60s, and Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal as the best pitchers.
Baseball instituted the amateur draft in 1965, forever changing the ways in which organizations scout and evaluate domestic talent. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the terrific book "Dollar Sign On The Muscle."
As important as expansion, integration and the draft were to shaping the future of the game, baseball also codified its minor league structure in the early ’60s. Minor league teams played largely on their own in the first half of the 20th century, and teams and leagues boomed in post-World War II prosperity. The peak in 1948 saw 59 minor leagues operating in 438 cities, and the minors set overall attendance records that endured until the early 2000s.
The boom quickly crashed, however, and by 1959 there were just 21 minor leagues. Some worried that the minors would fail altogether, so major league teams started subsidizing their minor league brethren. The Player Development Plan went into effect in May 1962, assuring the survival of 100 minor league teams and creating the farm system as we know it today.
With major league organizations footing the bill for minor league salaries, player turnover intensified in the search for prospects with big league potential. Development, and not winning, took precedence in the minors. The flawed slugging first baseman/corner outfielder whose power doesn't play in the high minors is no longer guaranteed steady employment.
Let's first acknowledge the home run champs of the modern, post-1962 era, because we know what the classifications signify.
|LEAGUE RECORDS FOR HOME RUNS IN A SEASON (1962-PRESENT)|
|Amer. Assoc.||AAA||46||Ken Phelps
|Pacific Coast||AAA||50||Ron Kittle*||Edmonton||1982||24||472||9.4|
|Texas||AA||41||Arlo Engel||El Paso||1963||21||485||11.8|
|Carolina||HiA||49||Tony Solaita||High Pt-Thomasville||1968||21||467||9.5|
|Florida State||HiA||33||Jim Fuller||Miami||1971||20||488||14.8|
|Midwest||LoA||42||Jeff Jones||Cedar Rapids||1982||24||432||10.3|
|South Atlantic||LoA||40||Russell Branyan||Columbus||1996||20||482||12.1|
|Northwest||SS||25||Willie Darkis||Central Oregon||1980||20||252||10.1|
|Pioneer||R||23||Greg Morrison||Medicine Hat||1997||21||241||10.5|
|Gulf Coast||R||14||Eric Arce||Blue Jays||2011||19||153||10.9|
* Sacramento's Bill McNulty hit 55 home runs in 1974, but according to the Pacific Coast League media guide: "Left field at Hughes Stadium, Sacramento, was less than the 250 feet prescribed in Official Baseball Rule 1.04," and the league places an asterisk next to his record. [...] Continue Reading »
In a recent story at Baseball America.com, members of the front offices of the Yankees and Giants discuss the role that professional scouting departments play on the success of their major league clubs. To wit: the signings of veteran righthanders Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Luis Ayala (by the Yankees) and Ryan Vogelsong (by the Giants) have contributed to the effectiveness of those clubs' pitching staffs.
A third major league executive, on the condition of anonymity, agreed to share his thoughts on Colon, Vogelsong and some of last offseason's minor league pickups who have contributed positive value in the major leagues, in some cases to playoff contenders. All of these players were available to all 30 teams as free agents. It was up to each organization, led by its pro scouting department, to find the right fit.
"I’m shocked by Vogelsong and a bit surprised by Colon just because he was so old," the executive said. "Vogelsong we didn’t like at all in Triple-A (in 2010) . . . but to me he's the best story, coming out of nowhere to make the all-star team. It’s such a cool story that if he keeps it going, it could literally become a movie. The big thing is, without Barry Zito being hurt, no matter how well (Vogelsong) pitched (for Triple-A Fresno) he wouldn’t have gotten an opportunity. [...] Continue Reading »
Thirteen players who ranked as their organization's top prospect in the offseason have suited up for the big league club this season, but not all the rookies have been ready for prime time.
The Blue Jays' Kyle Drabek ran up a 5.70 ERA through 14 starts to earn a demotion to Triple-A. Reds fireballer Aroldis Chapman walked 20 batters in his first 13 innings and suffered a similar fate, though he's back in Cincinnati now. First baseman Brandon Belt went 12-for-57 (.211) and had spent as much time in Triple-A Fresno and on the disabled list as in the Giants lineup. Chris Sale ran up a 5.91 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in 10 April appearances for the White Sox before settling in.
These are not their stories. Instead we'll focus on those rookies who stand above their contemporaries for their play through the season's first three months. Statistics here capture a snapshot of each player's performance at the end of the day June 30, roughly the season's halfway point.
Rookies are organized into four groups so that performances can be compared more directly. Players are divided into starting pitchers, relief pitchers, up-the-middle defenders and corner players, because no one ought to expect a middle infielder's raw offensive production to look like a corner outfielder's.
At the beginning of the season, we took a look at the youngest players in each league. With the start of short-season and rookie leagues and plenty of in-season promotions, here's an updated look at the 10 youngest players in each league. [...] Continue Reading »
The Class A all-star games are behind us, and we're about one week past the minor league season's midpoint. In other words, we have a meaningful sample of games with which to check in on the overall leaders from full-season leagues. Presented here are the top 15 players in eight categories—four batting and four pitching—with statistics running through Sunday, June 26. [...] Continue Reading »
More than one player selected on day three of this year's draft is bound to forge a big league career. That's because for as long as there's been a draft, players have been defying the odds by honing raw tools into skills that benefit big league clubs. In this blog post, we'll highlight low draft picks who have made good.
In the 20 drafts from 1987 to 2006, teams could make use of the draft-and-follow process to select a talented but raw high school prospect and then evaluate him for a year at junior college before making a final signing bonus determination. That's how players as diverse as Mark Buehrle (38th round, 1998 draft), Travis Hafner (31st, 1996), Orlando Hudson (43rd, 1997), Kyle Farnsworth (47th, 1994), Jason Isringhausen (44th, 1991), Kyle Lohse (29th, 1996), Marcus Thames (30th, 1996) and Jonny Venters (30th, 2003) got their starts.
Emerging young players like Tommy Hanson, Derek Holland, Mat Latos, Logan Morrison and Jordan Walden continue to make a good name for the draft-and-follow process, but all five pulled down in excess of $200,000 to sign (in the cases of Latos and Walden, more than $1 million), making them anything but draft afterthoughts. For that reason, players signed as draft-and-follows are excluded from our low draft position all-star team. We're looking for only the most unlikely success stories, which I'm defining as active big leaguers taken in the back half of the draft (26th round and later) and signed that same summer. [...] Continue Reading »
As we race toward mid-June and the minor league season's midpoint, we pause to take a closer look at the 10 best and the 10 worst full-season clubs. The L-30 column spells out each club's record in the last 30 games, and in a five-month season that counts for a lot.
|BEST FULL-SEASON TEAMS
San Jose retained the distinction of having the minors' top run differential, plus-159, but we're going to skip over the Giants here because we examined the keys to their success last time. The next most efficient club, at plus-135 runs, has been San Antonio, the Padres' Double-A affiliate in the Texas League. [...] Continue Reading »
As we head into Memorial Day weekend, most every minor league team has completed more than one-third of its scheduled games. Let's take a closer look at the 10 best and the 10 worst full-season clubs. The L-30 column spells out each club's record in the last 30 games, and in a five-month season that counts for a lot.
|BEST FULL-SEASON TEAMS
|7||New Hampshire||30||16||.652||Eastern||AA||Blue Jays||20-10||219||177||42|
The Giants' high Class A San Jose affiliate leads the field with a plus-113 run differential, proving to be the most balanced club in the California League. They rank second in runs scored per game (6.36) with a power-oriented attack—the Giants lead the Cal League in doubles (102) while ranking second in homers (49) and third in slugging (.444).
Last year's first-rounder Gary Brown, a center fielder, has come as advertised, batting .365/.436/.538 with five homers, 13 doubles and three triples in 197 at-bats. The 22-year-old speedster has 28 steals in 40 attempts to go with 44 runs scored in 46 games out of the leadoff spot. Other key contributors include third baseman Chris Dominguez (.289/.333/.464, nine homers) and catcher Hector Sanchez (.296/.314/.533, eight homers). [...] Continue Reading »
Many minor league teams will play their 30th game of the season this weekend, accounting for roughly 20 percent of their schedules. With that in mind, let's take a look at the best and worst teams in the minors, pausing to highlight the No. 1 club—and also the No. 120 outfit.
|BEST FULL-SEASON TEAMS
|3||Salem Red Sox||18||7||.720||Carolina||HiA||Red Sox||25|
|4||Daytona Cubs||20||8||.714||Florida State||HiA||Cubs||28|
|5||Hickory Crawdads||18||8||.692||South Atlantic||LoA||Rangers||26|
|6||Clearwater Threshers||19||9||.679||Florida State||HiA||Phillies||28|
|St. Lucie Mets||19||9||.679||Florida State||HiA||Mets||28|
|8||Cedar Rapids Kernels||18||9||.667||Midwest||LoA||Angels||27|
|Hagerstown Suns||18||9||.667||South Atlantic||LoA||Nationals||27|
|10||Rancho Cucamonga Quakes||18||10||.643||California||HiA||Dodgers||28|
Prior to losing 10-3 to Lehigh Valley yesterday, Columbus had won an incredible 13 straight games. Defending International League and Triple-A champions, Columbus leads the IL in runs scored (169 or 6.26 per game), average (.289), on-base (.384), slugging (.451) and walks (133). [...] Continue Reading »
Age isn't everything, but when you are talking about prospects, it means an awful lot. A 23-year-old tearing up the Midwest League isn't nearly as impressive as an 18-year-old who's managing to survive in the same league. With that in mind, here's a look at the 10 youngest players in each full-season league at the beginning of the season. In compiling this list, it's notable how few non-prospects populate this list–if an organization is willing to push you quickly to a level, it's usually a good sign for a player's potential. [...] Continue Reading »
The season's first weekend of games may be behind us, but the majority of our out-of-options all-star pitchers have yet to appear in a game. It's no coincidence. As a rule, the best big league pitchers establish themselves long before they run out of minor league options. So what we have here are a collection of No. 4 starters and low-leverage relievers—the types of pitchers one might not see in an initial three-game series.
Things can change quickly in baseball, however, especially in cases where a pitcher is given a fresh start in a new organization. One could construct a fine rotation built from out-of-options arms, beginning with Bronson Arroyo, Scott Baker, Jorge de la Rosa, Jeremy Guthrie, Gavin Floyd and Edwin Jackson. We can even expand our list to include the latest of the late bloomers, like Doug Davis, R.A. Dickey and Colby Lewis.
Some of the game's finest relievers—like Heath Bell, Francisco Cordero, Brian Fuentes, Hong-Chi Kuo, Arthur Rhodes, Matt Thornton and Jose Valverde—needed all three optional assignments before they secured full-time play. Even the great Mariano Rivera burned through three options before setting out on his Hall of Fame career. There's only one Rivera, of course, but keep the other examples in mind before writing off any of this year's group. [...] Continue Reading »
Presumably finding little or no trade interest, the Mariners and Indians each attempted to send an out-of-options reliever to Triple-A in March. Each player stood little chance of making the Opening Day roster, but because each used his final minor league option in 2010, his club either had to carry him on the active roster or outright him to the minors, a process that necessitates first clearing waivers. While navigating those waters, the two players' paths diverged.
Seattle lost lefty Garrett Olson (this spring: 5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 BB, 3 SO) to the Pirates on a waiver claim, but Cleveland snuck righthander Jensen Lewis (5 2/3 IP, 13 H, 10 R, 3 BB, 1 SO) through the waiver wire on his way to Columbus. Olson's lack of options now muddles Pittsburgh's picture, while Lewis will play out the Triple-A season and look forward to either a return to Cleveland's 40-man roster or minor league free agency in November.
But Olson and Lewis are far from the only players to reach this juncture of their careers. Much as we did last season, we'll take a closer look at seven position players (with bonus tracks) who have not yet established themselves in the big leagues and who now find themselves out of options. For that reason, we will focus on those who used their final option in 2010 and those who offer at least a hint of future utility. Last season, teams gave the benefit of the doubt to the out-of-options players we examined in this space, carrying all 14 on Opening Day rosters. Please see last year's out-of-options features for more on the process and for a refresher on the statistical categories presented here. [...] Continue Reading »
Every team brings to spring training at least one on-the-bubble young player who straddles the line between the majors and minors. Said player has spent several seasons on the 40-man roster without establishing himself in the big leagues, yet he has no minor league options remaining, blocking off the direct path back to Triple-A.
A player who reaches this juncture of his career typically has shown tantalizing promise in the high minors, with maybe a flash of greatness in the big leagues, but for whatever reason has not had sustained success at the highest level.
Last year in this space, we took a close look at how service time impacts minor league players—options years, Rule 5 draft clocks, etc.—and a closer look at 14 players, each of whom entered 2010 spring training having used his final option in ’09. That status forced his club's hands. Carry him, even if he's not one of the 25 best players, or expose him to waivers, where any one of the other 29 teams could claim him for a fixed fee.
As it turned out, all 14 players received the benefit of the doubt and made Opening Day rosters. We broke out seven position players and seven pitchers, but for this exercise let's go a bit deeper and reference the Out-Of-Options All-Star Team, which can be found in the comments section of this post. (Please note: this team includes only players who burned their final options in ’09. It does not try to capture all players who have no options remaining.)
We set out originally to prove or disprove the conventional wisdom, espoused by one front-office veteran, that out-of-option players really aren't worth the fuss. Would that prove to be a handy rule of thumb? [...] Continue Reading »
More home runs are struck in the two Triple-A leagues than at any lower classification. The high Class A California League enjoyed a razor-thin advantage over the International in terms of extra bases per at-bat—or isolated power—but generally speaking, one can expect to see the most extra-base hits per capita at the Triple-A level.
But bubbling below the surface, we find the continuation of recent trends at Double-A and at both low and high Class A. More detail follow the chart. Brush up on last year's minor league averages here.
League context is crucial to the process of ranking prospects. So as you digest our various league Top 20 Prospects lists, you can consult the chart below to see how players compare with the league averages.
Columbus mauled Tacoma 12-6 in this year's Triple-A National Championship Game, bringing the International League its second straight victory in the five-year-old showdown. Similarly, the Clippers blitzed through the IL playoffs with a core of Indians prospects promoted from last year's Double-A Eastern League winners, the Akron Aeros. Does this mean we can pencil the Indians in as American League champs in 2011?
More notable than the upward mobility in the Indians system, this September we saw four minor league clubs repeat as league champions: Double-A Jacksonville (Southern), low Class A Lakewood (South Atlantic), high Class A San Jose (California) and high Class A Tampa (Florida State). Three other teams finished as runners-up this season after winning it all a year ago: Triple-A Durham (International), Triple-A Memphis (Pacific Coast) and Double-A Midland (Texas). View the entire ’09 champions table here. [...] Continue Reading »
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. [...] Continue Reading »
The full-season minor leagues concluded yesterday, so we can unveil our final ranking of the best and worst teams. While we don't have a 94-win juggernaut like last year's Fort Wayne club, it was another Midwest League team that finished with the best record. The Dodgers' low Class A Great Lakes club shot to the front of the line around the all-star break and never relinquished its advantage, finishing with a minors league-leading 90 wins.
DNP = Did Not Play (scheduled games that got canceled)
|TOP 10 FULL-SEASON TEAMS
|1||Great Lakes Loons||90||49||.647||Midwest||LoA||Dodgers||1|
|4||NW Arkansas Naturals||86||54||.614||Texas||AA||Royals||0|
|6||Lakewood BlueClaws||84||55||.604||South Atlantic||LoA||Phillies||1|
|7||Quad Cities River Bandits||83||55||.601||Midwest||LoA||Cardinals||2|
|8||Cedar Rapids Kernels||82||56||.594||Midwest||LoA||Angels||2|
|10||Winston-Salem Dash||81||58||.583||Carolina||HiA||White Sox||1|
Best Of The Best: Durham (AAA), Tennessee (AA), Winston-Salem (HiA) and Great Lakes (LoA)
Great Lakes powered its way to the top with the oldest group of position players in the Midwest League, thanks to a lineup overflowing with college players drafted in 2009. The Loons led the Midwest League in slugging (.431) and finished just eight homers shy of Clinton. They had slugger Jerry Sands long enough for him to hit 18 homers and drive in 46 runs in 69 games. [...] Continue Reading »
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