For The Record: Single-Season Home Run Leaders For Every Minor League

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)
LEAGUE LVL HR PLAYER TEAM YEAR AGE AB AB/HR
Amer. Assoc. AAA 46 Ken Phelps
Wichita 1982 27 453 9.8
International AAA 42 Phil Hiatt Toledo 1996 27 555 13.2
Pacific Coast AAA 50 Ron Kittle* Edmonton 1982 24 472 9.4
Eastern AA 41 Rick Lancellotti Buffalo 1979 22 506 12.3
Southern AA 42 Tim Laudner Orlando 1981 23 433 10.3
Texas AA 41 Arlo Engel El Paso 1963 21 485 11.8
California HiA 46 Dave Duncan Modesto 1966 20 439 9.5
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
N.Y.-Penn SS 23 John Hennell Utica 1982 24 270 11.7
Northwest SS 25 Willie Darkis Central Oregon 1980 20 252 10.1
Appalachian R 24 Mitch Einertson Greeneville 2004 18 227 9.5
Pioneer R 23 Greg Morrison Medicine Hat 1997 21 241 10.5
Arizona R 18 Joey Gallo
Rangers 2012 18 150 8.3
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.

• The Toronto Sun's Bob Elliott reported on 19-year-old left fielder Eric Arce's home-run exploits in the Gulf Coast League, but the new record went largely unnoticed. A Blue Jays 25th-round pick from Tampa (no school) this year, Arce batted .268/.437/.621 with the record-setting 14 homers and GCL-leading 38 walks in 49 games.

• A pair of Elizabethton Twins teammates gave chase to Mitch Eintertson's seven-year-old Appalachian League record this season. Center fielder Eddie Rosario, a 2010 fourth-round pick from Puerto Rico, batted .337/.397/.670 and mashed 21 homers in 67 games, while Dominican third baseman Miguel Sano batted .292/.352/.637 with 20 homers in 66 games.

• Two sluggers made valiant attempts on the South Atlantic and Florida State league home run records in 2008. An 18-year-old Mike Stanton, in his second pro season, mashed 39 homers for Greensboro, pulling to within one of Russell Branyan's SAL record. The Marlins right fielder already has a 30-homer season (this year) in the big leagues prior to his 22nd birthday. Also in ’08, Tigers minor league first baseman Ryan Strieby belted 29 homers for Lakeland, coming within four of the FSL standard. This is more impressive than it sounds. In most seasons, the league's home run champ finishes with a total in the low 20s—though Dunedin's Brad Glenn mashed 26 this year.

Now the home run records that the leagues recognize, even though the classifications have changed in some cases.

LEAGUE RECORDS FOR HOME RUNS IN A SEASON (ALL-TIME)
LEAGUE LVL HR PLAYER TEAM YEAR AGE AB AB/HR
American Assoc AA 69 Joe Hauser
Minneapolis 1933 34 570 8.3
International AA 63 Joe Hauser Baltimore 1930 31 617 9.8
Pacific Coast AA 60 Tony Lazzeri Salt Lake City 1925 21 710 11.8
Eastern A 41 Ken Strong Hazelton 1930 23 450 11.0
  AA 41 Rick Lancellotti Buffalo 1979 22 506 12.3
Southern AA 42 Tim Laudner Orlando 1981 23 433 10.3
Texas AA 62 Ken Guettler Shreveport 1956 29 481 7.8
California C 51 Bud Heslet Visalia 1956 36 524 10.3
Carolina B 55 Muscle Shoals Reidsville 1949 32 501 9.1
Florida State D 33 Ed Levy Sanford 1950 33 406 12.3
  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

• All the short-season league records were established in the post-1962 era except for one. A 24-year-old Joy Gritts hit 24 home runs in 252 at-bats for the ’60 Wytheville Senators of the Appalachian League. (The league operated at the Class D level at the time.) Mitch Einertston matched Gritts' record in 2004.

• Note that while the International and Pacific Coast leagues are classified here as Double-A, they still operated at the highest level of the minors in the 1920s and ’30s. However, Joe Hauser played in 168 games in ’30 and Tony Lazzeri in 197 in ’25, so direct comparisons to today's game are tenuous.

Now for some modern perspective, the league home run records since 1992, the beginning of the modern boom years for the minors and the explosion of offense in the major leagues.

LEAGUE RECORDS FOR HOME RUNS IN A SEASON (1992-PRESENT)
LEAGUE LVL HR PLAYER TEAM YEAR AGE AB AB/HR
International AAA 42 Phil Hiatt Toledo 1996 27 555 13.2
Pacific Coast AAA 46 Chris Hatcher Omaha 1998 29 485 10.5
Eastern AA 39 Mitch Jones Trenton 2004 26 496 12.7
Southern AA 34 Derrek Lee Memphis 1996 20 500 14.7
Texas AA 40 Brandon Berger Wichita 2001 26 454 11.4
California HiA 43 Brandon Wood Rancho Cucamonga 2005 20 536 12.5
Carolina HiA 34 Danny Peoples Kinston 1997 22 409 12.0
Florida State HiA 32 Brandon Sing Daytona 2004 23 408 12.8
Midwest LoA 39 Brian Dopirak Lansing 2004 20 541 13.9
South Atlantic LoA 40 Russell Branyan Columbus 1996 20 482 12.1
New York-Penn SS 22 Dan Grummitt Hudson Valley 1999 23 287 13.0
Northwest SS 21 Steve Hacker Eugene 1996 21 292 13.9
Appalachian R 24 Mitch Einertson Greeneville 2004 18 227 9.5
Pioneer R 23 Greg Morrison Medicine Hat 1997 21 241 10.5
Arizona R 18 Joey Gallo
Rangers 2012 18 150 8.3
Gulf Coast R 14 Eric Arce Blue Jays 2011 19 153 10.9

• All but one of the top minor league home run marks were set in the 10-year window from 1996 to 2005. (Of course, a similar thing happened in the big leagues.) The Cubs' Derrick Bly previously held the Gulf Coast League homer record with 13 in—naturally—1996. Mariners outfielder Wladimir Balentien set the previous Arizona League record with 16 in 2003 before Joey Gallo came along in 2012.

Sources

• "Encyclopedia Of Minor League Baseball, Third Edition" by Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff (2007)
• "Going For The Fences: The Minor League Home Run Book, Second Edition" by Bob McConnell (2009)
• Baseball-Reference.com <http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/>
• Various minor league media guides

The records above are accurate to the best of our knowledge. Leave a comment below if you have proof of an error.

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