One of the great challenges in evaluating prospects is placing minor league performance in context. For example, we know the California League favors offense to a much greater extent than does the Florida State League. Both leagues operate at the high Class A level, yet a player with a .700 OPS in the FSL has attained the league average, while in the Cal League he’s 63 points below the norm and, if he’s not a star catcher or middle infielder, he’s probably watching most games from the bench.
Still, there’s something spellbinding about key performance barometers—such as a .300 average or double-digit home run totals—that cloud our interpretation of minor league statistics. Consider that as of Independence Day, 17 qualified Cal Leaguers had hit .300 this season, while the number of .300 hitters in the Florida State League was less than half that (eight). Ten or more homers? The ranks numbered 28 in the Cal League, while just nine players had reached double digits in the FSL, and that league’s leader—Jupiter’s Marcell Ozuna (Marlins) with 16—would have ranked sixth in the Cal League. It’s not a matter of sheer volume, either. Despite having one-third as many double-digit sluggers, the FSL actually has two more teams than does the Cal League.
As a general rule of thumb, the California and Pacific Coast leagues hover in an orbit far removed from the other eight full-season leagues when it comes to sheer offense, with averages of 5.4 and 5.3 runs per game. The Texas and South Atlantic leagues are essentially at the minor league average, while the Eastern, Carolina and Southern leagues favor pitchers. The Midwest League favors them a bit more, and the International League a little more still. At the far end of the spectrum is the Florida State League, which favors pitchers most of all and features about 4.4 runs per game. (For more on minor league context, please see this feature from last fall.)
In an attempt to quantify prospect performance, then, we’ve endeavored to place in minor league context all the players from our most recent Prospect Handbook and then stack them up position by position. To do this, we took all first-half statistics (through June 19, the date by which six of 10 full-season leagues have played their all-star games, after which many players earned promotions) and determined the number of runs above or below average (RAA) each player contributed based on league run-scoring context. Thanks to the fine work at FanGraphs, we had an easy-to-reference framework for making these calculations. In a nutshell, each player’s contributions—singles, walks, home runs, stolen bases, etc.—are weighted based on the expected number of runs produced and then scaled to his number of plate appearances. That quotient is then compared with the league average (or averages, if the player has played in multiple leagues) in a two-step process you can read much more about here.
Please don’t fixate on the RAA tallies below. “Average” is a difficult standard to meet, especially for players who are young for their level of competition, so any player who hovers near “0″ is not necessarily in danger of demotion or release. Plus, a productive second half could change the complexion of any season. We’re most interested in the players at the extremes with large positive or large negative RAA values. That’s why we don’t present all 900 players from the Handbook; instead we’ve opted to include the top 10 or so prospects in the minors at each position (In The Black) and the bottom 10 or so at each position (In The Red) based on RAA values.
The positions are presented from most demanding (where even good teams may sacrifice offense for strong defense) to least demanding (where the offensive expectations can be enormous for players on first-division clubs). Note that RAA totals encompass two league contexts in the case of the following players: Nick Castellanos, Evan Gattis, Wil Myers and Joey Terdoslavich.
|IN THE BLACK
|Travis d’Arnaud||23||Blue Jays||Las Vegas||PCL||AAA||280||.336||.386||.598||20|
|Ryan Lavarnway||24||Red Sox||Pawtucket||IL||AAA||237||.292||.384||.460||10|
|Carlos Perez||21||Blue Jays||Lansing||MWL||LoA||237||.271||.353||.433||7|
Evan Gattis hit .385 with power in 21 Carolina League games prior to a bump to Double-A, where he authored a .928 OPS in 16 games before straining tendons in his wrist. Given his age, 25, and the fact that he’s learning to play left field (and also lists first base on his résumé), Gattis could be close to seeing big league time once he mends . . . A torn posterior cruciate ligament in his knee will keep Travis d’Arnaud off the field for six weeks to two months, potentially delaying his big league debut with Toronto until next season. He mashed even away from his home base of Las Vegas this season, batting .343/.381/.577 with seven of 16 homers . . . Most Asheville players receive a significant power boost from their home yard, but Will Swanner actually has batted .340/.421/.566 with four of 11 homers on the road, meaning his power is most likely legit . . . Chun Chen has spent all but seven games at first base or DH this season with Akron, so we’re being generous by listing him at catcher.
|IN THE RED|
|Pratt Maynard||22||Dodgers||Great Lakes||MWL||LoA||155||.219||.297||.270||-6|
|Christian Vazquez||21||Red Sox||Salem||CAR||HiA||215||.225||.310||.294||-7|
|Tomas Telis||21||Rangers||Myrtle Beach||CAR||HiA||249||.249||.286||.348||-8|
What’s most puzzling about Martin Maldonado’s Triple-A performance is that he’s actually batted a respectable .255/.313/.406 with five homers in 118 trips to the plate in Milwaukee this season . . . Christian Vazquez’s feel for the strike zone ought to allow him to pull out of his tailspin, and he had gotten off to a fine start in the second half with Salem.
|IN THE BLACK
|Brad Miller||22||Mariners||High Desert||CAL||HiA||322||.326||.414||.535||24|
|Alen Hanson||19||Pirates||West Virginia||SAL||LoA||301||.316||.377||.561||18|
|Eugenio Suarez||20||Tigers||West Michigan||MWL||LoA||316||.311||.401||.449||18|
|Xander Bogaerts||19||Red Sox||Salem||CAR||HiA||271||.295||.369||.485||14|
|Jace Peterson||22||Padres||Fort Wayne||MWL||LoA||233||.277||.371||.416||12|
Pirates breakout prospect Alen Hanson has kept pace with Brad Miller and Billy Hamilton despite being two to three years younger and despite not benefiting from the extreme hitting conditions of the Cal League. Only Wil Myers and Miles Head have struck more extra-base hits this season than has Hanson, who has 50 . . . Indians top prospect Francisco Lindor finished just off the list with 8 RAA in 284 plate appearances for low Class A Lake County, but give him the playing-time edge and he’s been just as impressive as fellow 2011 first-rounder Javier Baez of the Cubs.
|IN THE RED|
|Mike Antonio||20||Royals||Kane County||MWL||LoA||273||.231||.267||.325||-11|
|Jeudy Valdez||23||Padres||San Antonio||TL||AA||271||.220||.270||.351||-11|
|Ozzie Martinez||24||White Sox||Charlotte||IL||AAA||186||.174||.224||.233||-17|
One of the players received from the Marlins for manager Ozzie Guillen, Ozzie Martinez played his way right off Chicago’s 40-man roster, and it will take a huge second half to play his way back into favor.
SECOND BASE PROSPECTS
|IN THE BLACK
|Danny Mateo||20||Royals||Kane County||MWL||LoA||293||.302||.366||.434||11|
|Ryan Brett||20||Rays||Bowling Green||MWL||LoA||248||.314||.363||.432||10|
|Tommy La Stella||23||Braves||Lynchburg||CAR||HiA||268||.271||.372||.422||9|
|Carlos Sanchez||20||White Sox||Winston-Salem||CAR||HiA||296||.327||.386||.412||7|
If Alex Castellanos can prove his worth defensively at the keystone, then he could make for an attractive alternative to Elian Herrera or Ivan De Jesus Jr. as the Dodgers’ long-term regular. Yes, Castellanos plays for Albuquerque, and no he’s not a future Gold Glove winner, but give him credit for hitting .340 or better each month with an OPS north of 1.000 at every split (home/road, left/right) . . . The next wave of standout second-base prospects might be playing in the Midwest League right now, though they all have work to do on defense. The Royals’ Danny Mateo plays almost as much third base as he does second, and the switch-hitter doesn’t hit with much authority from the right side (.466 OPS), but scouts like his lefty swing. The Rays’ Ryan Brett sports a career .308 average and has the speed to be a difference-maker on the bases. The Twins shifted Eddie Rosario from center field to second base this season and he hasn’t lost an ounce of offensive production, though he will miss time in the second half after being struck in the face by a ball during batting practice.
|IN THE RED|
|Brandon Loy||22||Tigers||West Michigan||MWL||LoA||286||.240||.300||.336||-6|
|Sean Coyle||20||Red Sox||Salem||CAR||HiA||267||.207||.281||.339||-6|
|Heiker Meneses||21||Red Sox||Salem||CAR||HiA||172||.230||.308||.296||-7|
Reese Havens has managed to stay relatively healthy thus far, but his offensive production has been underwhelming given his pedigree (2008 first-rounder) and the fact that he’s now older than the median Double-A age of 24 years old . . . Of all the things the Cubs might have expected to receive from 5-foot-9 sparkplug Ronald Torreyes, a .225 average wasn’t one of them. Acquired from the Reds in the offseason Sean Marshall trade, Torreyes hit .356 last year in low Class A, demonstrating a feel for hitting that has deserted him thus far.
CENTER FIELD PROSPECTS
|IN THE BLACK
|Jackie Bradley||22||Red Sox||Salem||CAR||HiA||304||.359||.480||.526||33|
|Matt den Dekker||24||Mets||Binghamton||EL||AA||299||.332||.389||.574||24|
|Jordan Danks||25||White Sox||Charlotte||IL||AAA||234||.302||.419||.516||19|
|Travis Witherspoon||23||Angels||Inland Empire||CAL||HiA||306||.319||.399||.470||16|
|Jared Mitchell||23||White Sox||Birmingham||SL||AA||287||.265||.394||.440||14|
Jackie Bradley leads the minors in on-base percentage, and it’s safe to say he would have gone much higher than 40th overall in last year’s draft had he been completely healthy as a South Carolina junior . . . An unheralded 19th-rounder from Miami (Ohio) in 2010, Adam Eaton has done nothing but hit since turning pro, batting .351/.456/.507 in more than 1,200 plate appearances. Playing in the Pioneer, California and now Pacific Coast leagues has helped, but a career as at least a quality backup or second-division starter awaits . . . The Mets bumped Matt den Dekker to Triple-A following a productive first half, and the Angels did the same with Travis Witherspoon, promoting him to Double-A.
|IN THE RED|
|Kevin Mattison||26||Marlins||New Orleans||PCL||AAA||267||.246||.317||.403||-8|
|Jake Skole||20||Rangers||Myrtle Beach||CAR||HiA||241||.199||.297||.282||-10|
|Donavan Tate||21||Padres||Fort Wayne||MWL||LoA||194||.193||.280||.222||-12|
Gary Brown began to right the ship in June, but his first half was a huge disappointment on the heels of a dynamic .336/.407/.519 batting line with 53 steals last year in the Cal League. That same jump from San Jose to Richmond also tripped up Giants catching prospect Tommy Joseph (above) . . . The third pick in the 2009 draft, Donavan Tate stayed healthy for the first half but showed little of the power (one homer, six doubles) or speed (10 steals in 15 tries) that made him so attractive as an amateur. San Diego nevertheless moved him to high Class A Lake Elsinore at the end of June . . . Another piece of the Cubs-Reds offseason trade that sent Sean Marshall to Cincinnati, Triple-A center fielder Dave Sappelt spent the first half mired in a similar slump as second baseman Ronald Torreyes.
THIRD BASE PROSPECTS
|IN THE BLACK
|Jedd Gyorko||23||Padres||San Antonio||TL||AA||301||.294||.359||.500||15|
|Kaleb Cowart||20||Angels||Cedar Rapids||MWL||LoA||290||.293||.348||.479||13|
No other position but third base featured three prospects with 30 or more runs above average during the first half. All three play at the Double-A level, following the promotions of Miles Head (Athletics) to Midland and Nick Castellanos (Tigers) to Erie in June. Mike Olt has spent all year with Frisco, where he led the Texas League with 22 homers . . . For an illustration of league context on batting lines, consider the case of Diamondbacks hot-corner prospects Ryan Wheeler (Triple-A Pacific Coast League) and Matt Davidson (Double-A Southern League). Despite the fact that Wheeler’s raw OPS for Reno was nearly 75 points higher than Davidson’s mark for Mobile, each player contributed 20 RAA with the bat during the first half. Davidson actually had an edge in homers (15-9) and extra-base hits (33-31).
|IN THE RED|
|Christian Villanueva||21||Rangers||Myrtle Beach||CAR||HiA||265||.251||.311||.372||-7|
|Edinson Rincon||21||Padres||San Antonio||TL||AA||263||.252||.278||.356||-9|
|Matt Dominguez||22||Marlins||New Orleans||PCL||AAA||269||.221||.277||.336||-17|
Two breakout prospects from 2011 have fallen on bleak times this season. The Braves’ Brandon Drury ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the Appalachian League last year—behind only the Twins’ Miguel Sano—but he managed a mere .495 OPS for Rome during the first half. Drury’s still young, and he started the second half in fine form by going 16-for-42 (.381) with four extra-base hits. The Mariners’ Vinnie Catricala seemed like a 10th-round steal a year ago when he reached Double-A and put up a cumulative 1.021 OPS, but the hits haven’t been falling in Triple-A, though he began July on an 8-for-22 (.364) kick . . . The Marlins recently included Matt Dominguez in their trade with the Astros for Carlos Lee.
CORNER OUTFIELD PROSPECTS
|IN THE BLACK
|Jorge Bonifacio||19||Royals||Kane County||MWL||LoA||295||.314||.369||.465||14|
|Scott Van Slyke||25||Dodgers||Albuquerque||PCL||AAA||187||.329||.412||.584||14|
|Oswaldo Arcia||21||Twins||Fort Myers||FSL||HiA||245||.306||.373||.519||14|
|Bryce Brentz||23||Red Sox||Portland||EL||AA||257||.292||.346||.479||10|
|Drew Vettleson||20||Rays||Bowling Green||MWL||LoA||277||.289||.357||.434||9|
|Kole Calhoun||24||Angels||Salt Lake||PCL||AAA||219||.305||.370||.513||9|
|Cory Vaughn||23||Mets||St. Lucie||FSL||HiA||262||.227||.336||.440||9|
|Jarrett Parker||23||Giants||San Jose||CAL||HiA||218||.264||.392||.455||8|
|Rymer Liriano||21||Padres||Lake Elsinore||CAL||HiA||281||.304||.363||.458||8|
Given that he led the minors with 27 homers and that he’s a 21-year-old who has thrived in Triple-A, the Royals’ Wil Myers would have been a frontrunner for Minor League Player of the Year honors—at least through the date of the Futures Game. We’ll see if he gets to add to his credentials in the second half or if Kansas City awaits.
|IN THE RED
|Jaff Decker||22||Padres||San Antonio||TL||AA||192||.181||.361||.289||-1|
|Michael Crouse||21||Blue Jays||Dunedin||FSL||HiA||158||.212||.310||.328||-2|
|Oscar Tejeda||22||Red Sox||Portland||EL||AA||202||.253||.287||.389||-4|
|Randal Grichuk||20||Angels||Inland Empire||CAL||HiA||299||.263||.296||.417||-5|
|J.B. Shuck||25||Astros||Okla. City||PCL||AAA||189||.284||.351||.331||-6|
|Jonathan Garcia||20||Dodgers||R. Cucamonga||CAL||HiA||186||.244||.263||.406||-8|
A pair of high-dollar international acquisitions have floundered in the first half at the low Class A level. Reds $2.5 million man Yorman Rodriguez (signed in 2008) earned a demotion back to Dayton following a .381 OPS effort in the Cal League. He’s batting .258/.304/.376 in a four-year pro career. The Mariners signed Guillermo Pimentel for an even $2 million in ’09 and he’s flashed power (11 homers in the Appy League last year, for example), but not an excess of hitting prowess with a career .251/.288/.415 batting line . . . The Mariners acquired Chih-Hsien Chiang in the three-team deal last July that shipped Erik Bedard and Josh Fields to Boston, but he hit just .228 and slugged .294 in 309 plate appearances prior to being outrighted off Seattle’s 40-man roster in June.
FIRST BASE PROSPECTS
|IN THE BLACK
|Jonathan Singleton||20||Astros||Corpus Christi||TL||AA||278||.281||.392||.494||16|
|O’Koyea Dickson||22||Dodgers||Great Lakes||MWL||LoA||165||.331||.442||.564||16|
|Lars Anderson||24||Red Sox||Pawtucket||IL||AAA||247||.266||.389||.478||14|
The Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo absolutely demolished the Pacific Coast League for the second consecutive season, putting up 33 RAA for Triple-A Iowa in the first half. In two years and 697 plate appearances of PCL play he’s batted .336/.405/.670 with 49 homers, 52 doubles and 163 RBIs in 163 games. Rizzo mashed four homers in his first 11 games with Chicago, and because we’re looking forward with this exercise, we’re considering only those who are still prospect eligible. Still, his first-half showing merits mention . . . The Astros’ Jonathan Singleton continues to grow as an offensive player as a 20-year-old cub in Double-A. His enhanced his power output and walk-to-strikeout ratio this season and profiles as first-division regular at a position where only the best offense is acceptable.
|IN THE RED|
|Jose Osuna||19||Pirates||West Virginia||SAL||LoA||270||.267||.322||.399||-1|
|Aaron Westlake||23||Tigers||West Michigan||MWL||LoA||288||.199||.276||.340||-9|
The Braves skipped Joey Terdoslavich over Double-A to start the year, but he felt Mississippi’s inexorable pull following a two-month stint with Triple-A Gwinnett resulted in a .515 OPS. Back at Double-A, he was batting .291/.336/.417 with 11 extra-base hits through 27 games. Terdoslavich will get another crack at Triple-A either later this season or next.