Prospects Poised To Deliver More (Or Less) Power In 2014

One of the many unique and fascinating aspects of baseball is the differences between ballparks, whether man-made or natural. Think of the varied outfield dimensions and wall configurations or, in the case of natural phenomenon, the wildly different altitude, humidity and wind patterns around the nation.

Differences in home-park context can yield large differences in his output over the course of a season. Take Marlins minor league first baseman Viosergy Rosa as an example. Playing for low Class A Greensboro in 2013, Rosa hit .309/.394/.589 and belted 18 home runs in 69 games at home, while hitting a mere .187 with five homers in 64 road games.

As many of you know, the Grasshoppers play in the South Atlantic League’s friendliest park for home runs—it featured 2.06 per game from 2010-12—a factor that almost certainly had a profound effect on Rosa’s longball production. As a result, he ranked third in the SAL with 23 homers last season, with nearly four out of every five having been hit in a cozy home park.

Rosa, a 29th-round pick out of junior college in 2010, wasn’t alone in this regard. A number of minor leaguers in 2013 built their home run totals largely by maximizing their output in home games. Here are the top 10 such players—counting only performance in a single league—sorted by a points system that will be explained after the break.

 

MINOR LEAGUE BATTERS WITH A HOME RUN ADVANTAGE AT HOME IN 2013
PLAYER TEAM LGE ORG HR HOME ROAD PCT DIFF PTS
Viosergy Rosa Greensboro SAL MIA 23 18 5 78% +13 27.1
Nick Williams Hickory SAL TEX 17 14 3 82% +11 22.5
Bubba Starling Lexington SAL KC 13 12 1 92% +11 22.1
Francisco Sosa Asheville SAL COL 20 15 5 75% +10 21.3
Anthony Hewitt Reading EL PHI 16 13 3 81% +10 20.6
Dustin Lawley St. Lucie FSL NYM 25 17 8 68% +9 20.6
Chris Bostick Beloit MWL OAK 14 12 2 86% +10 20.3
Max Muncy Stockton CAL OAK 21 15 6 71% +9 19.7
Brock Kjeldgaard Huntsville SL MIL 24 16 8 67% +8 18.7
Jesus Solorzano Greensboro SAL MIA 15 12 3 80% +9 18.6

 

For those familiar with the Bill James book Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?, the methodology above was borrowed directly from his Fibonacci win points system for starting pitchers. The points (PTS) are derived by taking a player’s home run total at home (HOME), multiplying that by the percentage of homers he hit at home (PCT) and adding the difference between his home homers and road homers (DIFF). The resulting total is not important as a standalone measure but does a good job of sorting players by the magnitude by which their home park influenced their home run total.

In case you’re wondering, the 177 minor league players who hit 15 homers or more in one league last year hit 50 percent of those homers at home.

Prospects Facing Possible Downward Regression

Now let’s refine the search to include only those players who rank among their organization’s Top 30 Prospects in the forthcoming Prospect Handbook. These names will be most relevant to prospect watchers and fantasy players in deeper league formats.

The first seven names on this list are repeats from the above, but after that we break new ground from No. 8 through 20. Think of these prospects as prime regression candidates for 2014, in that their home run totals could decline in a more neutral home environment. That’s not universally true, of course, because some players are simply excellent home run hitters. We’re most interested in players in extreme home run parks with large gulfs between their home and road power output. Please see last year’s minor league preview story for complete park factors and home run rates from 2010-12.

 

PROSPECTS WITH A LARGE POSITIVE HR DIFFERENTIAL AT HOME
PLAYER TEAM LGE ORG HR HOME ROAD PCT DIFF PTS
Nick Williams Hickory SAL TEX 17 14 3 82% +11 22.5
Bubba Starling Lexington SAL KC 13 12 1 92% +11 22.1
Francisco Sosa Asheville SAL COL 20 15 5 75% +10 21.3
Dustin Lawley St. Lucie FSL NYM 25 17 8 68% +9 20.6
Chris Bostick Beloit MWL OAK 14 12 2 86% +10 20.3
Max Muncy Stockton CAL OAK 21 15 6 71% +9 19.7
Jesus Solorzano Greensboro SAL MIA 15 12 3 80% +9 18.6
Ryan Rua Hickory SAL TEX 29 18 11 62% +7 18.2
Rosell Herrera Asheville SAL COL 16 12 4 75% +8 17.0
Angel Villalona San Jose CAL SF 14 11 3  79% +8 16.6
Kelly Dugan Clearwater FSL PHI 10 9 1  90% +8 16.1
Xavier Scruggs Springfield TL STL 29 17 12 59% +5 15.0
Gary Brown Fresno PCL SF 13 10 3 77%  +7 14.7
Jabari Blash High Desert CAL SEA 16 11 5 69% +6 13.6
Kyle Parker Tulsa TL COL 23 14 9 61% +5 13.5
Jacob Scavuzzo Ogden PIO LAD  14 10 4 71% +6 13.1
Mike Olt* Round Rock PCL TEX  14 10 4  71% +6 13.1
Corey Seager Great Lakes MWL LAD 12 9 3 75% +6 12.8
Steven Moya Lakeland FSL DET 12 9 3  75%  +6  12.8
Javier Baez Daytona FSL CHC 17 11 6 65%  +5  12.1
* Statistics include three home runs for Iowa (PCL) in the Cubs system

 

Nick Williams

Nick Williams (Photo by Tony Farlow)

• Rangers left fielder Nick Williams has a mountain of natural hitting talent and an easy lefthanded swing, but he also has questions to address in 2014. He hit 14 of 17 home runs in low Class A Hickory’s homer-friendly park, while also brandishing one of the most lopsided walk-to-strikeout ratios (15-to-110) in the minors. Among batters who qualified for the batting title last year, just 10 had a worse ratio than Williams (0.14).

• Low Class A Lexington plays in a favorable home run park, just like Hickory, and Royals center fielder Bubba Starling took full advantage, mashing 12 of 13 homers at home. He struck out a little less frequently than Williams in 2013, while walking a lot more, so his hitting approach is less concerning going forward. Williams, however, accomplished more while putting the ball in play, collecting a higher rate of hits and extra-base hits on contact.

• Low Class A Asheville plays in one of the best hitter’s parks in the minors, so it’s not unusual to see multiple Rockies prospects on a list like this. Left fielder Francisco Sosa, a 23-year-old who spent six years in short-season ball, probably is a park-aided illusion, judging from the near 500-point difference in his OPS at home (1.176, 15 homers) versus on the road (.680, five). Rosell Herrera, however, is a 20-year-old shortstop on the upswing, and one whose production did not dry up away from Asheville. He hit .308/.386/.411 in 66 road games last year, but hit 12 of 16 homers at home. Both players will face a radical change in context this season at high Class A Modesto, which played as the worst home run park in the California League from 2010-12.

• Mets left fielder Dustin Lawley led the high Class A Florida State League with 25 home runs and a .512 slugging percentage to win circuit MVP honors. St. Lucie plays as one of the better home run parks in the FSL, and Lawley led the league with 17 home-field blasts (see chart at bottom for complete list), but don’t judge him too harshly. Everything is relative, and no full-season minor league features fewer homers per game than the FSL (about 1.13).

• Athletics first baseman Max Muncy hit 15 homers at home in 2013 to lead all Cal League batters in that split, taking full advantage of conditions at high Class A Stockton, one of the league’s better parks for home runs. How much of that power he carries over at higher levels will determine whether he will profile as a first-division starter.

• Cardinals first baseman Xavier Scruggs ranked second in Double-A Texas League with 29 home runs for Springfield, but first with 17 dingers at home (not to mention 82 walks overall). With Matt Adams now in the big leagues, Scruggs has more raw power than any St. Louis farmhand, and the 26-year-old stands poised to assume the first-base masher role at Triple-A Memphis this season, a la Brock Peterson in 2013 or Adams in 2012.

• As touched on with the Nick Williams review, low Class A Hickory plays in a favorable park for home runs, and second baseman Ryan Rua took full advantage. He ranked second in South Atlantic League with 29 home runs in 2013, hitting a league-best 18 bombs at home.

Crawdads third baseman Joey Gallo, on the other hand, offered an interesting contrast to both Williams (14/3 home/road) and Rua (18/11) by smacking 16 homers at home and an SAL-best 22 on the road. So not only did Gallo lead the SAL with 38 homers and the minors with 40 overall, but his 22 road homers also were the most for any player in one league (and one of the highest totals overall). The moral of the story: No park can hold Gallo when he hits the ball on the nose.

• Dodgers center fielder Jacob Scavuzzo, a 21st-rounder in 2012 from the same Villa Park (Calif.) High program that produced Mark Trumbo, led the Rookie-level Pioneer League with 14 homers in 2013, hitting 10 of those bombs at home in Ogden. Playing for Orem in 2005, Trumbo hit eight of his 10 homers in the PL at home.

Despite the well-deserved reputations of the California and Pacific Coast leagues, the PL actually is the most favorable place to hit in the U.S. minors. More runs have been scored per game in the PL (5.90) the past three seasons than either the Cal League (5.42) or PCL (5.17). Even with a much younger and much less experienced player pool, the PL stands shoulder to shoulder with the Cal and PCL in terms of on-contact rates for extra-base hits (11.9 percent) and home runs (3.1 percent), and no league from 2011-13 has featured a higher percentage of hits on balls in play (.339) than the PL.

In other words, be wary of taking PL hitting numbers at face value. After all, the last two Ogden players to lead the league in homers were Nick Akins (15 in 2010) and Brian Cavazos-Galvez (18 in 2009).

Now on to the prospects we might expect to see higher home run totals from in 2014 because they were hindered by their home park in 2013. But first, the top 10 in the minors, counting all players who compiled their totals in one league context.

 

MINOR LEAGUE BATTERS WITH A HOME RUN DISADVANTAGE AT HOME IN 2013
PLAYER TEAM LGE ORG HR HOME ROAD PCT DIFF PTS
Zach Borenstein Inland Empire CAL LAA 28 7 21 25% –14 -12.3
Andrew Susac Richmond EL SF 12 0 12 0% –12 -12.0
Brandon Miller Hagerstown SAL WAS 18 3 15 17% –12 -11.5
Jeff Arnold San Jose CAL SF 13 1 12 8% –11 -10.9
Mauro Gomez Buffalo IL TOR 29 8 21  28% –13 -10.8
Brandon Drury South Bend MWL ARI 15 2 13 13% –11 -10.7
Corey Brown Syracuse IL WAS 19 4 15 21% –11 -10.2
Andrew Lambo Altoona EL PIT 14 2 12 14% –10 -9.7
Jake Goebbert Midland TL OAK 18 4 14 22% –10 -9.1
Stephen Piscotty Palm Beach FSL STL 9 0 9 0% –9 -9.0
Jonathan Schoop Norfolk IL BAL 9 0 9 0% –9  -9.0

 

We’ll get to many of these names on the prospect pull-out in the next section.

Prospects Facing Possible Upward Regression

Six names appear on both the all-inclusive list and the prospect-only list, both of which are paced by the same Angels farmhand. Many of these prospects are excellent candidates to bump their home run production in 2014 based solely on switching to a more neutral home venue. As with everything in baseball, results are not guaranteed.

 

PROSPECTS WITH A LARGE NEGATIVE HR DIFFERENTIAL AT HOME
PLAYER TEAM LGE ORG HR HOME ROAD PCT DIFF PTS
Zach Borenstein Inland Empire CAL LAA 28 7 21 25% –14 -12.3
Andrew Susac Richmond EL SF 12 0 12 0% –12 -12.0
Brandon Drury South Bend MWL ARI 15 2 13 13% –11 -10.7
Andrew Lambo Altoona EL PIT 14 2 12 14% –10 -9.7
Stephen Piscotty Palm Beach FSL STL 9 0 9 0% –9 -9.0
Jonathan Schoop Norfolk IL BAL 9 0 9 0% –9 -9.0
Greg Bird Charleston SAL NYY 20 5 15 25% –10 -8.8
Randal Grichuk Arkansas TL LAA 22 6 16 27% –10 -8.4
Tyler Ogle Great Lakes MWL LAD  12 2 10 17% -8 -7.7
Jeimer Candelario Kane County MWL CHC 11 2 9 18% -7 -6.6
Jason Rogers Huntsville SL MIL 22 7 15 32% -8 -5.8
Stetson Allie West Virginia SAL PIT 17 5 12 29% -7 -5.5
Dan Vogelbach Kane County MWL CHC  17 5 12  29%  -7  -5.5
Michael Ratterree Orem PIO LAA 12 3 9 25% -6 -5.3
Trevor Story Modesto CAL COL  12 3 9  25%  -6 -5.3
Christian Villanueva Tennessee SL CHC 19 6 13 32% -7 -5.1
Michael Choice Sacramento PCL OAK 14 4 10 29% -6 -4.9
Erik Gonzalez Lake County MWL CLE  9 2 7 22% -5 -4.6
Abraham Almonte Tacoma PCL SEA 11 3 8 27% -5 -4.2
Brandon Jacobs Salem CAR BOS 11 3 8 27% -5 -4.2
Dilson Herrera** West Virginia SAL PIT 11 3 8 27% -5 -4.2
** Also played seven games for Savannah (SAL) in the Mets system but did not homer

 

• Angels left fielder Zach Borenstein took home the high Class A California League MVP award in 2013, nearly winning the circuit’s triple crown with a .337 average (first), 28 homers (first) and 95 RBIs (third). As suggested by his hitting just seven of 28 homers at home, Inland Empire is, in fact, one of the Cal League’s worst parks for home runs. Borenstein, however, maximized his time in the circuit’s launching pads, such as High Desert (five homers), Lancaster (four), Bakersfield (three) and Stockton (two) to amass 15 of his 21 road homers, the highest total in the Cal League. The going gets no easier for Borenstein this year at Double-A Arkansas, which plays as the worst home run park in the Texas League.

• Giants catcher Andrew Susac hit more home runs (12) than any minor league player who failed to go deep in his home park in 2013. Double-A Richmond plays in one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the minors, and apparently Susac’s power stroke to right-center field is not conducive to hitting home runs at The Diamond. He hit just .197 at home, but his road output (.303/.400/.614 with 22 extra-base hits in 43 games), overall 42-to-68 walk-to-strikeout ratio and productive stint in the Arizona Fall League (league-leading .507 on-base percentage) point to his potential as a hard-hitting catcher.

• Diamondbacks third baseman Brandon Drury didn’t let the poor home run context at low Class A South Bend get him down. Even though he hit just two of 15 longballs at home, he still led the Midwest League with 51 doubles and 70 extra-base hits while ranking third with a .500 slugging percentage.

• Double-A Altoona played host to the fewest home runs per game in the Eastern League from 2010-12, a fact probably not lost on Pirates left fielder Andrew Lambo after he hit two of 14 homers there in 2013. Despite a home-park handicap, he still managed to rank fifth in the minors with 32 homers overall, a total that included 18 at Triple-A Indianapolis (eight home/10 road).

• Cardinals prospects face a dramatic shift in park effects as they venture from high Class A Palm Beach, which features the fewest homers in the Florida State League, to Double-A Springfield, home to the most longballs in the Texas League. The travails of right fielder Stephen Piscotty in 2013 illustrate this point, after he hit zero of his nine homers for Palm Beach at home and then hit five of six for Springfield at home. With another year in right field under his belt combined with more favorable home parks in 2014, Piscotty could emerge on the national prospect scene.

• A better power prospect than his 2013 numbers indicates, Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop weathered a back injury and a tough home park at Triple-A Norfolk to hit just nine homers in 2013, none at home.  Many scouts are sold on Schoop’s power potential, and if they’re right, he could one day double his homer output from last season.

• Yankees first baseman Greg Bird hit just five of his 20 home runs for low Class A Charleston at home, but he still ranked second in the South Atlantic League with 59 extra-base hits and led in walks (107) and on-base percentage (.428). When Bird did homer on the road, he tended to bunch those blasts at two venues. He hit eight homers in 18 games at Greenville, taking advantage of a Green Monster-style left-field wall at the Red Sox affiliate’s park, plus three more at the Greensboro launching pad, with all three coming in the same July 19 game.

• Angels right fielder Randal Grichuk (now a Cardinals prospect thanks to an offseason trade) led the Double-A Texas League with 16 road home runs, while hitting just six at home for Arkansas, the league’s toughest place to homer. Past Angels prospects such as Mark Trumbo (six home, nine road in 2009) and Mike Trout (two home, nine road in 2011) have dealt with the difficult conditions at Arkansas, though first baseman C.J. Cron (eight home, six road in 2013) broke the pattern. Like Brandon Drury and Greg Bird on this list, Grichuk placed at or near the top of his league’s ranking for extra-base hits—in his case, first with 57.

• A pair of Cubs teammates at low Class A Kane County both show up on this list: third baseman Jeimer Candelario (two of 11 homers at home) and first baseman Dan Vogelbach (five of 17 at home). What’s interesting for both is that despite a decided power advantage in road games, both Candelario and Vogelbach hit for a higher average and posted a higher on-base percentage at home.

• An offseason trade from the Athletics landed left fielder Michael Choice in his hometown of Arlington, Texas, where he ought to dramatically improve his home run ratio (four home, 10 road) from 2013 at Triple-A Sacramento, one of the best pitcher’s parks in the Pacific Coast League. That will be true whether he plays for the Rangers or for Triple-A Round Rock, one of the PCL’s better home run parks.

We’ll close with a chart detailing the home run leaders for each league in 2013, divided along a home/road split.

 

LEAGUE PLAYER TEAM HM PLAYER
TEAM RD
Int’l Zach Walters Syracuse 16 Mauro Gomez Buffalo 21
Pac Coast Jamie Romak Memphis 15 Brock Peterson Memphis 14
Eastern Jim Murphy Reading 14 Jarek Cunningham Altoona 14
Reynaldo Rodriguez New Britain 14
Southern Brock Kjeldgaard Huntsville 16 Jason Rogers Huntsville 15
Texas Xavier Scruggs Springfield 17 Matt Fields NW Arkansas 16
Randal Grichuk Arkansas 16
California Max Muncy Stockton 15 Zach Borenstein Inland Empire 21
Carolina Chris Curley Win.-Salem 12 Chris Curley Win.-Salem 12
Robby Hefflinger Lynchburg 12
Fla. State Dustin Lawley St. Lucie 17 Alejandro Segovia Charlotte 10
Kennys Vargas Fort Myers 10
Midwest Adam Brett Walker Cedar Rapids 14 Matt Olson Beloit 14
S. Atlantic Viosergy Rosa Greensboro 18 Joey Gallo Hickory 22
Ryan Rua Hickory 18
N.Y.-Penn Zach Green Williamsport 9 Connor Bierfeldt Aberdeen 7
Northwest Yasiel Balaguert Boise 6 L.B. Dantzler Vancouver 8
Appalachian Kristian Brito Pulaski 7 Wilton Martinez Pulaski 6
Chase McDonald Greeneville 6
Pioneer Jacob Scavuzzo Ogden 10 Jacob Morris Great Falls 9
Michael Ratterree Helena 9
Arizona Brawlun Gomez AZL Royals 6 Jose Urena AZL Padres 4
Fernando Vivili AZL Rangers 4
Gulf Coast Amaurys Minier GCL Twins 6 Wilmer Oberto GCL Phillies 4