Bubba Brown caught up with three Triple-A all-stars who are enjoying breakout seasons.
• Some might dismiss Albuquerque center fielder Trayvon Robinson’s first-half home run total of 21 because he plays half his games in Isotopes Park, one of the best offensive parks in all of baseball.
But the 23-year-old Dodgers prospect says it isn’t that simple.
“I think so,” Robinson said when asked if people are too quick to discount his power. “A lot of people tell me that because I’m hitting at Albuquerque, where the ball flies out. I’ve got 21 home runs and they think I’ve hit them all at Albuquerque, which I haven’t. I try to have the same approach no matter what field I’m playing on. Sometimes balls just happen to go out.”
The statistics support Robinson’s argument. He has hit only one more homer at home (11) than on the road (10), and his .573 slugging percentage on the road actually is higher than his home mark of .550. Furthermore, only one of Robinson’s road home runs, a May 16 clout at Tucson, has come in a notorious launching pad. His other nine blasts have come in comparatively neutral Pacific Coast League environments like Des Moines (twice), New Orleans (twice), Memphis, Round Rock, Oklahoma City and Omaha (twice).
A switch-hitter, Robinson’s 21 homers this year have already eclipsed his previous career high of 17, which he hit in 2009 while playing mostly for high Class A Inland Empire of the California League.
• Like Robinson, Memphis corner outfielder/first baseman Andrew Brown has also exhibited a surge in power. After hitting 22 homers in 98 games last season for Double-A Springfield, Brown crushed 14 more in 63 games for the Redbirds this season. The 26-year-old Cardinals prospect showed good power early in his career—once hitting 21 homers in 126 games across three levels in 2008—but his increased pop now results in a stout .588 slugging percentage.
“As you get more experience you start to recognize pitches better and you know how to approach at-bats in situations,” Brown said. “You get more locked in to hit your pitch instead of (the pitcher’s), because it doesn’t work out as well when you’re going after their stuff.”
An 18th-round pick from Nebraska in 2007, Brown made his big league debut on June 12 by going 0-for-1 as a pinch-hitter. In all, he went 4-for-22 (.182) with a double in an 11-game stint in St. Louis, but with Matt Holliday and Colby Rasmus projected to patrol two of the Cardinals’ three outfield spots for the next few years, the righthanded-hitting Brown knows earning a full-time job will be a challenge.
“All you can do is try to control how you play,” Brown said. “I try not to let that other stuff get in my mind, but at the same time, the Cardinals have stars in every (outfield) position.”
• Syracuse lefthander Tom Milone led the International League with 107 strikeout and a 0.96 WHIP at the all-star break, but it’s another column on his Baseball-Reference page that jumps off the screen: a strikeout-to-walk ratio of more than 15-to-1.
The 24-year-old Milone has issued a mere seven walks in 103 innings, and in 10 starts from May 10 through July 2, he walked just two batters in 67 1/3 innings for an absurd ratio of 0.3 per nine. He walked two in his final start of the first half, during which he tossed seven shutout innings, allowing two hits.
Despite not having overwhelming stuff, Milone says his success stems from constantly pitching around the strike zone.
“I think the hitters know that I throw a lot of strikes,” Milone said, “and if I get that in their head, and I get in a two-strike count, I can throw them out of the zone. Their heads are thinking, ‘This guys around the plate, so if it looks like a strike, it might be a strike.’ If I can throw a pitch that looks like it’s going to be a strike, but leaves the zone, I can get a lot of swing-and-misses. The majority of my strikeouts are because of that.”
Milone, a Nationals’ 10th-round pick from Southern California in 2008, isn’t the only starter on the Syracuse staff who takes a strike-throwing approach. Righthanders Brad Meyers (7.5-to-1), Craig Stammen (4.26-to-1) and Yuniesky Maya (3.53-to-1) all have above-average strikeout-to-walk ratios.
According to Milone, it isn’t a coincidence. “The Nationals definitely emphasize throwing strikes,” Milone said. “They preach that you’re going to be a lot better off if you challenge a hitter, rather than try to pitch around him and nibble on the corners. Just go after him a trust your stuff.”
Throwing too many strikes, though, can also hurt a pitcher against aggressive offensive teams, Milone says, so the Chiefs pitchers are sometimes forced to be extra careful.
“We usually have a good idea of which teams do that,” Milone said. “We don’t necessarily try to stay away from the strike zone, but you have to be a little more careful. It’s almost like you’ve got to be a little bit smarter about where you place pitches.”