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A Long Hitting Streak Does Not a Prospect One Make

Posted By Erik Manning On July 10, 2009 @ 9:03 am In Minor Leagues | 5 Comments

Outfielder James McOwen is the current owner of the 45-game hitting streak, the minors’ longest since Roman Mejias hit in 55 straight — over 50 years ago. During the 45-game streak, McOwen has batted .398/.440/.536 for the High Desert Mavericks, the High-A affiliate for the Seattle Mariners. Obviously hitting safely in 45 straight games is quite a feat, so one might assume Jamie McOwen is some sort of valuable prospect, no?

Well, not exactly. McOwen didn’t make Baseball America’s Top 30 Mariners’ prospects in their latest handbook. He’s never been mentioned as a prospect by any of the other prospect gurus around the interwebs, such as Kevin Goldstein, Keith Law or John Sickels. What little I’ve been able to dig up is that he is what scouts call a “tweener”, meaning that while he might hit for some average, he won’t hit for the type of power you’d hope for out of a corner outfielder, and he can’t play center or any other up-the-middle type of position.

Looking at his minor league numbers, he has cut down on his strikeouts; they are down to 14.5% to 21% last year at the same level. His power production is up a bit, (.149 ISO) but it is hardly considered to be anything extraordinary in the hitter’s paradise that is the Cal League. With anyone in the middle of a 45-game hitting streak, you’d expect a high BABIP, which McOwen has, at .403. So there’s nothing whatsoever statistical here that backs up that McOwen is some sort of uber-prospect. He’s 23 years old, put up a ‘meh’ .323 wOBA last year, and as I said, is repeating a level.

McOwen’s hit streak is the 8th longest in minor league history. Just for kicks, let’s look at players with longer hitting streaks, and whether or not it translated into big league success. Take into consideration that the minors are quite what they are now, but:

  • In 1919 Joe Wilhoit hit in 69 straight games for Wichita. In four seasons he played for four different teams, compiled 887 plate appearances and a wRAA of 4.
  • In 1930 Joe DiMaggio (ever heard of him?) hit in 61 straight in the PCL. I think we know what sort of career he went on to have.
  • I mentioned Roman Mejias earlier; he carved out a 9-year career, playing with the Pirates, the Colt .45’s and Red Sox. He had a career high .343 while with Houston, but for his career was a negative at the dish, with a -19.8 wRAA.
  • In 1922, Otto Pahlman hit in 50-straight in the now defunct Illinois League. He never cracked a major league roster.
  • In 1915, Jack Ness hit in 49-straight for Oakland and had the PCL record until The Yankee Clipper came along. Ness only lasted 12 games with the 1911 Tigers, and didn’t play in the minors again until the season after the streak, in 1916 with the White Sox. He played in just 87 total games in the big leagues, posting a .299 wOBA for his brief career.
  • In 1945, Harry Chozen also hit in 49-straight for Mobile. The hit streak came eight years after he played one game for the Cincinnati Reds in where he went 1-for-4. That was it for his major league career. Despite the streak, he never was brought back to the majors.
  • In 1925, Johnny Bates hit in 46 straight for Nashville of the Southern Association. There’s a Johnny Bates that had a pretty nifty 9-year career (164.3 wRAA), but that career ended in 1914. It’s doubtful that the same Johnny Bates was playing in the minors eleven years later at age 43, right? Because if so, then that’s just plain interesting.
  • Sitting just behind McOwen is Brandon Watson, who hit in 43-straight games for Triple-A Columbus. He’s now 27, playing in the Diamondbacks organization, and his hitting for a .310 wOBA. In 96 major league plate appearances for his career he has a .216 wOBA.

Th lesson is here is these hit streaks are pretty meaningless in determining prospect status. Not trying to downplay his accomplishment, and here’s hoping he keeps the streak going. It goes without saying that McOwen is not the next Joltin’ Joe, but he’s not even necessarily a prospect.


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