The narrative of a season is too often written by early season play, a good April begins the conversation of a successful season. Take Kelly Johnson, for instance, who will be remembered as having a good 2010 season. But in each month after April, Johnson never hit half as many home runs or OPS’d within 200 points of his first 30 days. The misconception is something Keith Law has hash-tagged a lot on Twitter this year, using Matt Wieters and Gordon Beckham as cases of when early season play hides midseason success. I want to bring that conversation to the minor leagues, and highlight some performances that may have been overshadowed by what came before it. I’ll do the same with the pitchers later.
Grant Green hit .284/.313/.411 in April. He hit .325/.373/.543 the rest of the season.
Joe Benson hit .169/.296/.271 in April. He hit .273/.350/.578 the rest of the season.
Sean Ratliff hit .259/.326/.407 in April. He hit .306/.359/.524 the rest of the season.
For a guy who had never hit more than five home runs in a season before, Joe Benson clubbing 27 in 2010 is a big number. But his patience eroded, as he walked one less time in 2010 than he had in 2009, albeit with 185 more plate appearances. His strikeouts are an issue, and will keep the average down at higher levels. The key is figuring out just how much New Britain aided in his home runs (we’ll get to that when I continue this series), and I think it did to a degree. That being said, the kid always had untapped power, and now it’s there. Denard Span will need a quick start to his 2011 season, or his job will be in jeopardy fast.
Grant Green is really good. He slid in the draft a bit last year after being talked about as a potential top five pick as a sophomore. Oakland’s gain. The one area he was most consistent in was the error column, with at least six in every month, and 37 overall. He’s going to hit, he just might not be a shortstop. Sean Ratliff did much better in the Eastern League than the Florida State League — environment context is everything! — but overall, he had a nice season. He hit lefties well this season, and had a nice power breakout. I believe in him, though like Benson, those strikeout numbers will keep the batting average down.
Cubs fans, at least those of us hoping for a rebuild, pray that Aramis Ramirez will decline his 2011 player option, and the Cubs will see what Marquez Smith can do in the big leagues. This season wasn’t a huge improvement for Smith (he’s always posted solid numbers), but it was a big enough final three months to make people start noticing. Before we get too excited, we need to remember that he did this in the easiest offensive league in pro baseball, but I certainly believe the guy could OPS around .800 in the Majors, and I’m not sure I would have said that before the year.
As a guy repeating the level, people thought Aaron Hicks was going to explode out of the gate this season. When it didn’t happen in April or May, the “bust” word was thrown around in certain circles (particularly the queue of prospect chats). But his numbers after June 1 were really good in a pitcher’s league, and I think Hicks is now undervalued. He might struggle in the Florida State League next year, but like Joe Benson, you might see him really breakout when he gets to New Britain.
Brandon Guyer hit .259/.340/.471 the first three months. He hit .417/.449/.668 after.
Jesus Montero hit .250/.313/.414 the first three months. He hit .340/.404/.650 after.
Yonder Alonso hit .248/.319/.361 the first three months. He hit .347/.421/.592 after.
Tim Beckham hit .211/.294/.341 the first three months. He hit .306/.402/.379 after.
One of these things is not like the other, as Beckham’s final two months were about 300 OPS points lower than his peers. But he’s a former #1 pick, and when he shows signs of life, we need to talk about it. The problems here are that he showed no power at any point in the season, his base-stealing is down, and so (Kevin Goldstein wrote this week) are the grades on his raw speed. But he took a major step forward in developing patience this year, peaking with a 20-walk month in July. At the very least, the Rays need to work with him to make sure that dedication continues as the rest of his game develops.
Montero is pretty charted territory, because he’s probably the most visible prospect that I can ever remember. He’s a damn good hitter, and could probably handle Yankees DH duties after they make sure he doesn’t make a habit of early season rust. Trading him would be a mistake. With Yonder Alonso, I think trading him is the only option, with the caveat that he might do some damage elsewhere. But his troubles against left-handers, his questionable future home run output, a general lack of athleticism, and a decline in his walk numbers should give the Reds the ability to sleep at night. Post-June aside, he’s a second-division first baseman.
Guyer’s future has been a question in my chat each of the last few weeks, as desperate Cub fans cling to any optimism. Given his amazing end of the season, I can see why they picked Guyer. An excellent contact hitter and baserunner, Guyer would really do well to walk more often, as his power will always be of the gap variety, and his defense in centerfield will always be a stretch. I still see a tweener, but he’s also starting to change my mind.
Matt Cerione hit .238/.303/.381 the first four months. He hit .383/.532/.734 after.
D’Vontrey Richardson hit .224/.305/.307 the first four months. He hit .306/.413/.570 after.
Todd Frazier hit .239/.298/.425 the first four months. He hit .317/.431/.517 after.
Obviously, we’re getting down to smaller samples. I don’t know why it took college hitters Cerione and Richardson so long to get acclimated to the Midwest League, but they were certainly good in August and September. Richardson has the louder tools, but he also struck out 164 times in 522 at-bats. I always saw Cerione as a platoon guy at best, though I admit his numbers against southpaws were better than I thought he had in him. Look for him to get bandied about as a prospect when he kills the ball in High Desert next year.
Finally, former first-round pick Todd Frazier had a really good finish to his season. After walking 24 times the first four months, Frazier walked 21 times in his last 33 games, while the rest of his peripherals stayed fairly static. At the very least, he could platoon in left field next season, and be an asset off the bench against right-handed pitchers. He just needs to keep walking.