The Midwest Wasteland

This morning, I looked at the truly unique and historic season that 19-year-old Nick Franklin had in the Midwest League. It’s worth emphasizing again how difficult an environment this is, as prior research I’ve done shows teenagers hit just .260/.330/.381 from 2000-2006. Just as the Major League rookie crop of 2010 was a fantastic one, so too was the group of teenagers this season in the Midwest League. No less than 10 players, besides Franklin, exceeded that .330 OBP / .381 SLG benchmark that past performers have set. Two, in particular, blew the roof off of it.

I have been no secret with my belief that Mike Trout is the best prospect in baseball. This has been a point of contention in my prospect chats with people that have seen him hit *just* .294/.377/.416 in the California League and fail to get excited. Earlier this morning, I posted the best batting lines of a teenager in the last decade. Daric Barton was tops, at .313/.445/.511. Shin-Soo Choo, the only athletic player in the top six, hit .302/.417/.440. What did Mike Trout hit, while at a baseball age a year younger than both of them? .362/.454/.526 in 368 plate appearances with, oh by the way, just 52 strikeouts and 44 steals.

Trout possesses a combination of skills the likes of which this league has never seen. Trout showed a similar walk rate (12.5%) to what Joe Mauer had (12.8%) in the Midwest League, teamed with a really good contact rate that isn’t historic, but it’s certainly really good. Add in the fact that his power is still coming — I’d compare it to what Eric Hosmer did at the level — and that his speed and defense are both plus to plus-plus tools, and you start to get an idea of why I think this kid is such a unique player.

The other freakish stat line of the season belongs to Wil Myers, the Kansas City Royals catching prospect that hit .298/.408/.500 before moving up to High-A, where he hit .346/.453/.512. The three most comparable lines we have to Myers’ Midwest League performance, in the 2000′s, belong to Prince Fielder, Travis Snider and Adrian Gonzalez. You might also toss in Colby Rasmus, who also moved up to High-A and had success there, albeit more muted. Position uncertainty aside, Fielder has shown that you don’t need to play a premium position, nor play defense well at all, to be a five win player.

This morning we talked about how rare Franklin’s season really is when considering the position he played on a day-to-day basis. Joining him in the Midwest League this year were three other teenage shortstops: Hak-Ju Lee (.282/.354/.351), Chris Owings (.298/.323/.447) and Jonathan Galvez (.259/.360/.397). Lee is the best defender of the group, and has drawn the most praise in prospect circles. However, if you went to compare his season to all the teenage seasons in the 2000′s, it’s an uninspiring group, names like Marcus Lemon, Vince Rooi, Alex Romero, Gorkys Hernandez, and generously (and serendipitously), Felix Pie.

Owings had a pretty small sample because of a foot injury, but more than his limited success, it’s that 9-50 walk-to-strikeout ratio that jumps out at me. If we look for people that were under .2 in that ratio: Wily Mo Pena, Jery Gil, Wladimir Balentien, Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, Denny Almonte, Neftali Soto and Engel Beltre. The latter might be the closest comparison, but Owings looks better than Beltre statistically. Finally, we have Galvez, who probably isn’t a shortstop at all after his 43 errors. But if he can work at second base, his touch of power and good patience shine out for me. Everything except contact rate comes off just like Cody Ross, with the low and high end of comparisons coming in at Vince Rooi and Grady Sizemore, respectively. The majority of comparisons come in pretty low, though, with Marcus Lemon and Justin Jackson and Daryl Jones worth mentioning. I still like Galvez, though.

In addition to Owings, Arizona had a pair of third base prospects in the Midwest League this year splitting time at the hot corner. Matt Davidson (.289/.371/.504) had more success than Bobby Borchering (.270/.341/.423), eventually moving onto the California League. Davidson’s season would probably get him into the top 10 of the decade (if not pushed out by Trout and Myers), and it was a similar line to Travis Snider and Carlos Gonzalez. Snider’s season, and general lack of athleticism, actually make for a nice comparison. Borchering has better (though still not good) contact skills and athleticism, but his season was still a disappointment. Chris Lubanski‘s line was pretty similar, as was Brandon Wood and Reid Brignac and Wilkin Ramirez.

Let’s move it to bullet points to get near the end here.

  • Randal Grichuk was drafted ahead of Trout, and had a nice-ish debut before his injury, hitting .292/.327/.530. He had an identical BB/K ratio of Chris Owings at 9-50, so you’re hoping for Josh Vitters, but thinking probably Neftali Soto or Wladimir Balentien‘s paths are more likely.
  • The athletic outfielders Everett Williams (.244/.333/.372) and Rashun Dixon (.275/.371/.383) might just be the best comps for each other, given solid walk rates, bad strikeout rates and all. Dixon just BABIP’d higher. Both seasons were acceptable, if unexciting, beginnings.
  • Cubs fans are starting to get excited about Jae-Hoon Ha, who had a better season (.317/.334/.468) than Hak-Ju Lee, albeit without a good walk rate. This was better than what Josh Barfield did in the league, but a little worse than Erick Aybar. Twins prospects David Winfree and Wilson Ramos had similar stats, but are much less athletic. This is another place where comparing Engel Beltre might work.
  • And, in terms of history, I will say this: Max Stassi‘s 141 strikeouts (in 465 PA’s) comes in fifth on the counting stat list behind Wily Mo Pena (177 in 565), James Jenkins (151 in 456), Denny Almonte (149 in 408) and Wilkin Ramirez (143 in 541).



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    19 Responses to “The Midwest Wasteland”

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    1. Gerry says:

      Depending on your age cut-off date AJ Jimenez of the Lansing Lugnuts put up a nice line as a 19/20 year old catcher. 347 OBP and 435 SLG.

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    2. kirakillers says:

      Could Mike Trout make his debut in 2011 or 2012 is a more realistic ETA? I’m really excited about him and his potential to do almost everything on a baseball field.

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      • Bryan Smith says:

        The Angels have told some people that their fans will see him in 2011. But I think his performance in Double-A next year will dictate that. He’s truly exciting to see on the field — from his build when he walks out of the dugout, to the raw power in his batting practice, to his home-to-first times.

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    3. Virgil Pryor says:

      Worth noting that Josh Vitters managed to crank out 15 homers in just 269 ABs in the Midwest League, compared to Trout’s 6 in 312 ABs. Vitters’ .219 ISO from that sample dwarves Trout’s .164

      Not saying Vitters is the better prospect by any means, but he was just as young as Trout when he took the Midwest League by storm. If nothing else, this is a good reason why Cubs fans should exercise patience with Vitters, whose output in Daytona this year actually wasn’t half bad. People need to remember just how young he is.

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    4. In the same vein, Ty Morrison also had a solid year. His contact rate needs a lot of improcement, but his speed was undeniable and over 1/3 of his hits were for extra bases. Edinson Rincon showed a good contact rate and power for his age. Frederick Parejo showed very good plate discipline while not producing very well. Rymer Liriano didn’t show much in games, but has big power potential. Jake Marisnick may be one of the best athletes, if not the best, in the Midwest teenager group.

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    5. Justin says:

      Does anyone know where I can find out what each environment for MiLB leagues are like? Or if someone could expand on each……

      And for Vitters: He is young, and does have some pop. But unless he starts walking at a higher rate, and start to improve pitch recognition, I dont see him as that valuable of a piece. Im not positive on this statement anymore, as he may have improved, but early reports suggest he is a avg. defender, at best at 3B, if not below avg.

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    6. Justin says:

      Also, great read. Very enlightening.

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    7. melvin emmanuel says:

      Good stuff as usual Brian, one quibble though:

      “Snider’s season, and general lack of athleticism, ”

      Are we past this point yet? I know he’s not exactly lean, but he’s not Prince Fielder large either. It’s also been reported a few times that he was scholarship worthy on the gridiron, and I have hard time believing that anyone who was drafted in the 1st round, made a big league debut at age 20, and was worthy of a football scholarship, lacks athleticism. I’ve watched him play alot this year, as I’m sure you have as well, and while he’s not BJ Upton in the OF, I wouldn’t refer to him as non-athletic. His arm even looks above avg to me.

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      • Ed Cunningham says:

        I completely agree Melvin.

        Calling Snider unathletic is careless.

        Not being skinny does not make you unathletic.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        “Not athletic” really just means “white” … or at least seems to in a lot of sports conversations.

        IMO, just pointing out the obvious.

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      • Nitram Odarp says:

        Dunn went in the second round, made his debut at 21, and was considered an amazing football prospect. He actually showed a good bit of athleticism coming up, but we all know how that turned out. Snider’s issue isn’t his current athleticism as much as his future athleticism as he ages.

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      • Bryan Smith says:

        OK, lack of athleticism might be wrong — these are pro athletes, after all. What I mean by that is he is a bad fielder.

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    8. Justin says:

      Can anybody give me a website where their is a description of the environments of the leagues in MiLB?

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    9. Justin,
      A quick overview:
      AAA- PCL is very hitter friendly, International is about even, maybe a touch on the hitters side.
      AA- Texas is hitter friendly, Eastern and Southen play about even.
      HiA- Cal league is very hitter friendly, Carolina is a touch on the pitchers side, Florida state is quite pitcher friendly
      A ball- Midwest is pitcher friendly due to climate, SAL tends to favor pitchers as well.
      SS- NYP depends on the players but plays even pretty much. Northwest is usually hitter friendly.
      R- Appy is about even. Pioneer is hitter friendly. AZL and GCL typically are pitcher heavy as are the DSL and VSL.
      There are parks in each of these leagues that play differently or against this. These are just my observations.

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    10. E-Dub says:

      Engel Beltre comes up a couple of times in your piece, Bryan. What are your general thoughts about his performance this year and what you expect next year?

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      • Bryan Smith says:

        I would have thought it time for a power boost this year. The contact skills have become really good, but without ISO or BB%, and with his baserunning still raw, I don’t know what he becomes. Next year is put-up or shut-up time for me.

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    11. baseball says:

      Franklin or Trout. Impressed with the fact Trout can steal bases and hit for a high average in Low A. Not going to get too excited about High A because that is a hitter’s park.

      But, Franklin is very impressive. He broke a 49 year franchise Home run record and is the homerun king of the Midwest. What an accomplishment for a 19 year old. And to also be the first professional player to hit 20-20-20 (hr, sb, and dbl). I also understand that the Seattle Low A affiliate team he played on has not been in the playoffs since Franklin was born. And, a side note – he did a decent job in Double A at the end of this year…Franklin’s my rookie of the year.

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