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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).