What We Learned from MiLB: Week One

I don’t think it will be particularly difficult to decipher where this format came from, but it has always been one of my favorite features on this site. Minor League Baseball has been around for a full week, and while it’s too early to draw conclusions, it has been home to some interesting subplots. As I’ll hope to do every Thursday in this space, here are three items that caught my eye on the farm.

The Kinston Indians are hard to hit.

I drew some criticism in the Future Talent section of our Indians organizational ranking for veering too rose-colored in my evaluation of the Indians farm system. And while it’s too early to be seeking out validation, I have to say the early returns of the Carolina League (High-A) Kinston Indians pitching staff do bode well for the future in Cleveland. Through 7 games, this squad has struck out a professional baseball leading 76 batters (10.86 K/9) en route to a sparkling 1.86 ERA.

Last season’s top draft pick, Alex White, is there, and struck out seven over five scoreless innings in his debut. But the team lead in whiffs is split between Nick Hagadone, one of the keys to last season’s Victor Martinez trade (0 ER, 10 K in 9.1 IP) and solid breakout candidate T.J. House, who whiffed ten in his season debut on Sunday. The bullpen is loaded with solid college arms, like Long Beach State’s David Roberts or UC Irvine’s Bryce Stowell, and has been no contest for their opponents.

Considering top prospect Carlos Santana is destroying Triple-A (.423/.516/.962 in 9 games), Nick Weglarz looks to be bouncing back in Double-A, and the Low-A squad is a perfect 7-0, this Cleveland farm system looks every bit as impressive as we made them out to be a couple weeks ago.

Christian Bethancourt is the next great Latin find for Atlanta.

Get ready to feel old. Braves catching prospect Christian Bethancourt was born in Panama on September 2, 1991. However, given that he’s a $600,000 investment that performed admirably at 17 last summer, the Braves challenged him with a full-season assignment this year to Low-A Rome. In his first game, the teenage catcher went 1-for-3, hitting a home run in the sixth inning. The next day, he went 1-for-4, which he can call his worst outing of the season.

Since then, no minor league hitter has been hotter. His first game at DH was Sunday, and he responded going 4-for-4, hitting a sac fly in his other at-bat for good measure. In his two games since, both behind the dish, Bethancourt has gone 2-for-4 in each, managing to lower his batting average both times. He is now hitting a cool .526/.500/.684 through 20 plate appearances.

Obviously, we could point out that he’s yet to walk, or yet to hit an extra-base hit since the sixth inning of his first game. But however he’s getting it done, it’s still an 18-year-old that has established himself as a force in the season’s first week. The Braves spending big money in the international market is never a good thing for their NL East peers, and while sheer luck will bring the averages down and expose Bethancourt as the unpolished player he is, talent is shining through in his first week.

It’s not so easy to hit in the California League.

Hopefully if you are a fan of the minors, you read this article by Justin Inaz in the offseason detailing the different run environments in minor league baseball. It just serves as a nice reminder to how hitter-friendly the California League has been over the years, comparing to high-altitude leagues like the Pioneer or Mexican, or extremely dry leagues like the Arizona Summer League. I even wondered on Twitter this offseason why they even still bother to have the California League in its current machination, if only for the lunacy that certain stadiums provoke.

Don’t look now, but California League pitchers have been the stars early in this season, as run scoring is down significantly. A league that averaged 5.3 runs per game from 2007-2009 is averaging 4.13 this year, and only two teams have averaged an OPS above .730. The Dodgers have aided in that cause by sending two great arms there, first rounders Aaron Miller and Ethan Martin, who have combined for a 1.69 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 16 innings. I’m also really intrigued by former Angels second rounder Tyler Chatwood, who hasn’t let 8 walks in 10 innings stop him, as he’s getting strikeouts (10) and groundballs (5.0 GO/AO) while pitching close to home.

Of course, summer will come and balls will begin to fly out of Lancaster and High Desert and Bakersfield like they always do, and the silliness of this league will again be proven. But while we actually have competitive baseball in California, let’s relish it and give praise where it’s due.




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25 Responses to “What We Learned from MiLB: Week One”

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  1. John Sparrow says:

    Curious as to what you think of the Bradenton Marauders, the Pirates high-A team? Lost their first game of the season in extra innings yesterday…

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      It’s funny you mention them, John, because I almost included a blurb on Bradenton to balance my thoughts on Kinston. The Marauders have a rather insane .410 OBP through 6 games, as a result of walking in over 12% of their plate appearances.

      But ultimately, I couldn’t find enough prospects in the offense to talk about. I’m excited by what might be a breakout from Robbie Grossman, who could really be a nice leadoff guy if the strikeouts come down. And there is some power potential in that bat.

      I’m not surprised Tony Sanchez is doing well, and I’d love if Quincy Lattimore bought into this patience thing, and Jeremy Farrell is interesting enough. I think the Pirates are really shaping up to be a contender if they can find some pitching, so maybe Bradenton sees Drew Pomeranz or Deck McGuire in August, which would be fun. I do like Bryan Morris and Jeff Locke some as arms.

      Why do you ask, John? Live there? Remember, people: if you live in a minor league town and frequent the games, we’d love to hear your thoughts on players. I’ve been telling that to people for years, and gotten some really good tips. You know where to find me.

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      • John Sparrow says:

        Nope. I follow the Pirates and blog about them occasionally, but since I am nowhere near Bradenton, I really on boxscores to tell me the story. At this point, all stats are subject to the whims of sample size, but its cool to see that the high OBP is not BA(BIP) driven. That they are taking walks over 10% of the time is indeed exciting, and is some indication that it could be for real.

        The pitching staff has also been (reasonably) good so far.

        Farrell, Latimore, Sanchez, Grossman, Marte, Calvin Anderson and Brock Holt (once he’s back from injury) are all legit prospects at this point (some brighter than others) and Jarek Cunningham could be in the mix by June (latest, I think). It’s an interesting group to follow.

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      • John Sparrow says:

        that should have been “rely on boxscores…”, not “Really on boxscores…”

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  2. Chris says:

    Anyone that I’ve talked to who knows a thing about the Cleveland farm system can do nothing but rave. There are several guys in the system that no one ever hears about but could otherwise be top 10 prospects for most other teams.

    When you have a system that deep with talent it’s hard not to get too excited about it. Outside of the pitching staff look for guys like Beau Mills, Nick Weglarz, Abner Abreu, and Jason Kipnis to break out this year.

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  3. Temo says:

    What makes Christian Bethancourt even more appealing for Braves fans is all the sparkling scouting reports for his defense.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      Yes. I meant to mention he’s 2-for-5 in basestealing attempts, and also picked off a runner at second base, but ultimately had to cut it. Dude’s good.

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    • Temo says:

      Also, Bethancourt walked in 9% of his PAs in the rookie league, which isn’t great but not horrible either. I’m willing to bet that when you’re batting over .500, you probably don’t need to be taking pitches.

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      • Temo says:

        This is mentioned only because after Jeff Francouer, every Braves fan gets nervous hearing about hot-hitting minor leaguers who don’t take walks. Heh.

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  4. windu says:

    still wondering where Bethancourt would actually play if he makes the majors. Nice problem to have I guess.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      On November 1, 2013, Bethancourt will be 22 years old. Brian McCann will be a free agent. A lot will have changed. Projecting that out is fun, I know, but as long as we recognize it’s useless.

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      • Alex says:

        I think the chances of McCann ever leaving the Braves are rather remote. He’s lived in Georgia his entire life and he’s someone who seems to shy away from the limelight, so I can’t imagine him leaving for more money in a bigger market. Honestly, like Mauer, he’s likely to resign before his contract expires, so if anything I think you might be projecting out too far by saying he’ll be a free agent on 11/1/13.

        Still, McCann would be entering his age 30 season after 2013 so the Braves may be looking to have him switch positions at that point to try and extend his career. If Brian is still playing behind the plate, Bethancourt’s most likely destination would probably be 3B, where his arm and athleticism should allow him to flourish.

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  5. Don W says:

    “But however he’s getting it done, it’s still an 18-year-old that has established himself as a force in the season’s first week.”

    Really? After 20 PA’s he’s now an established force? If this streak had happened in the middle of a .280 .350 .450 season it might have been noted as a hot streak. Being that it’s at the beginning of the season it, “…has established himself as a force…”.

    I wonder if that .500 BABIP is sustainable…

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      Addressed all of these points. So, stop.

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      • Don W says:

        Did you really just tell me to stop? Really?

        Pray tell where did you state that you were about to make a conclusion based on a ridiculously small sample size? Unless you’re talking about describing the inevitable decline of his batting average as, “sheer luck”. My disagreement with what you wrote was calling him a force based on 20 PA’s.

        He’s established that he’s started out hot, not that he’s a, “force”.

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      • Carl says:

        lol whoa better watch out Bryan, or Don might jump right through the computer and pop a cap in ya! haha

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      • Bryan Smith says:

        Don, straight from the intro, “while it’s too early to draw conclusions…”

        Bethancourt was a top 10 Braves prospect entering the season, and scouts really believe in the potential of his bat. I do think these 20 PA’s prove that he belongs at this level, and his pedigree makes him a force. Perhaps the rhetoric was poor on my part.

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  6. jay pat says:

    Christian has been getting it done for years now. He is a force to be reckoned with in the future. Move BMAC to first or left field

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  7. geo says:

    “extremely humid leagues like the Arizona Summer League”

    Humid in Arizona in the summer? Since when?

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  8. Jay says:

    Not sure how Bethancourt could have an OBP below his BA

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      He has a sac fly and doesn’t have a walk/hbp.

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    • Joser says:

      Yuniesky Betancourt (same name without the lisp, and also without the defense) used to do this frequently. Maybe he still does, but he’s doing it somewhere nobody ever sees it. Like a tree falling in an empty forest or the light inside the fridge being on (or not), does bad performance in a Royals uniform actually happen?

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  9. Twac00 says:

    Have you seen any Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees games? How does Montero’s defense look? Is he improving?

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      I haven’t. Nor have I heard much from over there in Dunder-Mifflin land. But Seth Bynum just stole second, making Montero 0-for-6 so far in throwing out basestealers. I did see that in his chat today, KLaw reported he had lost some weight and thought a trial in LF might be in play.

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