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.