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April 9, 2014

Overthinking It

The Minor League Leaders Who Haven't Made It

by Ben Lindbergh


If you haven’t heard of Guilder Rodriguez, don’t beat yourself up. Until fairly recently, I hadn’t heard of him either. Rodriguez is a 30-year-old Venezuelan middle infielder in the Rangers system who just started his 13th minor-league season. In those 13 seasons, he’s played in over 1000 games, made close to 4000 plate appearances, and hit one home run, back in 2009 with the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders. Rodriguez has played parts of the past five seasons in Frisco; if he were any good, either the fine folks of Frisco would’ve built him a statue by now, or he would have spent more time in Triple-A. But between his makeup and his ability to play shortstop, he’s soldiered on as an organizational guy, going weeks—and in one stretch last season, well over a month—without an extra-base hit.

Rodriguez really hasn’t had any competition for the title of “Least Power in Pro Baseball” since fellow career minor leaguer Carlos Rojas retired. And although Ben Revere might be making a run, Rodriguez has no recent big-league equivalent. Among major leaguers of the last 60 years, only Duane Kuiper and Frank Taveras (who played in a lower-power era) showed the same sort of staying power without hitting more home runs. Only two major leaguers have made as many plate appearances with as high a ratio between their OBP and SLG as Rodriguez’ career minor-league line (.338/.283), and both played during the Deadball Era.

The point is that the minor leagues contain multitudes, and their depths remain largely unexplored. We’ve all spent some time at the popular tourist spots, but today we’re going to go diving for wrecks. These are the players who lead all active minor leaguers in a certain statistical category and have never gotten into a major-league game. For each guy, I’ll give you some background and an explanation of why his cup of coffee still hasn’t come. (Note: We don’t have stats from Independent ball in our database. Rate stat leaders for position players are min. 2,000 PA; for pitchers, min. 1000 IP with a fudge factor (2*(G-GS)) to include relievers.)

Position Players

Plate appearances: Chase Lambin (4,406)
Who the heck he is: The minor leagues lost three ironmen after the 2012 season, when Corey Smith, Michael Spidale, and Manny Mayorson (all of who had over 5,000 career plate appearances) left baseball. That left Lambin as the longest-tenured member of the minors. A 34-year-old second/third baseman drafted by the Mets in the 34th round of the 2002 draft, he’s played in the Mets, Marlins, Nationals, Twins, Marlins (again), and Royals systems, with detours to Japan (where he hit .192/.254/.358 in 58 games in 2009) and the independent Atlantic League, where he’ll play for the Sugar Land Skeeters this season.
Why he hasn’t made it: Lambin got a comment in Baseball Prospectus 2006 after a big 2005 season in which he hit .309/.372/.587 with 24 homers in 440 PA across Double- and Triple-A. The next year, in 37 more plate appearances split between the same two Mets affiliates, he hit .238/.340/.375 with nine homers. He hasn’t gotten a comment since. “The more I pressed and the more I tried, the worse I played,” he told the Washington Post about that 2006 season, last year. “...I was in a good position, and I just—I don’t know. I stumbled.”

Home runs: Brandon Waring (160)
Who the heck he is: Waring, a seventh-round selection by the Reds in 2007, is now a 28-year-old infield corner guy for the New Britain Rock Cats, the Twins’ Double-A affiliate. In 383 at-bats for Baltimore’s Double- and Triple-A teams last season, he hit 25 homers and whiffed 148 times, which tells you most of what you need to know.
Why he hasn’t made it: BP Prospect Staff member Al Skorupa saw Waring on Monday and said he had “some pop in the bat but does nothing else well and [has a] fatal amount of swing-and-miss.” Tucker Blair offered a similar scouting report: “Big and strong, easy plus raw power. Problems with pitch recognition. He has poor plate discipline and cannot identify a breaking ball. The swing is rather long and this clashes with his pull mentality. If he even had a fringe hit tool, it would probably get him to the majors.” You’ve heard this story before.

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Related Content:  Prospects,  Scouting,  Minor Leaguers

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