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September 20, 2007

Future Shock

Miscellany

by Kevin Goldstein

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I'd make a horrible blogger. I save stuff all the time, basically hoping it will become some kind of full-sized piece, but it rarely does--either there's not enough there, or I move on. With the minor league season at an end, it's kind of a slow time for us prospect folks. I'll have some extended previews of the upcoming offseason leagues set to begin in Arizona and Hawaii, and I'm excited about the quality of both, but in the meantime, there's not a ton to write about other than your standard review stuff, so in lieu of that, here are a few things I've been noticing or thinking about:

  • The minor league season ended on Tuesday night with the Bricktown Showdown, featuring the champions of the two Triple-A leagues, the Richmond Braves and the Sacramento Rivercats (Athletics). In theory this is a good idea, and it seems like the folks down in Oklahoma do a great job hosting it. At the same time, as a national event, it falls a bit short. The game was nationally televised on ESPN2, and while I realize that asking for it in HD is a bit much as this point in the technology cycle, the broadcast was still substandard, from the announcers to the production quality itself. The facility there is universally considered to be among the best in the game, but I can't figure out if the general darkness of the broadcast was attributable to a ballpark that is lit for the fans and not for television, or just a shoddy production job. In addition, the broadcasters knew little of the prospects that were playing--what few there were.

    That's really the big problem with this game. Sure, it's the two champions at the highest minor league level, but Triple-A is more often than not a snoozefest these days, filled with Quad-A guys and insurance policies. So we really didn't get to see a lot of prospects; instead we got about two hours of a bunch of thirtysomethings or almost-thirtysomethings, and got to hear about how cool Lou Merloni is. Yes, Lou Merloni is very cool, but he's also not exactly what is needed in order to sell minor league baseball to a national audience. I've always been of the belief that a minor league game of the week, focusing on top prospects, would do well enough on ESPN2 to be worth the network's while, but a baseball product like the Bricktown Showdown doesn't help the cause. A postseason minor league All-Star game following the Futures Game model would be a logistical nightmare, but at the same time, just looking at the rosters of the Double-A champions, even if we only get to pick the winners of two of the three leagues, for the most part we'd get far more interesting rosters.

  • Speaking of the Bricktown Showdown, it was strange to flip the game on and see Brandon Jones in the lineup. Two days prior to the game, Jones was promoted to the big leagues by Atlanta--a reward for a .295/.367/.490 season in the minors in which he led the organization with 100 RBI, and also a two-weeks-early audition for an everyday job next year. After starting two games in a row, Jones got sent down for a day to play in the epic Triple-A title game. Now I don't know Brandon Jones personally, and I'm sure that he liked the opportunity to try to win the nationally televised game with familiar teammates, but at the same time, don't you think he'd rather be starting a meaningless game in the big leagues, with the nice hotels and a per diem the size of his weekly minor league salary? It's interesting to note that the Athletics did not do that with their team's two best playoff performers, first baseman Daric Barton and reliever Jerry Blevins, both of whom remained in the big leagues on Tuesday night.
  • The rosters for the Hawaiian Winter League have been released, and we'll have a full preview for you next week. It's an especially exciting one because we'll have analysis on the Japanese players from our own Mike Plugh, who does a crazy-great job covering the game on that side of the Pacific. One name on the rosters that did catch my eye was Orioles first-round pick Matt Wieters, and he's not the only big-name/late-sign from this June's draft who's getting ready to go play in the Aloha state. Returning to action last year after a nearly decade-long hiatus, the league has been the unplanned beneficiary of the way the draft has changed recently. With more and more late signings, more and more players are unable to make their debut during their draft year. With the Arizona Fall League far too advanced for most of them, the league in Hawaii is the perfect opportunity for players to get their feet wet in pro ball--I hear it's a pretty nice setting as well. Last year's league was the coming-out party for Joba Chamberlain, and next week, we'll look at who the candidates are for this year's big move up the charts.
  • For those of you sick of those silly games with pennant race drama attached to them, you might want to check out the Giants hosting the Reds this evening. The game marks the return of Homer Bailey, and he hasn't pitched in the majors since early July. In fact, he's pitched just four times since then while dealing with a groin injury. Bailey entered the season as 1B to Philip Hughes' 1A among the top pitching prospects in the game, but both have been beset by lower-half problems this year--Bailey with his groin, and Hughes with his hamstring. As bad as Bailey was in the majors, and he was plenty bad, it's impossible to decipher how much of that is attributable to the groin injury, as Bailey struggled mightily with his command, and when the groin started bothering him in the first place. It's those kind of mysteries and Bailey's strange year that will make it difficult to rank him as a prospect during the offseason, both on his own team's Top 10 and within the overall Top 100.
  • Throughout my years as one obsessed with prospects, one thing has remained true--the Florida State League is the most pitching-friendly league in the game, the place where offenses go to die. It's hard to not write about any performance in that league without adding the prefix "pitcher-friendly" before making one's point. Things have changed, though, and suddenly the Midwest League is the new Florida State League. Take a look at this player:

    
                 G    AB   H   2B  3B  HR  BB   SO  SB  CS   AVG  OBP  SLG
    Racer X     140  516  131  25   3  10  48  115  13   7  .255 .324 .372
    

    Not too good, huh? Actually, that's the average Midwest League player in minor league season notation (per 140 games). Over the past two seasons, the MWL has taken over the mantle of least offensive league, and this year it was the only circuit with a league OPS under 700. It makes you take a second look at some seasons, be they from the best hitter in the league (Travis Snider), or even one like Dodgers third baseman Josh Bell. On the surface, Bell's .289/.354/.470 line at Great Lakes before moving up to the Cal League looks like a good player meeting modestly-high expectations. With the league's context in mind, it becomes much more impressive.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Minor Leagues,  The Who,  Rosters,  Groin,  Year Of The Injury,  Quad-a

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Fantasy Article Fantasy Focus: Luck (09/20)
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