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September 9, 2009

Future Shock

Minor League Hitting Leaders Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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With the minor league leagues' regular seasons coming to an end for the full-season leagues, let's dedicate a pair of Ten Packs to statistical leaders, beginning with the offense.

Batting Average: Alex Liddi, Mariners (High-A High Desert): .345
Signed out of Italy in 2006, Liddi was especially young and raw for the level, but his previous two years with Low-A Wisconsin in the Midwest league had been nearly identical, with batting lines of .240/.308/.385 in 2007 and .244/.313/.360 last year. This year, he ended up batting .345/.411/.594. So, he took a big step forward, delivering the breakout performance of the year, right? Not so fast, folks, this is High Desert; three of the top five in minor league batting average played at High Desert this year. Let's say that I told you about a High-A batter with a line of .328/.396/.558. You'd be pretty excited, right? That's what the High Desert team hit collectively at home. It's an insane park, and while Liddi's stock is up, it's hardly skyrocketing.

On-Base Percentage: John Bowker, Giants (Triple-A Fresno): .451
A third-round pick in 2004, Bowker put up middling statistics until last year when he hit .307/.363/.523 at Double-A Connecticut. Still, as a 26-year-old with no position other than first base (if that), it's hard to call him much of a prospect. The strangest thing about his 2009, however, is his walk rate. After never walking even once per ten at-bats in any previous season, he suddenly drew 74 in just 366 for the Grizzlies. He's left-handed, which gives him some kind of shot at a career as a bench player, but more likely, he's an up-and-down type.

Slugging Percentage: Mitch Jones, Dodgers (Triple-A Albuquerque): .651
You have to feel good about Jones reaching the big leagues for the first time as a 31-year-old, and in 10 minor league seasons with the Yankees and Dodgers, he's becoming a regular Crash Davis with 235 minor league home runs. The definition of a Quad-A hitter, and that home park (where he slugged a whopping .776) sure helps.

Home Runs: Jon Gaston, Astros (High-A Lancaster) and Mitch Jones, Dodgers (Triple-A Albuquerque): 35
We just did Jones, so let's focus on Gaston. A seventh-round pick in 2007, Gaston hit just .193 last year in the New York-Penn League, but Lancaster is another pinball machine in the Cal League, where the average game involves nearly 13 runs and 22 hits combined between two opponents. Gaston is not a pure one-dimensional slugger, as he also amassed 15 triples and 14 stolen bases on the year, but he hit just .278 (.248 on the road) with 164 strikeouts in 139 games. Kyle Russell of the Dodgers led the Midwest League with 26 home runs, has a similar skill set but even more tools, and one gets the feeling that if you dropped him in Lancaster this year, he would have hit 40.

Runs Batted In: Koby Clemens, Astros (High-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi): 123
One of the bigger surprises of the year, Clemens hit .345/.419/.636 for the JetHawks, and while the ballpark and the top of the Lancaster lineup did wonders for his RBI total, this is at least some kind of step forward. He'll need to prove it's for real next year at Double-A, and his catching still needs a load of work, as in 66 games behind the plate he was charged with 18 passed balls while throwing out less than 30 percent of opposing basestealers.

Total Bases: Chris Carter, Athletics (Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento) and Jon Gaston, Astros (High-A Lancaster): 310
One of the hottest hitters during the second half of the season, Carter hit .396 in his last 50 games with Midland while amassing 28 more total bases in just 13 Triple-A games, giving him the lead in minor league total bases for the second straight season. The A's have used nine different players at first base this year, Carter is arguably better than every one of them right now, and it will be interesting to see what kind of look he gets next spring.

Stolen Bases: Anthony Gose, Phillies (Low-A Lakewood): 75
A second-round pick last year, a 1-for-25 slump at the end of the year dropped his averages to .259/.323/.353, but he still impressed scouts. An absolute burner who is a plus center fielder but also gifted with a plus-plus arm, Gose needs to develop a better approach; to his credit, he made progress on this throughout the year. The speed is truly game-changing, and scouts expect him to fall into a little bit of power down the road; he's a good breakout candidate for 2010.

Caught Stealing: Dee Gordon, Dodgers (Low-A Great Lakes): 25
To his credit, Gordon finished second in the minors with 73 stolen bases, so it's not like his stolen-base percentage was bad. Still, this is the perfect opportunity to talk about Gordon, as the main point I can make about this guy is that he hit .301, had 12 triples, 73 stolen bases, and 43 walks, yet he's still really, really raw. The potential here is through the roof, and the only concern is that he's already 21 with the aptitude of a recent high school pick, so he's going to need to ramp things up quickly.

Walks: Allan Dykstra, Padres (Low-A Fort Wayne): 104
The Padres' first-round pick last year, Dykstra flirted with the Mendoza line much of the season but hit .324 over his last 30 games to finish the year at .226/.397/.375, a depressingly weak line for a polished college player expected to mash at Low-A. At least he walks, as every other aspect of his game, from his running to his defense to his bat speed, is depressingly slow.

Strikeouts: Greg Halman, Mariners (Double-A West Tenn): 183
This one looked to be a runaway early in the year, as Halman needed just 57 games to amass his first 100 strikeouts, but some minor injuries and a reduction in his strikeout rate made it pretty close at the end. The good news is that he hit 25 home runs in just 121 games to tie for the Southern League lead, but that's also pretty much the sum of the good news, as he finished the year at .210/.278/.420, which has helped his prospect status plummet.

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:  Triple-A,  Quad-a

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