WTNYNovember 18, 2004
Up the Middle
By Bryan Smith

Against little fight, Bobby Crosby won the American League Rookie of the Year crown. And while Jason Bay picked up the NL award, he was given quite the fight by the San Diego Padres Khalil Greene. Quite the week for collegiate shortstops, huh?

When noticing my neglect for the Arizona Fall League, I plan to spend by next couple entries on AFL standouts. There are few better places to start, than Omar Quintanilla, who has been on and off the batting crown during the last couple weeks. Simultaneously, I am compiling my top group of prospects, and was at a loss where and if Aaron Hill should fit in. I thought the two, a pair of 2003 first-round collegiate shortstops, would make a good joint article.

With the arrival of Crosby and Greene, the Major Leagues were home to four first-round collegiate shortstops. The other two are quite well-accomplished, in Barry Larkin and free agent Nomar Garciaparra. Today, I want to look at the minor league careers of this group, and use that to help us see what path Quintanilla and Hill are currently on.

Barry Larkin was a stud at the University of Michigan, chosen fourth in the 1985 draft, which had one of the best top tens ever drafted, including the selection of Barry Bonds by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Larkin was 6-0, 185 pounds, and had the whole package. The Reds were so confident in his abilities that they sent Larkin to AA immediately upon signing.

In the Eastern League, Larkin hit .267, but with a .078 ISO showing a lack of power. He hit only 16 extra-base hits, 13 of them doubles, providing a bit of hope for the future. Showing a lot of plate discipline, Barry struck out only 21 times in 255 at-bats, walking 23 times. With 12 stolen bases, Larkin was a few home runs from a five-tool talent.

That came the next year, in the since-abandoned American Association, in which Larkin hit .329, with a .525 slugging percentage. This time around he hit 51 extra-base hits in 413 at-bats, including ten triples. One problem I have with the minor leagues, of which Ill write about at a later point, is how HBP and 3B can juice up OBP and SLG, respectively. He also kept up his discipline, striking out just 43 times (but only walking 31!).

So, how have these numbers been indicative of Larkins career? Barry currently has a career batting average of .295, split between his AA and AAA seasons. His SLG of .444 is also about half-way, though I should note he didnt have a slugging percentage above .450 until his sixth season in the Major Leagues. His peak, during an insane 1996 peak was .567, though it was the only time he eclipsed .510. The strikeout numbers stayed low, with Barry never whiffing 70 times in a season. His patience waited as long as his power did, with an IsoP consistently in the .070 range after.

Next, we have Nomar Garciaparra, who in my Nomar Destination of the Week will land with the White Sox, who will overpay to the tune of 2/18 or 3/25. Long before this free agency, Nomar was the 12th overall selection of the 1994 draft, following his Junior season with Georgia Tech. He was immediately sent to the Florida State League, where he hit .295, with a .419 slugging. In 105 at-bats, he had ten extra-base hits, eight of which were doubles. He walked more than he struck out as well, 10 and 6, respectively.

A move to the Eastern League did not treat Nomar well, as his average slipped to .267, and his slugging to .384. Still his patience was great, with a 50/42 walk-strikeout ratio in 513 at-bats. He was still quite doubles-dependent, and shockingly, stole 35 bases that season. His IL experience with Pawtucket went perfectly, hitting .343 with a Bonds-esque .733 slugging. He homered more than he doubled, and while the BB/K slipped to 14/21, it was still quite solid.

Let me interrupt your regularly-scheduled article to get back to Aaron Hill, who fits in quite nicely here. Chosen just one spot after Nomar nine years later, Hill spent his 2003 campaign split between the NYPL and the FSL. He expectedly dominated the NYPL, but his FSL numbers were quite pedestrian. He did hit .286, yes, but 7 doubles represented all his power in 119 at-bats, good for a .059 ISO. In fourteen more at-bats than Nomar at that level, Hill hit three less extra-base hits, but also showed the great plate discipline of Nomar.

And like Nomar, Hill also moved to the Eastern League in his next season. He hit .279/.368/.410 in 480 at-bats, 33 less than Nomar. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that he walked thirteen times more, though he also struck out nineteen more. The power numbers are very similar, with Hills .131 ISO besting Nomars .117. Im hardly saying they are on par for similar careers, just noting the facts.

Both Hill and Omar Quintanilla have used the seemingly new popular trend for collegiate shortstops: send them to short-season ball, and then high-A. This was also used by Khalil Greene, who briefly stopped in the Northwest League, before making 183 California League at-bats. He hit .317/.368/.525 there, but then struggled in the Southern League with a .733 OPS. A modest PCL line of .288/.346/.442 was enough to convince the Padres staff they had their new shortstop groomed for action. Not a bad choice.

Ill touch back with Quintanilla here, because I think Greene bears the closest resemblance to him. Both are pretty short, though Greenes listed weight is 25 pounds more than Omars. Q does hit left-handed, and is the only one on my list to do so. But I think his .314/.370/.480 line in the California League this past year is pretty telling. Though Im sure Omars AA numbers will look better than Greenes did (well, they already do!), thats the Texas-Southern League advantage.

During his 2004 season, Greene hit .273/.349/.446. To me, this implies that Omar would hit about .270/.340/.420 in his rookie season, with a peak looking pretty similar to his CL line. If he moves to second as expected, that wont be bad, though Crosby will be showing him up a bit.

While I might not have thought so before hand, Aaron Hill is the better prospect than Omar Quintanilla, by a pretty good ways. In fact, I would be willing to say that Baseball America should have chosen Hill not Brandon League as the top Blue Jays prospect.

*By the way, sorry for my lack of posts this week, call it a combination of computer problems, real life, and WTNY projects. You should see a well-researched piece next week, and I am starting to try and put a top prospects piece to life, cuz I know how yall love those rankings.

Comments

Is Aaron Hill a better bet to be the long-term shortstop in Toronto than Russ Adams? How do you see their infield panning out? A lot of what I've read suggests that Hill might move to third base, with Adams and Hudson their middle infielders. Any thoughts on that?

Bryan,

Judging Hill and Quintanilla based on their similarity to just a few other players (Nomar, Larkin, Greene) isn't a reliable methodology. Furthermore, I don't see any justification for concluding that Hill is a "pretty good ways" better than Quintanilla going forward.

In basically the same number of AB, here's how the two have hit so far in the minors (not including AFL):

Hill: .294/.378/.413
Quintanilla: .329/.387/.488

Now, Hill's BB/K ratio indicates that he has a good handle on the strike zone, but a career .413 SLG is nothing special, regardless of how things worked out for Nomar. On the other hand, while Quintanilla doesn't walk as much, he's consistently hit for higher average and more power, which are also good indicators of future value.

Factoring in their AFL stats, Hill continues to walk but not hit for power, while Quintanilla's slugging .527.

In all, I think it's probably tough to conclude one way or another on the two, especially without looking at park factors or league difficulty. That's why I was surprised to see you side so strongly with Hill as the better prospect.

If you dont get excited over Brandon League you obviously havent seen him pitch. This guy has movement on his fastball all over the place, along with velocity, and throws for strikes. Even tho he doesnt have great secondary pitches, his changeup wont have to be top notch for it to be an out pitch.