Driving in Runs Through the Rain and Snow
It has been a miserable few weeks weather-wise for Minor League Baseball. I'd hate to actually add up exactly how many games have been postponed, but needless to say it wouldn't be pretty - nor will it be pretty later this year when the plethora of double-headers strike.
Despite the cold, miserable weather there are some hot minor league players and this week I would like to take a look at those who are having a particularly successful time driving in runs in Triple-A and Double-A baseball.
Team RBI AVG OBA SLG Games 1. Shelley Duncan Scranton (NYY) 11 .375 .464 .917 7 2. John-Ford Griffin Syracuse (TOR) 10 .361 .425 .778 10 3. J.R. House Norfolk (BAL) 10 .367 .394 .633 8
OF/1B Shelley Duncan was a second round pick out of the University of Arizona by the Yankees in 2001 but has yet to live up to that lofty draft position as a career .251 hitter with an OPS of .786. Duncan did hit 34 homers and 92 RBI in 2005 in Double-A so the 27-year-old does have a history of driving in runs. Yesterday, he was named the Offensive Player of the Week for the league. Scranton is currently 6-4 and in second place in the North Division.
OF John-Ford Griffin is another former Yankee draft pick and he was taken in the first round before Duncan in 2001. The former Florida State University standout looked poised to break into the majors in 2006 with the Jays - after a brief cup of coffee in 2005 - but injuries derailed his career. He looks healthy this season but his poor defense and age (27) are two big strikes against him. Syracuse is 4-6 on the young season and is in fifth place in the North Division.
Another former top prospect and fifth round pick out of high school, J.R. House was destined for stardom with the Pirates but injuries took their toll. Now 27, he showed some promise in 2006 in the Houston system by hitting .412/.445/.675 in 31 Triple-A games but continued his MLB struggles (.105/.105/.158 in 19 career at-bats). He is a former catcher who spends more time at first base now. Norfolk is 3-4 and in last place in the South Division.
Pacific Coast League
Team RBI AVG OBA SLG Games 1. Micah Hoffpauir Iowa (CHC) 18 .425 .455 .650 11 2. Mitch Jones Las Vegas (LAD) 12 .364 .417 .818 9 3. James Loney Las Vegas (LAD) 11 .261 .265 .391 10 Dan Ortmeier Fresno (SF) 11 .455 .525 .636 8
Micah Hoffpauir is a former 13th round pick by the Cubs. At the age of 27, the first baseman is no longer considered a prospect. He has below-average power for his position but that hasn't stopped him from leading all of Triple-A and Double-A in RBI. Teammate Felix Pie leads the Pacific Coast League in runs scored with 16. Iowa is 6-5 and half a game behind Nashville in the American North Division.
Mitch Jones is a former slugging Yankee farmhand. The .245/.334/.478 career hitter drilled 110 home runs in the last four seasons (two Double-A, two Triple-A seasons). Jones was a seventh round pick in 2000 out of Arizona State University, having previously been drafted three times (including twice by Baltimore).
James Loney is a fairly well-known prospect and a former first round draft pick out of high school. As a first baseman, Loney has below-average power at this point in his career, although he is a threat to hit .300. However, this season he is struggling to maintain his usual average despite driving in 11 runs in 10 games. Las Vegas is second in the Pacific South Division, half a game behind Sacramento.
Dan Ortmeier was a third round pick out of Texas-Arlington by San Francisco in 2002. The 25-year-old outfielder has an interesting mix of power and speed but has never been a true run producer. Fresno is 7-5, also in the Pacific South Division, and half a game out.
Team RBI AVG OBA SLG Games 1. Rodney Choy Foo Akron (CLE) 9 .524 .583 .952 6 2. Wayne Lydon Manchester (TOR) 8 .333 .429 .625 6 3. Jeff Larish Erie (DET) 8 .320 .414 .640 6 Nate Reimold Bowie (BAL) 8 .367 .387 .767 8
Utility player Rodney Choy Foo is a former 26th round pick by Cleveland out of Hawaii. He is not a player you expect to see at the top of the run producing categories at the end of the season. Regardless, Choy Foo was named the Offensive Player of the Week for the league yesterday. Akron is 3-3 on the season and third in the Southern Division.
Similarly, Wayne Lydon is playing above his head early this season. The slap-hitting speedster, a former ninth round pick out of high school by the Mets, hit a career high nine homers last year. His 46 RBI were also a career high during his first season in the Jays' system. The New Hampshire Fisher Cats in Manchester are 4-2 on the season and in second place in the Northern Division.
Both 1B Jeff Larish and OF Nate Reimold are considered prospects, unlike Choy Foo and Lydon. Larish was a top college player who fell in the draft due to injures but the Tigers are happy with what they have after signing him as a senior in 2005. He drove in 65 runs last season in A-Ball and also showed good patience with 81 walks. Reimold was a second round pick by Baltimore in 2005. He had a similar season to Larish last year by hitting 19 homers and walking 77 times in A-Ball. Erie is 3-3 and tied for third place. Bowie is 5-4 and in second place. Both teams play in the Southern Division.
Team RBI AVG OBA SLG Games 1. Matt Esquivel Mississippi (ATL) 10 .308 .341 .538 10 2. Cody Strait Chattanooga (CIN) 9 .282 .349 .538 10 3. Thomas Collaro Birmingham (CWS) 9 .300 .333 .625 10
Matt Esquivel, 24, is leading the Southern League in RBI. The former fifth round pick is also playing in his second Double-A season after missing a portion of 2006 due to injuries. He had a career high 81 RBI in 2005 in A-Ball. Mississippi is 7-3 and in second place behind Birmingham in the South Division.
Cody Strait, 23, was drafted out of the University of Evansville in 2004 as a 12th round pick. His homers increased from 14 to 17 the last two years and his RBI increased from 60 to 75. Baseball America rated Strait as the Reds 11th best prospect coming into 2007, but stated his speed and outfield defense were ahead of his bat. Chattanooga leads the North Division despite a 5-5 record.
1B/OF Thomas Collaro is your typical swing-from-the-heels slugger who prays for contact. If he does connect with the ball, it's going to go a long way. However, Collaro has 15 strikeouts and only two walks this season in 40 at-bats. He drove in 100 runs in 2005 in A-Ball. Can you say Russell Branyan? Collaro's runs have helped to place Birmingham at the top of the South Division with an 8-2 record.
Team RBI AVG OBA SLG Games 1. Tim Olson Tulsa (COL) 8 .318 .318 .545 7 2. Ray Sadler Corpus Christi (HOU) 8 .258 .351 .516 10 3. Kevin Mahar Frisco (TEX) 8 .265 .405 .500 10 Travis Metcalf Frisco (TEX) 8 .267 .342 .400 9
Tim Olson, 28, is a former utility player with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies who has found employment at the Double-A level. He is not a prototypical run producer. Tulsa is struggling on the season with a 4-6 record but are hanging onto second place in the South Division.
Ray Sadler is the brother of former Red Sox player Donnie Sadler. Ray has had trouble deciding if he is a power hitter (he's hit 20 homers) or a table setter (he's stolen 32 bases). Corpus Christi is in last place in the South Division with a 4-6 record.
Both OF Kevin Mahar and 3B Travis Metcalf are organizational players. Mahar was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Rangers out of Indiana University in 2004. The 25-year-old slugger hit a career high 20 homers and 82 RBI in Frisco in 2006. Metcalf was an 11th round pick by the Rangers in 2004. He struggled mightily last season in his first attempt in Double-A and hit .221/.298/.325. Teammate Steven Murphy leads the league in runs scored. Frisco is one game out of first in the South Division with a 6-4 record.
Overall, there are not a lot of top prospects driving in runs early in the season in either Triple-A or Double-A. Perhaps the grizzled veterans adapt to the weather easier than the younger players. But as the weather warms up, so too should the prospects' bats. Out of all the players discussed above, Reimold should have the best chance to duplicate his run producing abilities at the major league level, if he can make consistent contact.