Around the MinorsMay 02, 2007
April's Powerhouse Teams
By Marc Hulet

The month of April has come to a close and there are a number of minor league clubs that are absolutely dominating their leagues. The New York Yankees' Double-A affiliate, the Trenton Thunder, had the best record in minor league baseball in April at 17-2. The Thunder club was not alone in its dominance and was joined by the Triple-A Richmond Braves (15-5) and the Augusta Greenjackets (20-4) as the top teams at each level.

Richmond Braves, Atlanta Braves

Record | Win% |At Home |On Road | Streak 
15-5 | .750 | 6-2 | 9-3 | W5

As a team, the Richmond Braves are hitting OK in the International League. They are third in the league in average, on-base percentage and slugging, as well as fifth in runs scored and 10th in hits. It is the pitching, though, that has the team at the top of the league. Overall the team is first in ERA and allowed only nine homers during the month of April.

Top Prospects:

                    AVG  OBA  SLG  HR  SB
 IF Yunel Escobar  .313 .341 .410   1   4
 OF Gregor Blanco  .338 .427 .415   1   3
                    ERA   IP    H  BB-K
RHP Anthony Lerew  1.82  19.2  18  8-10

Cuban Yunel Escobar is a solid player but many are projecting him as a future utility player. He lacks power and has limited speed. His range is average at shortstop and second base is probably his best position.

After stalling briefly in 2004 and 2005 Gregor Blanco is beginning to reward the Braves for their patience. He possesses little, if any, power but Blanco has plus speed and walked 95 times last season while playing at both Double-A and Triple-A. He does, however, strikeout too much for a lead-off hitter. Defensively, he has solid range and an average arm.

Anthony Lerew has survived two luke warm cups of coffee with the Braves during the past two seasons. He currently has an ERA below 2.00 in four starts for Richmond. He will likely top out as a third or fourth starter or as a set-up man at the major league level. He has an 89-94 mph fastball but his slider and change-up were very inconsistent in 2006.

Top Performers:

                   AVG  OBA  SLG  HR  SB
IF Willie Harris  .362 .457 .603   1   7
OF Bill McCarthy  .304 .391 .518   2   1
                   ERA   IP    H   BB-K
RHP Manny Acosta  0.66  13.2   9   6-17
RHP Trey Hodges   1.17  15.1  10  10-10

Manny Acosta is in his 10th pro season and was unable to get out of A-Ball after six seasons in the Yankee's system. He has shown promise but his control is below average. Trey Hodges continues to struggle with his control, which is something that has plagued him throughout his career. Regardless, he has found success in the Pacific Coast League with his original club after spending some time with Minnesota's Triple-A club and in Japan. Willie Harris is a former major league utility player with Boston, Baltimore and Chicago (AL) who adds some veteran stability to the Richmond club. He was just called up to Atlanta on Sunday. Bill McCarthy can hit but is a 'tweener' as he lacks the range for center field and the power for left or right.

Trenton Thunder, New York Yankees
17-2 | .895 | 11-2 | 6-0 | W9

Hitting-wise the Thunder are average. They are sixth overall in the Eastern League in average, runs, hits and slugging percentage. They are second in walks and stolen bases. The pitching has been outstanding and leads the league with an overall ERA of 1.85. The pitchers are also first in fewest homers allowed (only three!) and in strikeouts. Trenton's pitching staff has allowed the fewest number of walks in the league with 45.

Top Prospects:

                   AVG  OBA  SLG  HR  SB
OF Brett Gardner  .228 .322 .367   0   9
                   ERA   IP    H  BB-K
RHP Kevin Whelan  2.53  10.2   9  6-13
RHP Jeff Marquez  1.24  29.0  24  5-22

Brett Gardner probably won't play everyday for a perennial playoff contender but he could be a solid fourth outfielder. He needs to stay healthy as he has never played more than 73 games in any one season. Gardner has no power but his speed rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale.

Kevin Whelan was obtained by the Yankees in the Gary Sheffield trade with Detroit. Whelan was originally a catcher in college before his strong arm prompted a move to the bullpen. He has everything needed to be a successful set-up man for a top tiered club.

Jeff Marquez can touch the mid-90s but works more comfortably with a low 90s fastball that has a lot of sink to it. The 2004 supplemental first round draft pick lacks solid secondary pitches, which could relegate him to the bullpen if they do not improve.

Top Performers:

                  AVG  OBA  SLG  HR  SB
 2B Gabe Lopez   .400 .479 .575   1   0
 OF Matt Carson  .319 .356 .507   3   2
                    ERA   IP    H  BB-K
RHP Edwar Ramirez  0.84  10.2   3  6-18
RHP Brett Smith    1.56  17.1   9  8-20

Gabe Lopez is a scrappy second baseman who works hard to get on base by any means necessary and has spent parts of three seasons in Trenton. Matt Carson was drafted in the fifth round in 2002 and has spent the last few seasons bouncing between A-Ball and Double-A due to a lack of consistency. Edwar Ramirez has been dominate in both 2006 and 2007 after struggling in the Angels' system early in his career. Brett Smith has had difficulties missing bats since being drafted in the second round out of college in 2004.

Augusta GreenJackets, San Francisco Giants
20-4 | .833 | 14-2 | 6-2 | W2

The GreenJackets club is looking anything but green with its start to the season. Offensively the club is third in average, runs and walks. It is first overall in stolen bases with 56 and has struck out the fewest number of times of any team in the South Atlantic League. The pitching has been dominant with a 1.73 ERA. The staff has allowed the fewest number of hits, homers (three) and walks.

Top Prospects:

                     AVG  OBA  SLG  HR  SB
 2B Marcus Sanders  .294 .478 .412   0   7
 OF Mike McBryde    .280 .314 .366   0   6
                      ERA   IP    H  BB-K
 LHP Clayton Tanner  1.35  20.0  17  6-14

Marcus Sanders was signed as a draft-and-follow after a solid junior college season in 2004. He struggled last season in High A-Ball in 2006 before moving back down to Augusta this season. A college shoulder injury has limited him both defensively and offensively. Sanders has plus speed and is an extreme ground ball batter, which allows him to beat out infield hits.

Like a lot of the Giants' minor league hitters, Mike McBryde does not possess a lot of power. However, he could be the fastest player in the system. He was a two-way player in college and could still improve significantly as a hitter now that he is concentrating on one role.

Clayton Tanner is a young lefty that was drafted out of high school by the Giants in the third round in 2006. He started out his career in the bullpen but jumped into the rotation for a couple of starts in 2007. Tanner can touch 91 mph with his fastball and also possesses a curve, slider and developing change. His slider is his best pitch.

Top Performers:

                   AVG  OBA  SLG  HR  SB
 OF Tyler Graham  .311 .382 .361   0  12
 SS Brian Bocock  .313 .380 .385   0  19
                      ERA   IP    H  BB-K
RHP Adam Cowart      0.60  30.0  22  2-18
LHP Benjamin Snyder  0.39  23.0  15  5-30

The Giants have a number of players drafted out of college playing on the Augusta team. Tyler Graham has little or no power and has struggled to get on base enough to utilize his speed. He was a 19th round pick out of Oregon State University in 2006. Shortstop Brian Bocock was drafted in the ninth round in 2006 out of Stetson University. Adam Cowart, who was the pitcher of the year in the Northwest League in 2006 after being drafted in the 35th round, is the perfect example of a player who is obviously too good for the league he's playing in. That said, Cowart has a fairly low ceiling as a right-handed sidearmer who possesses an 81-86 mph sinker, as well as a slider and change-up. Benjamin Snyder was drafted in the fourth round last season out of Ball State as a sophomore and is the brother of Cleveland Indians' prospect Brad Snyder. A lefty, Snyder has solid command of his fastball, slider, curve and change.

Not surprisingly the name of the game in April was pitching. It will be interesting to see how things change as the weather warms up along with the sluggers. Promotions could also begin to have an affect on teams' results as top performers begin to be rewarded towards the end of May.


Excellent report, Marc. The West Virginia Power (Brewers Class A team) just came off a 14-game winning streak.

The Lake Elsinore Storm probably won't catch the Giants in the standings, but they have some serious hitting (keep in mind, Lake Elsinore is the lone pitching park in a hitters' league). They have 6 regulars with OPS over .850 and another regular at .832:

Seth Johnson .342/.376/.456
Craig Cooper .299/.400/.455
Matt Antonelli .303/.410/.444
Kyle Blanks .307/.372/.505
Chad Huffman .308/.390/.495
David Freese .308/.383/.510

Furthermore, I would say that Antonelli is lock to play in the Bigs, Huffman & Freese are reasonable bets to do the same, and Blanks might...

I missed Jose Lobaton .296/.420/.493

I'm not sure what you mean by this comment ...

Tyler Graham has little or no power and has struggled to get on base enough to utilize his speed.

... .382 OBP with 12 steals does not align with the 2nd part of the comment.

I'm an Oregon State baseball fan ... that's how/why I noticed/care :-)

Graham had a .326 OBA last season... but if he can continue to keep it at the level it was at in April, then his career could take off. I would have liked to see him walk a little more in college too, although his OBA was helped by his batting average.