Around the MinorsApril 17, 2008
Midwest Madness
By Marc Hulet

You can’t get much further from the majors in full-season professional baseball than the Midwest League. For that reason, the league can sometimes get overlooked, although there are some fascinating players – and teams – to watch.

The Midwest League is hurt by the fact most top college players skip A-ball and move directly to High-A ball in their first full professional seasons, mainly because there is not a huge difference in talent levels between the two levels (compared to the jump from High-A to Double-A or the Triple-A to the Majors). As well, some feel the Midwest League is on pare, or close to it, with the talent level of good NCAA Division 1 colleges.

There seems to be a misconception that the league is populated by 19-20 year olds and that a 21 or 22 year old who dominates in the league is not that impressive because he is beating up on inferior competition… Let’s see if that is true this season.

Standings (with average age):
Eastern Division
Lansing        8-5    (21.4)
Dayton         8-5    (22.0)
West Michigan  7-6    (22.4)
Great Lakes    7-6    (21.2)
Fort Wayne     4-10   (21.7)
South Bend     2-12   (22.1)
Western Division
Kane County   12-1    (22.6)
Clinton        8-3    (20.8)
Quad Cities    7-6    (21.2)
Cedar Rapids   6-7    (21.5)
Burlington     6-7    (21.7)
Peoria         6-8    (20.9)
Wisconsin      4-6    (21.6)
Beloit         5-9    (21.7)

League Average Age = 21.6

That pretty much shows that a player who does well in the Midwest League at the age of 21 or 22 is not beating up on younger competition, for the most part. It also means that impressive numbers by players, such as 19-year-old Gorkys Hernandez of the West Michigan Whitecaps or 19-year-old Travis Snider of the 2007 Lansing Lugnuts, is all the more impressive.

Pitching Staffs by Age:
1. Peoria (21.0)
2. Cedar Rapids (21.1)
3. Quad Cities (21.3)
3. Great Lakes (21.3)
5. Wisconsin (21.4)
5. Clinton (21.4)
7. Beloit (21.6)
8. South Bend (21.9)
9. Burlington (22.0)
9. Fort Wayne (22.0)
11. Lansing (22.4)
11. Dayton (22.4)
13. Kane County (22.5)
14. West Michigan (22.6)

Offences by Age:
1. Clinton (20.3)
2. Lansing (20.5)
3. Peoria (20.8)
4. Quad Cities (21.0)
5. Great Lakes (21.2)
6. Fort Wayne (21.3)
7. Dayton (21.5)
7. Burlington (21.5)
9. Wisconsin (21.8)
10. Beloit (21.8)
11. Cedar Rapids (21.9)
12. West Michigan (22.2)
13. South Bend (22.4)
14. Kane County (22.7)

Now, let’s take a look at some of the team numbers:
The two youngest offences in the league are currently leading in all three triple-slash categories with Clinton (Texas Rangers) at .288/.370/.449 and Lansing (Toronto) at .283/.362/.419. Average-wise, Quad Cities (St. Louis), Great Lakes (LA NL), Burlington (Kansas City) and Wisconsin (Seattle) are all batting below .210. Burlington, Great Lakes and Wisconsin are also all slugging below .300. Ouch. The worst on-base percentage in the league belongs to Great Lakes at .272.

The entire Wisconsin team has one homer in nine games this season. The batters have also struck out 78 times in 263 at-bats. Clinton’s youngsters, on the other hand, have struck out only 68 times in 323 at-bats. The Fort Wayne club is leading the league in stolen bases with 20 in 24 attempts. Beloit (Minnesota) base runners have attempted 28 steals and have been caught 12 times. Dayton (Cincinnati) is leading the league – a league known for not allowing a lot of long balls – with 11 home runs in 12 games. Lansing has scored the most runs in the league at 72 in 12 games, while Wisconsin has scored only 18 in nine games.

And how about some impressive (and not-so-impressive) individuals:
In Clinton, Ian Gac, 22, is batting .378 with five homers and 11 RBI. Derek Holland, a 21-year-old southpaw, has struck out 14 batters over 9.2 innings.

Lansing first baseman Manny Rodriguez is an interesting case. He spent 2006 in A-ball with the Braves, then was signed as a minor league free agent with Toronto before the 2007 season and spent that year in the New York Penn League). Now 23, Rodriguez has seven doubles and two homers in 36 at-bats. He is batting .444 and has a league-leading 14 RBI. He should probably be in the Florida State League. A pair of 19-year-olds and high draft picks from 2007, Kevin Ahrens and Justin Jackson, each have 10 walks in 11 games. Jackson has also stolen five bases in six attempts. Soft-tossing lefty reliever Cody Crowell, 22, has struck out 13 batters in 6.1 innings.

In Kane County (Oakland), 21-year-old Craig Italiano, recovering from a line drive to the forehead last year, has struck out 24 batters (with only four walks) in 14 innings.

Beloit’s Chris Parmelee, a former first round pick, had a nice seven RBI game to tie Rodriguez for the league lead in RBI with 14. He also has four homers.

Keltavious Jones, 22, is as fast as his name is long and he has five steals for Dayton in as many attempts. Third baseman Brandon Waring, 22, continues to hit and is batting .348/.392/.565. The Reds’ 2007 supplemental first round pick Todd Frazier, 22, is batting .341 with five homers. He has also walked 11 times with only nine strikeouts in 41 at-bats.

San Diego had five supplemental first round picks in 2007 and a couple of them are playing for Fort Wayne. Shortstop Drew Cumberland, 19, has seven steals in nine attempts but is hitting only .261. Outfielder Kellen Kulbacki, 22, known for his bat, is hitting only .154.

Shortstop Andrew Romine, 22, is hitting only .171 for Cedar Rapids (LA AL) but he has stolen eight bases in as many attempts. Pitchers Jordan Walden, 20, and Mason Tobin, 20, have found the early goings quite easy. Walden has a 0.75 ERA in 12 innings with eight hits allowed and 10 strikeouts. Tobin has a 0.00 ERA and has allowed six hits and three walks.

South Bend (Arizona), with the second oldest offence in the league, has four regulars batting under .200.

Peoria (Chicago NL) outfielder Dylan Johnston, 21, has struck out 16 times in 32 at-bats. He’s batting .156.

Great Lakes infielder Preston Mattingly is continuing to struggle in pro ball. He is batting only .167 in 48 at-bats with one walk and 14 strikeouts. He hit .210 at Great Lakes in 2007.

Wisconsin’s raw Canadian hurler Phillippe Aumont, 19, Seattle’s No. 1 pick in 2007, has pitched 5.2 innings and has allowed no earned runs, but four unearned runs. He has walked two and struck out eight. Outfielder Eddy Hernandez, 23, has yet to get a hit in 17 at-bats and he has 10 strikeouts.

In Burlington, 2007 second overall draft pick Mike Moustakas, 19, is batting .182 in 33 at-bats. Pitcher Daniel Gutierrez, 21, has a 1.13 ERA in three starts and 16 innings. He has allowed nine hits, seven walks and struck out 21.


Where's the Dae-Eun Rhee mention? A 19 year old from Korea pitching state-side for the first time putting up a 0.56 ERA in 16 ip with a 15/4 k/bb ratio is quite impressive, if you ask me!

Great post Mark!

Having basically been raised on the game of baseball by watching the Kane County Cougars, who moved into the neighborhood when I was in wee lad, I can say from historical memory that there have been some really good players who made stops in that league. I can remember watching Greg Zaun when the team first came to town, Edgar Renteria and Charles Johnson in 1993, Mark Kotsay's brief stint in the league after the Olympics, and even a couple now-star pitchers by the name of Beckett and Willis hurling some innings there in the earlier part of this decade. It'll be interesting to track any of the players you mention here and see what happens.

Great Lakes batting numbers currently read .207/.271/.295 - and yet they're 7-6. They've been outscored 57-21 and their team ERA is fourth-worst in the league.

Last night they were helped by six errors from Cedar Rapids - but still, that's crazy. Hooray for the Midwest League.

You missed the ever popular Shane Keough, of the famous Keough family. Famous due to mom being on "The Real Housewives of Orange County" not because his father, grandfather and great uncle were major leaguers. He's hitting .200/.333/.267 for Kane County in 2008. In 2007 he hit .214/.299/.299 for Vancouver. Looks like he might have a better future in reality television...

Wow. If you had told me the Wizards would be above the league average age without the stats to back it up, I probably would not have believed you. But they still have to be older than last year's team! Having those supplemental picks must help. Either way, I am really excited about this team. Can't believe they slumped the way they did early, but they look to be turning things around. Great post.

What do you think of Justin Jackson. He's hitting really well right now .328 .435 .534, do you think he can be an impact SS in the future?