Around the MinorsJuly 23, 2008
A Look at the Triple-A Leader Boards
By Marc Hulet

With the Minor League Baseball season about two-thirds of the way done (already!), there are some interesting names at the top of the leader boards. I thought it might be fun to take a look at the offensive players at the top of each league in Triple-A baseball, in terms of the triple-slash stats: average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

International League

Leaders for Average:
1. Joe Thurston, 2B, Boston (.317)
2. Mike Cervenak, 1B, Philadelphia (.311)
3. Randy Ruiz, 1B, Minnesota (.309)

As you probably know, the majority of players at the Triple-A level are fringe Major Leaguers and usually minor league veterans. Such is the case with the above three players, although Joe Thurston was once considered a pretty good prospect with the Los Angeles Dodgers, circa 2002 when he hit .334/.372/.506 as a 22-year-old at Triple-A. Well, it's six seasons later and Thurston has appeared in a total of 56 games. He is still talented and athletic enough to carve out a utility player role for a big league club. Thurston just needs a break.

At the age of 30, Randy Ruiz has yet to have an official at-bat at the Major League level. Mike Cervenak, at the age of 31, made his Major League debut this season for the Phillies and had one at-bat before he was sent back down to the minors. In 360 minor league at-bats this season, Cervenak has walked just nine times. Neither player projects as anything beyond a possible pinch hitter at the Major League level.

Leaders for On-base Percentage:
1. Dan Johnson, 1B, Tampa Bay (.414)
2. Brett Gardner, OF, New York (AL) (.412)
3. Matt Watson, OF, Toronto (.404)

Brett Gardner is easily the best prospect of the three, especially considering Dan Johnson has expired his rookie eligibility. Gardner has made good use of his patience by stealing 34 bases. He has, though, looked over-matched at the Major League level. Johnson and Matt Watson are both 'tweeners' with not quite enough power to play everyday at their positions but they also lack positional flexibility, which keeps them off a Major League bench.

Leaders for Slugging Percentage:
1. Brad Eldred, 1B, Chicago (AL) (.620)
2. Mike Hessman, 1B, Detroit (.596)
3. Jeff Bailey, 1B, Boston (.590)

Brad Eldred was a nice little off-season pick-up for the White Sox out of the Pirates organization. Unfortunately, there are already two guys named Paul Konerko and Jim Thome clogging up the first base/designated hitter roles in the Windy City. He's 28, but Eldred hits well against both right-handers and southpaws and he has performed well with runners in scoring position (.280/.378/.598).

With 75 or so more at-bats, Mike Hessman is ahead of Eldred in both homers (by four) and strikeouts (by 42). The 30-year old has now topped 20 homers in a minor league season nine times but he has a career .230 average in more than 1,400 games. Jeff Bailey briefly sniffed the Major Leagues earlier this season but he struggles with off-speed pitches and looks like a 4-A player.

Pacific Coast League

Leaders for Average:
1. Terry Tiffee, 3B, Los Angeles (NL) (.384)
2. Jamie D'Antona, 3B, Arizona (.367)
3. Nick Stavinoha, OF, St. Louis (.346)

You have to give Terry Tiffee credit for even being in Triple-A, as a former 26th round pick by Minnesota. As a career .296 hitter in the minor leagues, Tiffee certainly knows how to swing the bat but his Major League career has been stalled by his lack of power at the hot corner: 84 homers in 3,647 at-bats.

Jamie D'Antona is a personal favorite of mine and has an advantage over Tiffee in the fact that he has a lot more raw power and is flexible in the field with the ability to play third, first, catcher and even the outfield corners if needed. It's a little surprising that he has yet to play at the Major League level - or even sit on a 40-man roster. Nick Stavinoha did not walk away from his college career until the age of 23, so he has been behind the eight ball a bit. Even so, he made it to the Majors in his third full season. He lacks the power and patience to be an everyday corner outfielder.

Leaders for On-base Percentage:
1. Brian Myrow, 1B, San Diego (.455)
2. Nelson Cruz, OF, Texas (.439)
3. Seth Smith, OF, Colorado (.426)

It may not seem that impressive that Brian Myrow has just 33 Major League at-bats at the age of 31, but he was undrafted out of college and was signed out of independent baseball in 2001. Myrow could potential have a Mark Sweeney-type of career if given the chance, but he does not have enough usable power to play first base every day.

Nelson Cruz has long teased organizations with his power potential but consistency has eluded him, much like his Major League career. With 31 homers, 21 stolen bases and an on-base average more than .400, though, Cruz is making a statement that he deserves another chance at the age of 28. Seth Smith lacks the power needed to play the corner outfield on a regular basis. He had a great fall in 2007 and showed talent off the bench by going 5-for-8 in seven games.

Leaders for Slugging Percentage:
1. Nelson Cruz, OF, Texas (.703)
2. Dallas McPherson, 3B, Florida (.650)
3. Jamie D'Antona, 3B, Arizona (.612)

Cruz and D'Antona were both touched upon under the above two categories and it's obvious that they are both having excellent seasons. Both players have been hurt in the past by questions about their work ethics.

Former top prospect Dallas McPherson has also breathed new life into his career with an excellent season that has seen him hit 32 homers in 314 at-bats. He has, though, also struck out 112 times. Finally healthy after struggling with a variety of injuries for the past three seasons, McPherson deserves another Major League shot at the age of 28. It will be interesting to see how much his numbers were inflated by his favorable minor league hitting environment.

There are some interesting names at the top of the leader boards in Triple-A baseball, including some blasts from the past, which include Thurston, McPherson and Eldred. There are also a few names that bear watching in the next few months, including D'Antona and Gardner.


D'Antona appeared as a pinch hitter for Arizona in the game last night and singled in his first and only at bat.

Crunching stats and scouting AAA veterans and journeymen. Your work goes far beyond the mundane, Marc.

Should be noted that Tifee made the US Olympic team. Think you guys will do a post detailing the US squad?

Mike Hessman is hitting all those homers and striking out too often for Detroit's AAA team, not Atlanta's. Thanks.