Where Did They Come From?
Every season we bear witness to a bevy of surprise performances by professional baseball players. That is what makes Major and Minor League Baseball so much fun. Let's take a look at a surprise offensive performance from each of the three Double-A leagues:
Luis Montanez, OF
Luis Montanez is a familiar name to prospect watchers and Chicago Cub fans. He was the club's No.1 draft pick (third overall) in the 2000 draft out of a Miami high school as an infielder. Montanez started off his career on fire and hit .344/.438/.531 in 192 Rookie League at-bats that same season.
Unfortunately he then spent the next five years in A-ball and did not sniff Triple-A until 2006 at the age of 24. Now 26 and an outfielder, Montanez has spent the season in Double-A Bowie in the Baltimore Orioles organization and was hitting .335/.385/.601 with 26 homers in 451 at-bats. What is most surprising is the power; Montanez has never hit more than 14 homers in a season and was never considered a double-digit home run threat having broken the .500 slugging percentage mark only once previously.
The Orioles obviously liked what they saw from him as he was promoted to the Majors today for the first time in his career. He may have what it takes to be a valuable utility player at the Major League level with his versatility and athleticism.
Kila Kaaihue, 1B
Kila Kaaihue may be one of baseball's biggest teases. But he may also finally be for real after numerous seasons of one step forward and two steps back. The Hawaiian comes from a baseball family, as his father Kala Kaaihue played in the minors for 11 seasons and brother (also named) Kala Kaaihue plays for the Braves organization.
Kila was selected in the 15th round of the 2002 amateur draft out of high school and spent the next three seasons putting up OK, but not great, numbers. That changed when he entered the hitters' haven of High Desert in 2005 and he slugged 20 homers and hit .304/.428/.497 in 493 at-bats. He headed up to Double-A, though, and struggled mightily hitting .202/.305/.303 in 327 at-bats. Kila then split the next year between High-A ball and Double-A with modest results.
The 2008 season began with Kila repeating Double-A for the third time and things finally clicked for the 24-year-old. He hit .314/.463/.624 with 26 homers and 80 walks in 287 at-bats. Kila was recently promoted to Triple-A where he is hitting .375/.423/.750 in five games. He may have finally found the happy medium between selling out for power and waiting for his pitch. With Billy Butler disappointing to a degree, the door may be open for Kila.
Manny Mayorson, IF
Manny Mayorson's profile is a little different than the first two players in this article given his extreme lack of power, as seen by his career .317 slugging average. No, Mayorson is not going to be a star at the Major League level but his bat has improved enough over the last couple of years that he is no longer simply a good-field-no-hit player. Mayorson has always flashed Gold Glove skills at shortstop but he can play second and third base as well.
Early in his career, Mayorson bounced around the low minors and struggled to hit .230 in his first five seasons. That changed, though, in 2005 when he hit .268/.309/.363 in his third go-around with the Florida State League. He then improved offensively each of the next two seasons although he was stuck in Double-A for the Jays both years. Finally free of the organization after the 2008 season due to Minor League free agency, Mayorson has come into his own, although he has spent most of the season in Double-A yet again.
He is currently hitting .313/.372/.407 with 20 stolen bases, 26 walks (16 strikeouts) and 26 doubles in 297 Double-A at-bats. His average is good for ninth in the league. Earlier in the season Mayorson finally received a brief promotion to Triple-A where he hit .275/.321/.412 in 12 games. Yes there are some flaws in the Dominican's offensive game, but his combination of defensive skills and the ability to make contact make him an intriguing (and cheap) bench or part-time player option at the Major League level.
Well, that is only three interesting stories in a Minor League system filled with players. I'd love to hear about some of the story lines that you find interesting as the 2008 Minor League season begins to wind down.