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Collette Calls: Reviewing 2011 Double-A Hitting Performances

Jason Collette

Jason Collette

Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. He covers the Tampa Bay Rays at theprocessreport.net. You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Towers of Power Baseball Hour Podcast on iTunes. He was selected as the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year by FSWA in 2013.

When looking at the Double-A statistics, you get more balance in the statistics than you do with Triple-A since the Pacific Coast League and its high altitudes and run environments are not in play. The Texas League was once known for some very friendly run environments back in the day, particularly in El Paso in the mid-80s when the Brewers had prospects putting up big numbers in old Dudley Field that was just 395 to center and often had the wind blowing out. Old prospect hounds will remember guys like John Jaha and Joey Meyer playing in both El Paso and then getting promoted to Denver where they would put up 1.000+ OPS's before being called up to play in old County Stadium where their numbers would cool off.
Using the data provided by MinorLeagueCentral.com, I pulled all of the hitting data from the Eastern, Southern, and Texas Leagues for all hitters with at least 200 plate appearances. Here are the averages for each of the leagues:

LEAGUE AGE BA OBP SLG
Eastern 24.8 .267 .339 .408
Southern
24.5
.272 .377 .465
Texas
24.2
.273 .341 .430


The Southern League has a reputation for being more of a pitcher's league, but this season saw more offense than it usually does as seven players with at least 200 plate appearances had OPS's of at least .900 this season led by the one-man wrecking crew in Paul Goldschmidt who hit .307/.434/.637 with 30 home runs and 54 extra-base hits in just 102 games before Arizona called him up to the big leagues.

When looking at the same data pool, it is striking just how many older players are populating Double-A rosters. I found 344 players from all three leagues that had at least 200 plate appearances in Double-A last season; 152 of them (44%) were at least 25-year-olds last season. If a player is still in Double-A at that age, serious red flags need to be raised because the organization. It's why a guy like Jermaine Mitchell putting up a 1.042 OPS in Midland this past season isn't considered a prospect. That, and the fact he has been thrown out in 31 of his last 72 stolen-base attempts is not helping.

Conversely, here are the youngest hitters in Double-A this season whose names you may recognize (via MinorLeagueCentral):

Bryce Harper 18.8
Mike Trout 19.9
Jonathan Villar 20.2
Nick Franklin 20.3
Will Myers 20.6
Hak-Ju Lee 20.7
Anthony Gose 20.9
Jose Altuve 21.2

This is why it is impressive to see what some of these top talents do in Double-A because they are doing it against much more experienced players who are also more physically mature at that age.

When removing the players above league average, we are left with 192 players in Double-A with at least 200 plate appearances to dive into numbers with. 11 players had an OPS of at least .900 last season:

Paul Goldschmidt 1.061
Vince Catricala 1.052
James Darnell 1.038
Vince Belnome 1.035
Alex Castellanos - .964
J.D. Martinez - .960
Mike Trout - .958
Matt Adams - .922
Neftali Soto - .905
Tim Wheeler - .901
Travis d'Arnaud - .901

Catricala is an interesting case because he hit in the very friendly High Desert park in the California league for the first half of the season and had 34 extra-base hits in 324 plate appearances. He popped in his favorite Johnny Cash CD and headed on down to Jackson and 43 extra-base hits in just 276 plate appearances with a .347/.420/.632 slash line. He has hit at every level, but has yet to find a defensive home. Of course, the fact he is right-handed and his future home park in Seattle suppresses right-handed power also does not help. Wheeler is coming off a season in which he hit 33 home runs and stole 21 bases for Tulsa. That is the second straight season he has swiped that many bases but the power growth was nice to see considering he had just 39 extra-base hits in a full season in the California League last season. d'Arnaud is taking the same path J.P. Arencibia took to the majors as he made quite the offensive splash this season in New Hampshire and now gets to take that potent bat all the way out to Cashman Field in Las Vegas where the ball flies around the yard like dollars out of your wallet in a casino.

Martinez was impressive enough to the Astros that they let him skip Triple-A and come right to the major leagues. That, and they had nothing else to use in the system since it was in such poor shape. To his credit, he held his own rather well for skipping a level.

One name who does not show up on that list but did have the 10th-best ISO figure in Double-A is Nationals catcher Derek Norris. The .212 batting average scares a lot of people away, but he still had a .370 on-base percentage and slugged .454. I got to see him in Arizona twice and liked what I saw from his swing and how he drove the ball and so did two other people I talked with. In a NL-only dynasty league, I am leaving him on my draft radar for a very late reserve pick with an eye toward the future.

Plate discipline is always very important to me when I am looking at how players are progressing through the minors. Players that strike out much more frequently than they walk in Double-A are most likely going to continue that at a more extreme level as they get to Triple-A and/or the majors if the organization lets them get that far. Someone like James Darnell stands out because not only did he hit for power, he also controlled the strike zone as he struck out one in every six at-bats which was fifth best in the group. Goldschmidt, even with all of his power, was in the top-15 striking out once every four at-bats. Getting back to Norris, that's one area he will have to improve. Even though he drew 77 walks, he also struck out 117 times in just 423 at-bats and that 2.9 K/AB ratio was fifth worst in the player pool. Starling Marte of the Pirates had an impressive slash line of .332/.369/.500 but walked just 22 times while striking out 100 times last season which bears watching as he moves up to Indianapolis where he will play in quite a sizable park against more experienced pitchers. Another player I really like, Anthony Gose, struck out once every 3.3 at-bats while struggling to make contact. You heard him explain what he was doing to adjust to that in the interviews I posted last week but it will be interesting to watch how he and Norris handle the adjustment to Triple-A pitching that is full of crafty pitchers who have major league experience and may lack the big fastball, but have much more experience than most of the throwers at the lower levels. Gose's fantasy potential is very exciting with his raw speed and athleticism. His walk rate in Double-A was higher than at any other point in his career but so was his strikeout rate. He is just 21 years old so there is no need to rush him, but his strikeout rate has gone up each of the past three seasons so he will need to continue to tinker with his swing and find ways to make more consistent contact.

Next week, we'll take a look at the pitchers at this level to see who stood out statistically from the crowd.