The minor league baseball season is coming to an end, and soon the playoffs will start and awards will be given. However, there are some players that deserve their own type of recognition. Brandon Magee present the Shaq Thompson AA Offensive All-Stars in honor of the former Boston Red Sox draftee.
The focus on minor leaguers is usually on the great prospects ‒ hitters like Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor or pitchers such as Taylor Jungmann and Roberto Osuna ‒ players who have been great as they have traversed the minor league landscape and have begun to make their impact in the major leagues. However, succeeding in the minor leagues is not easy. At every level, there are players struggling to hit their weight and pitchers striving to keep their ERAs in the single digits.
For some, it’s the end of the road, for others it’s just a bad year or a bad transition. In honor of former Red Sox outfielder (and current Carolina Panther) Shaq Thompson, we unveil The Shaq Thompson All-Stars, bringing to light the abysmal pitching, the unfortunate hitting and the absurd defense in minor league baseball. In today’s edition, we scour AA baseball – the Eastern League, the Southern League and the Texas League – highlighting first round picks and journeymen as they struggle with the essence of offense, hitting the baseball.
The Struggle of Repetition
With the exception of 27 games last season, Wade Gaynor would like to forget his part in the Erie SeaWolves existence. First promoted to Erie in 2012, Gaynor batted .229 in a 13-game trial. A full season in 2013 was just as unproductive, putting up a line of just .226/.290/.375. Gaynor spent most of 2014 with the AAA Toledo Mud Hens after putting up an OPS of 1.021 over the aforementioned 27 games in Erie. But it was back to Erie this season, the 27-year-old put up his worse season yet, batting .193/.247/.333 in 105 games. He did have two stints in Toledo, where he was no better, slugging .188/.231/.313 over 15 games.
Heiker Meneses first made his AA debut with the Portland Sea Dogs in 2011, playing in 24 games with an OPS of .612. After three more seasons with the Sea Dogs (intermixed with time in A+ Salem and AAA Pawtucket), Meneses moved onto the Minnesota Twins organization and the AA Chatanooga Lookouts, where he put up an OPS of .617 in 100 games.
Oscar Tejeda joined Meneses in debuting with the Portland Sea Dogs in 2011, recording an OPS of .636 in 123 games. Tejeda also travelled around in the ensuing four years, playing for Portland, Altoona and Harrisburg in the Eastern League as well as AAA Indianapolis and A+ Potomac. Returning to Portland this season, Tejeda once again flailed to a .634 OPS over 103 games.
First Round Duldrums
Cito Culver may well prove to be a defensive wizard for the New York Yankees. Certainly his 8 errors from his infield positions (SS, 3B and 2B) over 97 games indicates a steady glove. Which is good because the 32nd pick of the 2010 draft has not shown much of a bat. This season, in his first trip to the AA Trenton Thunder, Culver sported a line of .199/.249/.279 over 106 games. His highest OPS in a full season remains at .655 for the single A Charleston Riverdogs in 2013.
After putting up 43 extra-base hits for the Charlotte Stone Crabs in the Florida State League in 2014 and following that up with an additional seven extra-base hits in 17 games in the Arizona Fall League, Justin O’Conner rocketted up the MLB.com prospect list, entering this season at #61. Drafted in the 31st position by Tampa Bay in 2010, the 23-year-old catcher showed intriguing power for the Montgomery Biscuits of the Southern League this season, clubbing 39 extra-base hits in 107 AA games. Unfortunately, O’Connor walked only 13 times while striking out 129 times, reaching base only 25.5% of the time.
Hunter Dozier was drafted eighth overall in the 2013 draft by the Kansas City Royals, who quickly pushed the college star through the minors. Dozier reached the AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals in his first full season of professional baseball last season, batting .209/.303/.312 over 64 games. Dozier stayed in the Texas League for the full season in 2015 and showed a bit more power (slugging 40 extra-base hits) but saw his on-base percentage tumble. In 128 games for the Naturals, Dozier reached base only 28% of the time with a league high 151 strikeouts.
Matt Lipka was the 35th pick of the 2010 draft by the Atlanta Braves, making it to AA Mississippi last season for his first go-round. Unfortunately, injury derailed that season after only 28 games. The outfielder returned to Mississippi this season for his first full season, playing in 119 games for the AA Braves. While his body may have been healthy, his bat was not as he struggled to a line of .246/.279/.311.
The Rocky Beginnings of a Journeyman
The New York Mets drafted outfielder Jared King in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, and after a decent season at single A Savannah and high A St. Lucie in 2014, he was promoted King to AA Binghamton for the 2015 season. King responded with an ineffective .214/.262/.286 in 122 games.
James Robbins has had an interesting three seasons with the Tigers organization. Promoted for a full season of AA ball for Erie in 2013, Robbins put up an ugly line of .224/.261/.325 over 127 games. Unimpressed, Robbins was demoted for 2014, spending the entire season in A+ Lakeland. The Tigers promoted him for the 2015 season back to the Sea Wolves, where Robbins proceeded to be an inoffensive first baseman, batting .236/.272/.338 in 112 games.
Third baseman Wes Darvill picked up his first taste of AA last season with a .594 OPS in 39 games for the Tennessee Smokies. After beginning this season with the A+ Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the 23-year-old Darvill was once again promoted to the Smokies, where his second go-round was even worse. In 69 games, Darvill eked out a line of .173/.253/.225 with only five extra-base hits.
21-year-old Gabby Guerrero started his first AA season with the Jackson Generals, where he proceeded to bat .215/.262/.305 in 48 games. Sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of the Mark Trumbo trade, Guerrero moved from Mississippi to Alabama, finishing the season with the Mobile BayBears. Guerrero did not improve much in Crimson Tide country, batting .226/.256/.367 over 78 games for the BayBears.
Luis Marte got promoted to the Frisco RoughRiders for the second half of the 2015 season, the first AA experience for the 21-year-old shortstop. Marte did not enjoy baking underneath the Texas sun, batting .206/.215/.285 in 62 games. In 122 games for Frisco and A+ High Desert, Marte walked an astonishing seven times.
23-year-old Gilbert Gomez made his AA debut this season for the Binghamton Mets, but New York proved to be a poor fit for the centerfielder. In 69 games for the Mets, Gomez put up a woeful line of .130/.237/.186.
Making the Difficult Look Easy
Breyvic Valera has a skill that is not easily found. He walks more often than he strikes out. In 2013, Valera walked 40 times while striking out 30 times. He ambled to first 40 times in 2014 while whiffing only 35 times. And in two stops this season, he took ball four 45 times while going back to the bench by way of the K 29 times. While Valera may be fun at parties, the 23-year-old second baseman isn’t a particularly good hitter. In 105 games for the Springfield Cardinals, Valera powered his way to a .236/.301/.297 line.
Drew Maggi also has a magic trick. In every stop of his six season career, Maggi has finished the year with a higher OBP than Slugging Percentage. In his fourth season in AA, and his first with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Maggi continued the magic with a line of .242/.322/.284, failing to hit a single home run for the first time in a full season of professional baseball.
Jabari Henry did not have a very enjoyable offensive year in his first AA season with the Jackson Generals. However, he almost managed to do something extremely unusual, have more walks than hits. In 91 games, Henry only had 49 hits into play, but walked an additional 44 times, managing the very unusual line of .170/.284/.347.
In our next installment we will continue to scour the AA scene, looking at the pitching and defense in the Eastern, Texas and Southern Leagues.