Last week’s Minor League Report highlighted the hot starts by some of baseball’s top prospects, as well as some lesser-known players, but in our second installment we find ourselves looking at struggling players. Brandon Magee looks at some of the slumping sluggers and low octane offenses that have littered the minor leagues during the first two weeks of the season.
Joe Saint, resting after another fruitless day in the KIT, was reported to exclaim: “Darn it! This game is tough. I haven’t had a good strike of the ball in weeks.” The story, as with most stories from the Minor League D Leagues, is likely apocryphal. The quote – scrubbed of any of the profanity of failure – was likely made up by a stringer looking for a quick lede. However, the sentiment makes for a worthwhile quote – the game is hard and full of struggles. In this week’s Minor League Report, we look at an unlucky few who are already drawing comparisons to Shaq Thompson through the first two weeks of the 2016 season.
A caveat, before we look at the statistical sufferers of the first two weeks: we’re talking two measly weeks. Less than 50 plate appearances for hitters and at best three starts for starting pitchers. Slumps at the beginning of the season aren’t any more or less important in a prospect’s development than a similar slump at another point in the season, but they’re an awful lot more prominent.
While a hot start in AAA might get a prospect a quick call to the major leagues, a poor start can get you buried. Fortunately for Jake Goebbert, he already made his MLB debut with San Diego in 2014, because he has been swinging a bat that looks allergic to the ball in the early going. The Durham Bulls first baseman is batting an abysmal .056/.171/.083 with just a single and a double in 36 at-bats. Not too far behind Jake in the International League is Giovanny Urshela – a surprise starter at third for Cleveland last season – who is batting .163/.200/.186 with the Columbus Clippers.
In the Pacific Coast League, the league leader in futility is Andy Wilkins, a first baseman who had a cup of coffee with the Chicago White Sox in 2014. Wilkins, now with the Milwaukee Brewers organization, is batting .081/.150/.135 with 17 strikeouts in 11 games for Colorado Springs. Jose Tabata’s bid to get back to the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers by way of Oklahoma City has hit a snag early, with a hitting line of .194/.211/.222. At least Tabata has a six-year major league career – poor Andrew Aplin is still looking for his first call to “The Show”, and is batting an atrocious .125/.263/.125 in his first ten games with Fresno.
While the AA Wandering Hartford Yard Goats have already picked up ten victories on the young season, they’ve done so with second baseman Mike Benjamin severely hindering the offense. Eleven games into the season, Benjamin is struggling with a .098/.119/.122 batting line. Elsewhere in the Eastern League, Yankees prospect Cito Culver is hitting a mere .088/.205/.118 in ten games with Trenton while Dwight Smith owns a .347 OPS over his first nine games for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
In the Southern League, second baseman Jamie Westbrook has scuffled in the early going for the Mobile BayBears, batting .140/.178/.163 through his first dozen games. Not too far behind Westbrook is Pensacola outfielder Donald Lutz, who has 14 strikeouts to go along with a line of .152/.237/.152.
A pair of Corpus Christi Hooks are anchored to the bottom of the offensive leader board in the Texas League. In their first nine games, catcher Alfredo Gonzalez – batting .069/.206/.069 – and outfielder Danry Vazquez – hitting .105/.150/.132 – have left the batter’s box frustrated on a nightly basis. Despite their personal woes, the Hooks have managed to win eight of their first twelve. The same can not be said for the four-win Tulsa Drillers and their outfielder Yadir Drake. Drake has played in every game for the Drillers despite putting up an awful .088/.162/.082 batting line.
The high-A, high-offense California League has a trio of prospects that have started notably slow out of the box. San Jose’s Jose Vizcaino Jr. has an early-season line of .135/.200/.135 through ten games. David Fletcher of Infield Empire sports an identical batting average to Vizcaino, going .135/.207/.173 through thirteen games. Fletcher has been a terror on the bases when he manages to get there, however, stealing all six bases he has attempted. Bakersfield’s Gianfranco Wawoe has put up a woeful .143/.250/.143 line in his first ten games of the season.
In the Carolina League, only one man is hitting below a .400 OPS. That honor belongs to Winston-Salem’s Louie Lechich and his .130/.161/.185 splits with 16 strikeouts in his first 13 games. In the Florida State League, shortstop Blake Trahan of Daytona has scuffled to a line of .098/.161/.157. At least one of his five hits left the building. The same cannot be said of Charlotte’s Nick Ciuffo, who has six singles and a pair of walks to show for 37 appearances at the plate.
The Midwest and South Atlantic Leagues are the first full-season stop for most prospects, so it isn’t surprising to see a whole lot of futility in these two A-Ball leagues, with over a dozen hitters holding an early OPS under .400. Alan Sharkey of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers has started his second season in the MWL with a mighty struggle, batting .088/.184/.088 in ten games. Jorge Fernandez of the Cedar Rapid Kernels has also struggled in his second season in the MWL, putting up a line of .100/.178/.100 in his first eleven. Anfernee Seymour, of the SAL Greensboro Grasshoppers has accumulated a sad line of .096/.190/.096 in his first 13 games in full-season ball.
*Note – All Stats used in this article are current as of the end of play on Wednesday, 4/20.
Brandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.