While MLB was hosting their All-Star festivities the minor leagues were celebrating their own all-stars. Included among these prospects and fringe major leaguers were some elite minor league power hitters launching home run after home run. Brandon Magee examines the Triple-A Home Run Derby participants to see what types of careers it takes to compete in the event.
On Monday night in Charlotte, North Carolina, three strong men from the International League and three titans of the Pacific Coast League walloped long fly balls over the fences of BB&T Stadium. The sextet included a first round draft pick, a third round draft pick, a former winner of the event, and a prospect who was a consensus top five prospect three years running. And, for added local flavor, a pair of high school students joined the prospects, attempting to beat them at their own game.
The statements in the opening paragraph are all true. And yet, there is a bit of obfuscation as well. While the Triple-A All-Star game and the surrounding festivities do celebrate the best players just below the big leagues, the best players are not always the best prospects. The Home Run Derby was simply a microcosm of this fact.
Take the first round draft pick. Chris Marrero won the event with 44 bombs in the three round contest, and on Wednesday night he would park one more outside the walls and earn a co-MVP Award in the All-Star Game. However, Marrero was picked in the first round a decade ago, when he was the same age as the two high school kids attempting to steal his thunder. Chris made it to the major leagues, playing 31 games with the Washington Nationals in 2011 and eight more in 2013, but he has been a vagabond in the years since. He’s played with teams in the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox organizations, and currently is in the Red Sox system. He’s seen action in Mexico and Venezuela. He participated in 37 games with the Somerset Patriots in the independent Atlantic League. And, despite his current .868 OPS in Triple-A, the 28-year-old is likely no closer to getting back to MLB.
Thirty-one-year Chad Huffman was drafted a little bit later than Marrero in the 2006 Rule 4 Draft, taken by the San Diego Padres in the second round. In 2009, while with the Triple-A Portland Beavers, Huffman won that year’s Home Run Derby in the Triple-A All-Star Game. The next season saw him make his MLB debut, playing in nine games for the New York Yankees. But that has been the only MLB action on Huffman’s resume. Since then, Huffman has spent time with the triple-A affiliates of the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals before heading to Japan, where he spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons with the Chiba Lotte Marines. Returning to the United States this year, Huffman has put up a .933 OPS for the Toledo Mudhens, the triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.
Twenty-eight-year Kyle Jensen first made it to Triple-A with the New Orleans Zephyrs, an affiliate of the Miami Marlins, in 2013. He has yet to advance beyond the triple-A purgatory, despite moving from New Orleans to Oklahoma City (Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate) and this season with the Reno Aces, the top farm club of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Jensen is a powerful hitter, having hit 76 home runs and 97 doubles in his 406 games in the Pacific Coast League. He showed this power in the Derby, clobbering 43 jacks to come in second place to Chris Marrero, but Jensen still waits for his first trip to MLB; a call-up that may never come.
Rob Segedin was drafted by the New York Yankees out of Tulane in 2010 in the third round and steadily progressed up the ladder, earning his first taste of Triple-A in 2014. However, after batting a mere .143/.188/.208 over 21 games with the Scranton-Wilkes Barre RailRiders, the utility man was sent back to double-A Trenton for more seasoning. Last season, Segedin spent another 46 games in Pennsylvania, putting up a much better .764 OPS. This season, he replaced Jensen in the Oklahoma City Dodgers lineup, and has put up his best triple-A season yet, slashing .302/.382/.576 while piling up the extra-base hits – 17 doubles, 8 triples, and 16 four-baggers. Like the man he replaced in OKC, Segedin is still awaiting his first call to The Show.
Travis Taijeron has made a steady rise through the New York Mets system since being drafted in the 18th round of the 2011 draft. After two seasons of .800+ OPS for Binghamton in the Eastern League, Taijeron was placed in Las Vegas for his first crack at triple-A pitching last season. Travis did not disappoint, batting .274/.393/.536 with 25 desert blasts. However, the 27-year-old outfielder could not crack the big league lineup this spring and instead was sent back to the 51s, where he proceeded to improve his line to .308/.389/.564 with 51 extra-base hits. Taijeron saved his heroics for the All-Star Game, powering a two-run home run and sharing in the Co-MVP award with Chris Marrero.
The youngest participant in the big fly activity was also the most decorated, catcher Jesus Montero, who was a top five MLB prospect for both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America in 2010, 2011, and 2012. After spending 2010 and 2011 – at ages 20 and 21 – with the triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, Montero appeared in 18 games with the major league club and put up an impressive .996 OPS. Sent to Seattle in the Michael Pineda trade, Montero struggled in his first full MLB season. Batting just .260/.298/.386 in 2012 for the Mariners in 135 games, Montero has struggled to get back to the The Show to stay. From 2013-2015, Montero participated in only 73 games with Seattle while spending a majority of his seasons down the road in triple-A Tacoma. Last season, Montero belted 18 bombs for the Rainiers and was runner-up in the Triple-A Home Run Derby. Despite a .966 OPS for Tacoma, Montero was waived in January 2016 by the Mariners, and was picked up by the Toronto Blue Jays. Still only 26, the catcher has put up a line of .310/.335/.475 for the Buffalo Bison this season while awaiting a call from Canada.
While participation in any All-Star Game is an honor, there is little doubt that all the players involved would much rather have missed the game if it meant a call up to the major leagues. Especially these six, who can only look to San Diego and see an entire starting lineup for the American League who, with the exception of David Ortiz, are all younger than they are as they await their next shot at the bigs.
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.