The close of the minor league season is upon us and it is time to recognize the players who have put in the best work while toiling away on buses and in motels. The lifeblood of MLB gets little thanks, and even less money, but we do what we can. Brandon Magee examines the season that was and hands out his 2016 minor league superlatives.
As Major League Baseball heads into its final month of the regular season – which includes expanded rosters as teams chase an elusive playoff spot – Minor League Baseball’s regular season ends on Monday. The playoffs will soon begin and champions will be crowned, but the grind of the regular season will soon be forgotten. We will not forget. Today, we highlight the grind – the players who have gone to work everyday and played their hearts out but have not necessarily been recognized for their efforts. Some of these players were not granted a promotion to the next level after a month of good play, but instead stuck it out, leading their league in important hitting and pitching categories. SoSH Baseball celebrates the best of the best in the full-season minors this season.
[All Statistics as of the end of play on Wednesday, August 31]
The Hit Kings
A trio of wizards with the bat will enter the final weekend vying to be the The Hit Sensei of the minor leagues. Former Red Sox and current San Diego Padres infielder Carlos Asuaje leads the way with 169 hits for the AAA El Paso Chihuahuas, batting an impressive .325/.381/.467 in his first season in the Pacific Coast League. Meanwhile, in the single-A Midwest League, Will Maddox of the Detroit Tigers-affiliated West Michigan Whitecaps has pounded out 168 hits, putting up a slash line of .342/.382/.405 in the process. Finally, in the South Atlantic League, Brian Mundell of the Asheville Tourists has placed 167 balls safely into play. However, more of Mundell’s magnificent season will be explored later in this article.
The Bomb Squad
Who the Minor League home run leader will be has also yet to be decided. However, the home of that leader will be Reading, Pennsylvania – home of one of the most exciting teams (and inexplicable names) in the minors: the Fightin Phils of the Double A Eastern League.
On Wednesday night, Dylan Cozens staked himself to a one homer advantage over teammate Rhys Hopkins, by blasting his 38th moon shot out of FirstEnergy Stadium. Cozens is batting .278/.354/.592 on the season, while Hopkins has a .275/.370/.563 line.
The aforementioned Mundell is a first base prospect in the Colorado Rockies system, and he has been a doubles machine this year, setting a modern minor league record with 58 doubles. The previous record of 55 was notched by Scott Seabol in the South Atlantic League in 1999 and matched by Zach Daeges in the California League in 2007. Mundell is hitting .322/.389/.518 for the Asheville Tourists, with 14 homers and a single triple to go with his double dealing.
The race for triples supremacy is close between a pair of Eastern League competitors. Dustin Fowler – the speedy centerfield prospect of the New York Yankees – has slid into third safely fourteen times with three-base knocks. However, Red Sox prospect Aneury Tavarez is right behind him, second in the league and in the minors with 13. Fowler is batting .284/.315/.458 for the Trenton Thunder while Tavarez has put up a line of .336/.382/.499 for the Portland Sea Dogs.
[It should be noted that we are looking at qualified league leaders in this piece. A player, such as Andrew Benintendi – who was promoted mid-season with 12 triples – could, theoretically, have accumulated a higher total in any given statistical category than any of the leaders we are highlighting.]
Runs Scored and Runs Batted In
Not surprisingly, the home run leader also has scored the most runs. Dylan Cozens has crossed home plate 103 times. However, we also like to note interesting phenomena, and the top three run scorers in the Pacific Coast League all reside on one team – the El Paso Chihuahuas. Hit leader Carlos Asuaje and Manuel Margot have each scored 95 runs, while teammate Hunter Renfroe is one behind with 94.
Cozens also leads the minor leagues with 120 runs driven in, but is in a tie with Arizona Diamondbacks prospect Kyle Jensen, who has also driven in 120 for the Reno Aces.
The final weekend of play will determine which procurer of free passes will reign supreme. Seattle Mariners’ prospect Dan Vogelbach leads the minors, and the PCL, with 94 base on balls for the Tacoma Rainiers. However, in the Florida State League Casey Grayson of the Palm Beach Cardinals has racked up 92 walks. The final contender, Josh Ockimey of the Greenville Drive, cannot be counted out with 88 entering the final weekend.
Stolen Base Scoundrels
A trio of speedsters have broken the 50 stolen base barrier as the minor league season enters its final days. Rafael Bautista has purloined 53 bags for the Harrisburg Senators, but he is headed for a photo finish with Zach Granite of the Chattanooga Lookouts, who has swiped the same number of bases. However, a strong final weekend could see the Hickory Crawdads’ Eric Jenkins dash past them both at the finish line, having already logged 51 steals on the season.
The (Batting) Line Kings
With a promotion to the Frederick Keys already in hand, Yermin Mercedes left the Delmarva Shorebirds leading the South Atlantic League with a .353 batting average. However, Brandon Nimmo of the Las Vegas 51s, is making it a fight to the finish with his .352 average – and his current eight game hit streak. This one will come down the wire on Monday.
Nimmo is also chasing another static record in the race for OBP supremacy. When Greg Allen was promoted from High-A Lynchburg to AA Akron by the Cleveland Indians, he left the Carolina League with a .424 on-base percentage. Nimmo has posted the same OBP as he enters the final weekend. Not far behind Allen and Nimmo are Wynston Sawyer of the Frederick Keys, who holds a .421 OBP, and walks-leader Vogelbach who is at .419.
Cozens’ big day on Wednesday pushed his slugging percentage to a robust .592. But, he too is chasing a ghost, as Rob Segedin put up a .598 percentage with the Oklahoma City Dodgers before his early August call-up to Los Angeles, a number which still leads the pack.
Only a big final weekend by Nimmo will alter the OPS contest. Nimmo is currently at .972, behind the ghosts of Delmarva’s Mercedes – who was promoted with a .990 OPS – and Segedin, whose .989 mark leads the minors.
Princes of Pitching
Three twirlers have notched 14 wins for their clubs this season: Ty Blach, of the PCL Sacramento River has gone 14-7 in his 26 starts; Chase De Jong of the Texas League Tulsa Drillers has paced AA baseball with his 14-5 record in 25 starts; In A-Ball, Tejay Antone of the Daytona Tortugas in the Florida State League has produced a 14-6 line in his 25 starts. Each will have a chance to notch victory number 15 in the waning days of the season. However, if none are able to notch that win, Nashville’s Dillon Overton, Tacoma’s Joe Weiland, and Greenville’s Logan Boyd could join them and make it a sextet at 14 Ws.
Earned Run Earl
Jake McCasland started his second season for the South Atlantic League Augusta GreenJackets as back-end bullpen fodder: the 24-year old right-hander was in his fourth season with the Giants organization after being drafted in the 26th round of the 2013 Draft. But, after putting up a 1.48 ERA over 30 ⅓ innings of relief in April, May, and early June, McCasland was shifted to the starting rotation – where he has continued his impressive run. In his starts that now number a baker’s dozen, McCasland has put up a 1.71 ERA while pitching at least six full innings in eleven of those starts. On the season, the surprising upshot leads the minors with a 1.65 ERA in 109 ⅓ innings pitched.
Complete Game Champ
Complete games are becoming rarer across all of baseball, but Matt Pearce of the Palm Beach Cardinals was the rare starter to finish what he began. Pearce completed four games in 20 starts for the High-A Cardinals before his promotion to AA Springfield.
Shut out Shoutouts
Individuals cannot be credited with a shutout without first completing the game, so we salute all the pitchers who have been able to take credit for a pair of complete game shutouts this season:
Logan Darnell of the Rochester Red Wings in the International League. Ty Blach of the Sacramento River Cats and Jharel Cotton of the Nashville Sounds in the PCL. Greg Harris of the Charlotte Stone Crabs and Josh Rogers of the Tampa Yankees in the Florida State League.
Wizards of WHIP
A quartet has been able to keep their WHIP below 1.00. In the South Atlantic League, Mitch Keller of the West Virginia Power matched the aforementioned McCasland with a 0.92 WHIP before Keller was promoted to High-A Bradenton. Over in the Florida State League, Matt Pearce was promoted after recording a 0.94 WHIP, while Luis Castillo was promoted from the Jupiter Hammerheads to AA Jacksonville after notching a 0.96 WHIP.
James Hoyt led the PCL and the minors with 29 saves for the Fresno Grizzlies before his recent promotion to the big leagues with the Houston Astros – becoming the latest player to go from the independent leagues to the Majors.
Matt Carasiti also got the bump up to the big time after leading the Hartford Yard Goats and the Eastern League with 29 saves. He notched another two saves in Albuquerque before making his first Major league appearance with the Colorado Rockies.
Last but not least, the minor league leader of strikeouts resides in the AAA International League. Tampa Bay Rays righty Jaime Schultz was only able to record five victories in 27 starts for the Durham Bulls, but the righty struck out 163 in just 130 2/3 innings of work. Schultz piled up double digit whiffs four times this season, with a high of 12 in just five innings of work on April 24 against the Indianapolis Indians.