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 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 Kyle Schwarber and Blake Swihart, pitchers like Noah Syndergaard and Keone Kela ‒ 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, 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 the leagues closest to the Majors, the International League and the Pacific Coast League, highlighting former Major Leaguers and struggling prospects as they struggle with the essence of offense, hitting the baseball.
End of the Line
Jayson Nix had a seven season major league career as an itinerant infielder and outfielder, playing for Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Kansas City in the major leagues, and for the Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay’s AAA affiliate) in 2014. Nix failed to earn a major league job this season, batting .167/.190/.198 in 25 games for the Norfolk Tides, at which point he was traded by Baltimore to the Philadelphia Phillies. Assigned to Lehigh Valley, Nix continued to struggle, batting .157/.202/.247 for the IronPigs. He was released in late June and has been scouring the want ads ever since.
Nix isn’t the only former Major League to struggle in AAA this season. Mike Carp, who batted .175/.289/.230 for the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers in 2014, played just seven games for the Dodgers affiliate in Oklahoma City in 2015, going 2-for-22 with a double and a walk. Carp unwisely opted out of his deal with the Dodger, fishing for a Major League position. He continues to wait for a phone call. There’s always Japan.
Catchers tend to be special in that irrelevancy at the plate can be overcome by great relevancy behind the plate. John Baker spent seven seasons on major league rosters, last season appearing in 68 games for the Chicago Cubs. He was only given 17 games for the Tacoma Rainiers of the PCL this season before being released in the middle of May after batting .161/.185/.194 for the Seattle affiliate.
The Unexplainable Fall
Last season, Nate Freiman made his major league debut for the Oakland A’s, putting up a .448 Slugging % in the Majors after posting a .284/.371/.506 line in the PCL. This season he took a cross-country trip to Music City, but seemed to forget how to hit. The 28-year old Freiman has sung off-key all season, batting just .203/.248/.276 for the Nashville Sounds. Freiman was accompanied by teammate Brian Anderson from Sacramento and Oakland to Music City, and the results were similarly discordant. Anderson, who batted .320/.397/.538 in three different minor league locals in 2014, has played with a broken string for all of 2015, recording just a .200/.276/.287 line for the Sounds.
Vince Belnome has been a man who knows how to reach base during his minor league career. In his first season with the Durham Bulls in 2013, Belnome reached base 41% of his plate appearances, thanks to 67 walks. Last season for Durham, Belnome batted only .245, but still reached base 36% of the time, picking up a couple of days in the majors with Tampa Bay as a reward. This season, however, he put up an offensive line of .169/.293/.225 over 46 games with the Bulls who released him in late July. The 27-year old was picked up by the Mets, where he was demoted to AA Binghamton.
Hunter Morris played two full seasons of AAA ball for the Nashville Sounds in 2013 and 2014, putting up a line of .279/.323/.448 for the Brewers affiliate last season. Traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in spring training, Morris never got a handle on International League pitching. In a season pockmarked with frequent trips to the Disabled List, Morris batted .143/.188/.185 for the Indians before mercifully being sent to AA Altoona, where he continues to struggle (.120/.154/.160 in 10 games).
The Enigma of Youth
Michael Almanzar has been an enigma since bursting onto the scene in his debut season with the Red Sox as an 18-year old in the Gulf Coast League, putting up a .348/.414/.472 in 23 games. Almanzar was promoted to full season ball after that hot streak, where he promptly lost all his offensive skills for the next four seasons. A resurgence in 2012 put Almanzar back on the prospect radar where he has stayed ever since. However, in a full season of AAA ball for the Norfolk Tides, he is batting a putrid .231/.277/.312, and this may wash Almanzar’s prospect status away for good.
The Broken Cups of Coffee
Cutter Dykstra made his International League debut at the beginning of 2015, spending his first two months with the Syracuse Chiefs. He proceeded to delight the pitchers who had to face him. In 53 games, Dykstra batted an atrocious .185/.323/.210 before the Nationals made the decision to send him back to AA Harrisburg for more seasoning.
After a quick start for the AA Mobile Baystars this season, Zach Borenstein was promoted to the Reno Aces. It only took 18 games for the Diamondbacks to realize their mistake, as Borenstein was a busted flush, hitting .154/.170/.192 before being demoted back to Mobile. Borenstein has found his stroke and is putting up a .905 OPS ‒ and likely earning himself another chance at AAA next season.
Kyle Waldrop earned a promotion from AA Pensacola at the end of June after batting .277/.313/.430 for the Blue Wahoos. Waldrop was not informed that becoming a Louisville Bat was not a reason to forget his bats in Florida, but forget he did, posting an impressively poor line of .170/.199/.214 in 43 games. Even more impressive, Waldrop earned a promotion to the Major Leagues, due to injuries in Cincinnati, during this string of futility, striking out in his only at bat for the Reds on August 2nd.
Barrett Kleinknecht showed consistent offensive growth in three seasons with the AA Mississippi Braves. Promoted to the AAA Gwinnett Braves this season, Kleinknecht rode an early six game hitting streak to a line of .281/.306/.386 on May 7th. He then began a freefall, plummeting to .187/.227/.261 and earning a trip back to AA Mississippi on August 21st.
Edgar Duran must have a glove that sings like an angel. The shortstop has been promoted yearly for the Phillies despite an OPS under .600 in all but one of season in his career. Duran put up a line of .224/.277/.301 in AA Reading last season, earning himself a full time bump to Lehigh Valley this season. When not on the IronPigs disabled list, Duran has been slipping on the mud in the batter’s box, batting a sloppy .163/.242/.207 in 45 games for Lehigh Valley.
Catchers, especially the non-primary catcher, need to have the ability to catch the ball and work with the pitching staff. They are not on these teams for their ability to hit. Which is good, because Luke Carlin certainly has not. The 34-year old started the season with the Nashville Sounds, who released him in early July. However, Carlin was not unemployed for too long, being picked up by the Chicago Cubs and assigned to AAA Iowa. In 47 games between the two clubs this season, Carlin has batted a paltry .143/.313/.221.
The Team of Thompson
A batting line of .234/.306/.335 is not very good for a AAA prospect. But, it isn’t bad enough to be highlighted in a list of the worst players. However, the above line is not for one prospect. It is the team line of the Pawtucket Red Sox – last in hits, last in runs and last in the International League.
In fact, when looking at team total stats for the International League, it is easier to list the few categories the PawSox are not the worst in. They are pretty good at hitting home runs, being fourth best in the league with 85. They are mid-pack in the league with 437 walks. Charlotte and Durham keep them from having the most strikeouts. Otherwise, last. Batting Average, On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, doubles, triples, total bases, RBI all at the bottom of the league.
Highlighting the entirety of the offensive dysfunction would be too long for this piece, so just a few lowlights will have to suffice.
Garin Cecchini was a hot prospect coming into last season and a mediocre first season in Pawtucket (.263/.341/.371) earned him his first MLB cup of coffee in September, with hope for improvement. But Cecchini has batted .213/.290/.297 in 106 games for the PawSox, putting his prospect status in doubt..
Jemile Weeks played effectively in both major and minor league action in 2014, but this year he has been weak for Pawtucket. In 69 games, Weeks has managed to only hit .203/.294/.280.
Catcher Matt Spring can still effectively mash the ball ‒ when he can catch up to it. The backup catcher has had 13 of his 32 hits go for extra bases, hitting only .177/.246/.304.
The list could continue ad infinitum. Of the 28 players who have taken an at bat for the PawSox this season, only two have an OPS above .740. It can be no wonder the team has been shut out 18 times already this season.
In the following weeks we will continue to explore the sub-basements and underground bunkers looking at the prospects who failed to produce through all of minor league baseball. In our next installment, the focus will turn to pitching and defense in AAA baseball.