As we settle in to the 2014 season at the major league level, the minor leagues have kicked off as well. At the drafting of this article, the minor league season had statistics on the books for about five games. Not only do all of the same caveats about small sample sizes being meaningless that pertain to the majors apply to the minor leagues, we have even more confounding variables.
The minor leagues have their own park factors. The quality of opposition is also extremely volatile as compared to the majors. Even though obviously some pitchers and defenses and hitters are better than others at the major league level, there is a minimum threshold of competence. In the minors there is no such guarantee. Some teams are going to have atrocious defenders at various positions — or maybe you're in AAA and you're running into a guy who has a major league glove who can't hit at all who just bounces around robbing hits from prospects.
Some of the best prospects in baseball are on some nights, and off others. Depending on when you catch Archie Bradley, for example, you may be facing someone who is pretty much a major league ace, or someone who is just going to give you a free pass depending on his control any given day. The list goes on.
There are other reasons minor league statistics can be misleading as to how a prospect is doing. There are guys in the low minors, for example, who can just put their bat on their shoulder and let the poor control of those pitchers give them a healthy-looking on base percentage. The problem is it doesn't reflect any real hitting skill. The eye test does matter.
With that being said — let's take a look at 5 games worth of minor league stats!
Courtney Hawkins: Mr. Hawkins went from "guy drafted 13th overall for good value" to "off the radar screen". That's how bad his 2013 was. It's understandable given how aggressive his promotion was, playing the whole season at High A. Given his age and experience level — and throw in a few injuries — and you have a potential disaster on your hands.
So far, there are some positives in his second crack at the league, as Hawkins has three home runs in his first five games. As you might imagine, given that fact, his line is .421/.429/1.053. Far be it from me to complain about your IsoD when you are smashing everything in sight, but there is still a problem here — Hawkins' K:BB ratio is 7:1. When you're hitting .400+, you are entitled to say there is no need to wait for ball four, but there is the concern that he is still striking out in 1/3 of his PAs. That's better than 2013 — as is the rest of his line — but there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done.
If nothing else, this has to be good for his confidence, and remind us that there is a reason he was the only Top 100 prospect the White Sox had heading into last season. The tools are still there. Maybe a second look at a league will let him develop a little bit and see if he can actually convert his potential into baseball skills.
Tyler Saladino: Saladino is a change of pace from Hawkins in a lot of ways. Never really much of a prospect, Saladino's profile had morphed oddly over the years. In 2011, despite his profile as a 2B/3B guy who could maybe cover SS in a pinch, he turned in a year that looked like a bit of a slugger, hitting .270/.363/.501 as a 21-year old in High-A. Then, the power vanished, and he looked more like a walks/speed guy, stealing 67 bases while only being caught 16 times over the next few years in pretty much only AA. Despite generally not having much contact skill or power, somehow Saladino has worked enough walks to earn a .350+ OBP for his minor league career.
Saladino is now in AAA, and at age 24 is probably just looking to work his way into the majors as a utility infielder/bench player. Should there be further injuries to the White Sox infield, Saladino may be next in line (unless it's third base, as we will see further down), being able to steal a base, cover a few spots on the infield, and - being able to draw a walk -maybe not be a total drain on the lineup in short spurts.
He has certainly gotten off to a good start in 2014, hitting .529/.526/.765 in the young season. As it currently stands, he is a September call-up, but he has to be on the short list for promotion if depth is needed in the majors.
However, depending on where that depth is needed...
Matt Davidson is down in Charlotte hitting .348/.400/.565 with a ton of doubles. Obviously, encouraging numbers, as Davidson has only had a cup of coffee in the majors, and otherwise his resume consists of a whole lot of hitters' parks in the PCL. The International League presents a bit more of a neutral/pitcher friendly environment than what he is used to, so it's nice to see that he is handling his business.
So far, though, Davidson is only walking 8% of the time to offset a 32% K-rate. Strikeouts have always been the limiting reagent for him on offense, so that is the number I'm going to be checking first for him for the foreseeable future.
Tim Anderson represents the most recent White Sox 1st round pick, and like Hawkins he brings a lot of tools, athleticism, and a high ceiling to the table, paired with a lack of baseball experience. His pro debut was encouraging last year, given that Anderson had not faced much high level competition through his junior college career.
For a player like Anderson, every promotion to a new level is potentially devastating, but so far Anderson is holding his own in his High-A debut, hitting .300/.318/.600 in the first week. Anderson's value is tied to his ability to play shortstop and his speed, but keep an eye on his K-rates moving forward, as his is up above 30% as well, and he has yet to draw a walk.
Still, if Anderson were to flash more power than he had in the past, it would continue to elevate his already impressive ceiling.