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Minor League Update: Taking a look at the Minors

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So some of you may remember my "Stars and Scrubs" posts from last year (here's an example if you don't). These posts were a blast to do, since it dealt with analysis of current performance and because I get to write about the players that really stand out to me.

However, the problem with the Stars and Scrubs posts was that I'd praise Jacob Turner in virtually every post and then beat up on Cale Iorg and Gustavo Nunez. It got repetitive. The other problem was that I evaluated the players based on a month-by-month basis. There is some logic behind this: if player performance increases over the span of a month, you know he is developing.

Unfortunately, that's not how it works in the real world. Monthly samples are often under 100 plate appearances, which tells you virtually nothing about a player; the variation alone in monthly samples means you cannot trust the numbers. So this year I am changing two things. First, instead of calling these posts "Stars and Scrubs" and focusing on... well, stars and scrubs, I am going to abandon alliteration and just focus on the most interesting performances in the minors. Second, you'll see updates on a plate-appearance basis as opposed to a monthly basis.

I'm betting that those of you who frequent comment threads have seem me drop this nugget of knowledge occasionally. A quick summary: Fangraphs ran the numbers and came up with the number of plate appearances it takes for certain statistics to stabilize.These numbers refer to the Major Leagues, where player development isn't the primary focus, so it's not a perfect way to update. It's certainly possible that a player improves, say, his contact rate, over the course of the season and I miss that. This is why it's important to trust scouting reports (and as I watch more games- unfortunately online, but what can you do- I can update on this stuff) in addition to the numbers. Remember: statistics are not the end all in the minors. The hitters (I'll look at pitchers later) I'm writing about have between 150 and 200 plate appearances, so you'll see me emphasize certain things based on what data I think is reliable.

Anyways, a 400 word methodology section is probably a bit much, so let's jump right into it!

Gustavo Nunez, SS, Class A Advanced Lakeland

214 PA, .293/.350/.426 (BA/OBP/SLG) 11.7% K, 8.4% BB, 10% LD, 60% GB, .133 Isolated Power

Nunez interests the heck out of me. He's right about at the appropriate age relative to league (FSL average is 22.7 while Nunez is 23) and he's a wizard defensively. Unfortunately he couldn't hit last year (.222/.255/.281). The main problem was an inability to make contact; Nunez struck out in 16.3% of plate appearances last year while failing to hit for any power.

There are some good signs this year, though. First, Nunez has cut that strikeout rate quite a bit: from 16.3% to 11.7%, which suggests he's putting the ball in play a lot more. As a speed guy, this is critically important, since Nunez can leg out base hits (the 60% GB rate probably helps when combined with his speed). He's also hitting a few more line drives (10% as opposed to 9% last year) and while he's probably getting lucky on the power numbers (Nunez is tiny which means he probably won't continue to generate this much power and ISO doesn't stabilize until 500+ plate appearances) he has really made strides on hitting for batting average and getting on base. It is, of course, early, but the K rate is the lowest it has ever been in Nunez's career, which is a good sign. The high GB% is somewhat concerning- I'd prefer line drives, but if Nunez keeps it up, he easily makes it back onto my radar.

Rob Brantly, C, Class A West Michigan

151 PA, .316/.377/.414 (BA/OBP/SLG), 12.6% K, 8.6% BB, 17% LD, 54% GB, .118 Isolated Power

Brantly got no respect from national analysts last year: Sickels gave him a C, BA ranked him 21st in the system and Kevin Goldstein left him out of his top 20. I ranked him 14th and gave him a C+, writing that "he has a great left-handed swing that gives him plus hitting tools" and you can see that in the above numbers. Brantly hits boatloads of line drives, and while it is too early to draw conclusions about Brantly's good walk rate, he keeps the strikeouts to a reasonable level. The power hasn't really translated yet, but a catcher that can hit .300/.350/.400 is valuable. He is also pretty good with the glove, with a 32% caught stealing rate.

Brantly is not really blocked (Julio Rodriguez has upside at High A, but is not as good as Brantly, and Bryan Holaday is hitting .242/.252/.378 in Erie) but he'll probably spend some more time at A ball. Best case is that the Tigers have another good hitting catcher- worst case is a solid backup.

Daniel Fields, OF, Class High A Lakeland

194 PA, .222/.294/.357 (BA/OBP/SLG), 32.5% K, 6.7% BB, 35% GB, 12% LD%, 135 Isolated Power

Before you overreact, remember that Fields is 20 years old in a league full of players that average 23. That said, this line sucks. The strikeout rate got significantly worse, the line drive rate rate fell by 4% from last year and Fields isn't hitting ground balls (of course, he didn't last year either). The ISO is good even if it hasn't stabilized yet, but the walk rate has plummeted, which is troubling. All of that said, Fields is 20 years old in a league full of players that average 23. The numbers matter little here. Until scouts say otherwise, it's safe to assume that the upside is still there.

Nick Castellanos, 3B, Class A West Michigan

178 PA, .269/.309/.413 (BA/OBP/SLG), 25.8% K, 4.5% BB, 45% GB, 14% LD, .144 Isolated Power

Castellanos is 19 years old in Class A baseball, where the average age is 21.6 years old (so about 22). It's interesting to note his monthly split- he "hit" to the tune of .179/.222/.209 in April while raking in May, hitting .330/.368/.550. I wouldn't make too much of the monthly split, nor would I make too much of the numbers. It's nice to see a good ISO, and the line drive rate is okay, though I'd like it a bit higher. On the whole, it is good news that Castellanos can keep his head above water when the players around him are so advanced. The batting line isn't stellar, but the upside is still there. And who knows: maybe he heats up even more. ETA is still three years (so 2014).

Francisco Martinez, 3B, Class AA Erie

147 PA, .261/.306/.425 (BA/OBP/SLG), 25.2% K, 6.8% BB, 52% GB, 10% LD, .164 Isolated Power

Martinez is 20 in AA. The average age in the Eastern League is 24.3. So if Martinez keeps his head above water here, he should be praised. There are a couple good things to note though, namely that his walk rate only fell by about one point while the strikeout rate only went up about six. Martinez also had a rough April, hitting .179/.260/.284. The power spike is nice, but explained by Erie's tendency to be a hitting park. In short, Martinez (much like Castellanos) is keeping his head above water in a tough assignment- their lines are actually eerily similar, and while Castellanos is a better prospect in the long run, Martinez still has talent. The best news: he'll be ready by 2013, which means he might manage to take over for Brandon Inge.

Summary: I'm nominally concerned about Daniel Fields' performance, but not very. Nunez is a big shock to me, and he's become of the most interesting prospects in the system. Brantly is performing as well as could be expected, and both Castellanos and Martinez are doing very well given their challenging assignments. I like what I see here.