Drafting Minor Leaguers? Be Wary of the California League

If you are in a league that drafts or stashes minor league players, this article from Baseball America is a very good read.  One of the hardest things to do when looking at minor league statistics is to try and translate those numbers into future major league production.  The article from BA has the offensive production totals from the 2009 minor league season for each league.  Read the article for the full chart, but there were two leagues that pop out immediately.  Already well known as being hitter’s leagues, the California league and Pacific coast league.  Those two leagues have an average ISO of .1465 compared to all the rest of the leagues, which check in at an average ISO of .1223.  The chart below shows the differences in each category from the article.  This does not include short season leagues. 



This information is important when looking at some names that put up gaudy stats in 2009.


Lancaster (Astros)


Koby Clemens, 22, hit .345/.419/.636 with 22 home runs in 423 at bats.  Those numbers are quite astounding if you consider his minor league career highs in each triple slash category came last season at .268/.369/.423.  What is even more amazing is that 19 of his 22 homers came post all-star break.  Baseball America did not rank Clemens among the Astros top 10 prospects in their preseason rankings.  I am skeptical that Clemens can reproduce anything near these numbers as he climbs to the AA and AAA levels.


Jonathan Gaston, 22, spent the entire 2009 season at Lancaster hitting 35 home runs in 518 at bats.  He also slugged .598 with a .320 ISO.  The fact that he only managed to hit .278 with a .367 OBP and 31.7% K rate is worrisome though.  He’ll have to continue to hit the long ball in bunches if he is to make any sort of Major League impact.


High Dessert (Mariners)


For Mariners prospects in high-A there is truly no place like home.  High Dessert is a “launching pad” with its high elevation, high winds and dry air all contributing to “breakout” seasons from multiple players.


Carlos Peguero signed by the Mariners out of the Dominican Republic has been in their system since 2006 at age 19.  Now 22 years of age, Peguero set a career high with 31 home runs.  The problem, as I alluded to above, is that Peguero hit .236/.284/.449 on the road in 2009.  Along with that comes big question marks about his plate discipline and hacktastic plate approach that lead to a 35% strikeout rate.  Those issues had better be improved upon quickly or advanced level pitching will halt any further progression.


Joseph Dunigan, 23 years old and a 5th round pick out of the University of Oklahoma, went .294/.355/.570 with 30 home runs and 20 stolen bases in his breakout 2009.  In 19 more at bats than the previous season in the Midwest League, Dunigan hit 16 more home runs while increasing his OBP by .056 and SLG by a whopping .149 points.  What’s that you said?  There’s no place like home?  Away from High Desert, Dunigan hit a mere .247/.323/.432.  Gee, that looks a lot like the .240/.299/.421 line he put up in 2008.  Also, 21 of his 30 home runs came…you guessed it, at home.
Alex Liddi, 21, and Tyson Gillies, 21, (now in the Phillies system via the Cliff Lee trade) both hit for astoundingly high averages in 2009.  However, they too benefited from their environment.  Liddi’s .345 AVG came way of an insanely high .413 BABIP.  Most of his damage, unsurprisingly, came at home.  In 67 home games Liddi hit .382/.467/.691 with 17 of his 23 home runs.  Before 2009, Liddi had never hit over .250/.315/.385 in any season above rookie-ball.  Gillies benefited from a .394 BABIP overall, though he hit .335/.416/.429 on the road. 
San Jose Giants (Giants)
Thomas Neal, 23, hit .337/.431/.579 with 22 home runs and 12 steals in 2009.  Like most of the others, he benefited from an abnormally high BABIP (.385).  Unlike the others, Neal fared better on the road where his AVG jumped .047 points and his OBP jumped .083 points.  Neal has some decent plate discipline, which seems to be getting better along with the rest of his game.  Out of any name on this list, he could be the one to have the biggest impact career at the major league level.