Down on the Farm: April’s Hottest Minor League Hitters

April is now in the books, and many a hitter in the minors had a hot start. In an attempt to highlight some of the top performers, I’ve picked out one player at each infield position, and three outfielders to shine the spotlight on.

C- Derek Norris- Triple-A- Oakland A’s

Stats: 93 PA, 15 R, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 4 BB, 17 K, .329/.344/.565

Norris struggled mightily to hit for average last season, so his high average in the early going is quite encouraging. He has reduced his strikeout rate, and that bodes well for him going forward. The power isn’t a question, and a late season cup of coffee is a real possibility.

1B- Anthony Rizzo- Triple-A- Chicago Cubs

Stats: 93 PA, 16 R, 7 HR, 23 RBI, 6 BB, 18 K, .384/.430/.663

Rizzo is no stranger to putting up monstrous numbers in the Pacific Coast League. He did so last year, before falling flat on his face in the majors with the Padres. The Cubs will do everything in their power to make sure that doesn’t happen again. In hunting for information beyond the raw stats, I’ve read his approach is much better this season, and that he has shortened up his swing. Those changes are far more important to his long term success than the numbers he has put up repeating Triple-A. There is no clear path to playing time at the moment, but he’ll likely get a look during the summer.

2B- Kolten Wong- Double-A- St. Louis Cardinals

Stats: 89 PA, 15, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 4 SB, 9 BB, 9 K, .295/.382/.500

I very nearly opted to feature Nick Franklin or Eddie Rosario here, and both have a strong case, but Wong got the nod. The Cardinals opted to have Wong bypass High-A and start the year in Double-A after playing in Low-A last year (you’ll see this he’s not the only prospect handled that way if you read on below). Wong has responded by showing excellent plate discipline, hitting for average, flashing speed, and doing everything the Cardinals could have reasonably hoped for him to do. It’s possible he’ll get a cup of coffee when rosters expand in September, but it is also possible he won’t get his first look until next season.

SS- Billy Hamilton- High-A- Cincinnati Reds

Stats: 104 PA, 24 R, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 29 SB, 14 BB, 18 K, .398/.481/591

Hamilton is crazy fast, and the most promising development, he is starting to hit enough to make the most of the wheels that helped net him over 100 stolen bases last season. He is averaging better than a stolen base a game, and if he keeps hitting for average and working walks, will shoot up both standard prospect lists, and fantasy baseball prospect lists.

3B- Will Middlebrooks- Triple-A- Boston Red Sox

Stats: 96 PA, 18 R, 9 HR, 27 RBI, 3 SB, 7 BB, 18 K, .398/.481/.591

Middlebrooks has really ramped up his in game power production in a big way this season. His plate discipline could still use a bit of work, but that’s nitpicking. Overall, he’s off to an outstanding start, and could be in line for a promotion to the show if Kevin Youkilis, who is already dealing with injuries, has to miss an extended period of time. His current ailment is a sore back, and the Red Sox responded to it by promoting slick fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias on Tuesday to add depth to the infield. The club holds an option on Kevin Youkilis next year, and it is looking increasingly likely that they’ll have little reason to exercise it.

OF- Oscar Taveras- Double-A- St. Louis Cardinals

Stats: 99 PA, 10 R, 6 HR, 21 RBI, 1 SB, 4 BB, 13 K, .340/.374/.670

As promised above, here is yet another player the Cardinals opted to handle aggressively. In the case of Taveras, the move was especially bold as he isn’t a college draftee like Wong, and is only 19 years old. Kudos for the organization for having the stones to challenge him, and kudos to Taveras for stepping up to the plate (bad pun intended). He’s absolutely scorching the ball, and since his ability to hit the ball is his carrying tool, that’s a good thing. He is projected to hit for a high average annually in his major league future, but his power is more of a question, which makes home run output to start the season (as I’m typing this I see he added another home run on May 1st) a pleasant surprise of sorts.

OF- Wil Myers- Double-A- Kansas City Royals

Stats: 92 PA, 18 R, 6 HR, 15 RBI, 3 SB, 7 BB, 25 K, .349/.402/.663

The Royals are a spectacular mess. They can at least take solace in Myers putting a disappointing 2011 season further in his rear view mirror. He’s showing the most home run pop of his young career, and his history of high walk rates suggest that he can get back to taking ball fours with greater frequency as the season moves on.

OF- Michael Taylor- Triple-A- Oakland A’s

Stats: 97 PA, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 5 SB, 6 BB, 12 K, .352/.392/.545

Taylor is back from the dead, and looking to resurrect his once promising prospect status. Illness and an ear infection got the better of Coco Crisp much of last week, causing him to miss games. Uncertainty about whether he’d need to go on the disabled list heading into the weekend series with the Orioles prompted the team to bring Taylor to Baltimore with them. They did not need to shelve Crisp, and ultimately Taylor was sent back to Sacramento, but he appears to have done enough to earn another chance should one of the A’s outfielders need to miss time.