Prospects in Proper Context, Pt. 2: High-A Carolina League

After taking a gander at the best and brightest hitters that the pitcher-friendly Florida State League had to offer, let’s now shift our focus to the Carolina League. If you missed part one, I would suggest taking a look at the method used and the reasoning behind it. What we’re trying to do here is to see whose performance was the most impressive once important factors such as age, position and league and park offensive levels are accounted for. I should also note that I am using 200 PA as a cut-off for consideration- I used only qualified batters for the FSL, but I feel that might not have done justice to guys like Daryl Jones (Cardinals), Adrian Cardenas (Athletics, formerly Phillies) and J.P. Arencibia (Blue Jays), who missed the cut.

(note: 2008 league offensive levels are found courtesy of First Inning. Keep in mind that the league offensive levels are only from one season’s worth of data. Park factors are from 2006-2008 data compiled from Minor League Splits, posted on the Baseball Think Factory site. A park factor of 1.00 is exactly neutral. Anything above 1.00 favors hitters, while anything below 1.00 favors pitchers).

Carolina League

2008 league offensive levels: Singles (0.83), Doubles (1.08), Triples (0.99), Home Runs (1.01)

1. Matt Wieters, Orioles: .445 wOBA
Age: 22
Position: C
2006-2008 Park Factor (Frederick): Runs (1.05), Hits (1.02), Doubles (0.97), Home Runs (1.28)

Like there was any doubt about this one. Frederick is a great power park, but Wieters’ performance was head-and-shoulders above everyone else. He switch-hits. He draws a ton of walks (16.1 BB%). He can drive the ball as far as anyone (.231 ISO). Wieters’ performance actually improved significantly upon a promotion to Double A. Think about that: his .345/.448/.576 line at Frederick was his weaker showing in 2008. He even comes with a pretty solid defensive reputation, despite being a pretty large human being (6-4, 230 pounds). Earlier this offseason, Peter Bendix wondered if Wieters might be Joe Mauer with more power. This Pirates fan is going to go cry himself to sleep, haunted by memories of Daniel Moskos.

2. Tyler Flowers, White Sox: .412 wOBA
Age: 23 in January
Position: C
2006-2008 Park Factor (Myrtle Beach): R (0.98), H (1.00), 2B (0.94), HR (0.98)

Flowers enjoyed an outstanding campaign at Myrtle Beach in the Braves organization in 2008, but he was shipped to the south side of Chicago as the principal prospect acquired by the White Sox in the Javier Vazquez trade. A mountain of a man at 6-4, 245 pounds, Flowers has a discerning eye at the plate. A 33rd-round draft-and-follow selection in the 2005 draft, Flowers has a career .400 OBP and he drew walks at a Bondsian 19.2% clip in 2008. The Chipola Junior College product complements that judicious approach with plenty of raw power (.206 ISO). While Flowers whiffs a bit more than one would like (24.7 K%), there’s little reason to doubt his offensive profile. The reviews of his work behind the dish are a bit more sketchy, however.

Flowers would be one of the largest catchers ever- using Baseball Reference’s Play Index Tool, I found that that Pete Varney (himself a White Sox backstop) and Ronny Paulino are the only players at least 6-3 and 235 pounds (an inch and 10 pounds lighter than Flowers) to have seasons in which they played at least 50% of their games at catcher. That’s not to say Flowers couldn’t (Wieters is similarly huge, though he comes with a better defensive rep), but there’s not much precedent for it. If Flowers can continue to don the tools if ignorance, he would be an immensely valuable player for the Pale Hose. If not, his bat will still certainly play at first base or DH. He just wouldn’t be quite as interesting.

3. Nicholas Weglarz, Indians: .377 wOBA
Age: 21 (20 during ’08 season)
Position OF (1B also possible)
2006-2008 Park Factor (Kinston): R (0.99), H (0.97), 2B (0.95), HR (1.08)

This big Canadian southpaw showcased a very mature approach at the plate for a guy who played the entire season at age 20. Drawing free passes at a 15.9% clip, Weglarz posted a .396 OBP. While the 3rd-round selection in the 2005 draft has yet to really tap into his power game (his career SLG% is .448), his 6-3, 215 pound frame portends to more pop, and Baseball America notes that Weglarz “generates excellent loft, bat speed and leverage with his swing and shows plus-plus power potential.” Weglarz is no great shakes in the outfield, and might eventually have to shift to first base, but his bat should play there (Cleveland could have quite the log jam at the position, with Beau Mills, Matt LaPorta and Wes Hodges all possible first base candidates as well). The Ontario native also made some major strides in making more contact: after striking out nearly 30% of the time in 2007, he pared that figure down to 20.8% in 2008.

4. Brandon Allen, White Sox: .402 wOBA
Age: 23 in January
Position: 1B
2006-2008 Park Factor (Winston Salem): R (1.05), H (1.03), 2B (1.06), HR (1.06)

We fall down the defensive spectrum pretty quickly in the Carolina League, shifting from two catchers to a defensively-challenged outfielder, and now a first baseman. Allen’s career had been a mixed big prior to 2008, as the lefty-hitting Texas native showcased power but little plate discipline. That began to change this season: the 6-2, 235 pounder still pummeled the ball (.248 ISO), but he coupled that force with more restraint, as his walk rate rose to 11.4%. Allen continued to impress upon a promotion to AA, posting a .425 wOBA. He has some contact issues (26 K%) and he’ll have to continue to mash to be of high value, but Allen looks like the heir apparent to Paul Konerko in Chicago.

5. Beau Mills, Indians: .388 wOBA
Age: 22 (21 during ’08 season)
Position: 1B
2006-2008 Park Factor (Kinston): R (0.99), H (0.97), 2B (0.95), HR (1.08)

Son of Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills, Beau was selected 13th overall in the 2007 draft out of Lewis Clark State. He began his collegiate career at Fresno State, but transferred after having a falling out with the school. Mills had a mild debut in 2007, but he pieced together a pretty solid campaign at Kinston in 2008, batting .293/.373/.506. He began his career as a third baseman, but his below-average range and lateral agility necessitated a move across the diamond to first base.

We hoped you liked reading Prospects in Proper Context, Pt. 2: High-A Carolina League by David Golebiewski!

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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Brian Joura
Guest

This is really good stuff.

Do you think you could supplement it with prospect rankings from BA (end of season league list) so we can have a comparison?

Wieters was ranked 1st
Flowers 12th (6th hitter)
Weglarz 4th (3rd hitter)
Allen 14th (8th hitter)
Mills 5th (4th hitter)

Gorkys Hernandez was BA’s 2nd hitter and the top guy not to make your list.