Prospects in Proper Context, Pt. 3: High-A California League

After uncovering some of the better young batsmen in the Florida State League and the Carolina League, let’s now shine the spotlight on the California League. While some of the numbers that you’ll see on this list will look downright wacky, it is important to keep in mind that the California League is the domain of offensive explosions. In particular, High Desert (Mariners) and Lancaster (Red Sox) are known for giving pitchers nightmares. With that said, let’s take a look at the top 5 in the California League, starting off with an astute trade pickup.

(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).

California League

Singles (1.13), Doubles (1.04), Triples (1.01), Home Runs (1.04)

1. Carlos Santana, Indians: .429 wOBA
Age: 22
Position: C
Baseball America California League Ranking: 2nd overall (1st hitter)
2006-2008 Park Factor (Inland Empire): Runs (0.93), Singles (0.98), Doubles (0.96), Home Runs (0.79)

Over the past several years, perhaps no organization in the game has done a better job of swapping veteran role players for under-the-radar prospects than the Cleveland Indians. Be it shipping off Eduardo Perez for Asdrubal Cabrera and Ben Broussard for Shin-Soo Choo (thanks, Mr. Bavasi) or acquiring a prime talent like Santana from the Dodgers last summer for 36 year-old Casey Blake, the Tribe keep displaying a knack for uncovering hidden gems. The switch-hitting Santana may be the club’s best get yet: the converted outfielder put together a monster season for Inland Empire (LA’s affiliate) before the trade, batting a robust .323/.431/.563 with nearly even strikeout and walk ratios (16.5 BB%, 16.9 K%). The Dominican Republic native kept up his torrid pace upon transitioning to Cleveland’s Carolina League affiliate (Kinston), where he posted a .466 wOBA in 126 PA (Santana did not have the requisite 200 PA to qualify for the Carolina League list). As one might expect from a guy with so little experience behind the dish, Santana is still learning the nuances of the catching position. However, Baseball America notes that Santana possesses “good agility and athleticism”, and few doubt his ability to stick behind the plate.

2. Lars Anderson, Red Sox: .408 wOBA
Age: 21 (20 during ’08 season)
Position: 1B
BA California League Ranking: 3rd overall (2nd hitter)
2006-2008 Park Factor (Lancaster): R (1.14), H (1.08), 2B (1.04), HR (1.21)

As a lefty-swinging first baseman with good plate discipline, Anderson seems to have a good bit in common with the FSL’s top batting prospect, Logan Morrison. Boston coaxed Anderson to sign on the dotted line for $825,000 as an 18th-round selection in the 2006 draft, and the California native has impressed ever since. Sure, he did play in an absolute bandbox (for the aptly-named Jet Hawks), but it’s still pretty rare to find a 20 year-old with such a refined approach at the plate: Anderson drew walks at a 13.1% clip. Even better, Lars upped his wOBA to .430 and improved his ISO from .196 to .211 upon moving up to Portland of the AA Eastern League.

3. Pablo Sandoval, Giants: .437 wOBA
Age: 22 (21 during ’08 season)
Position: C? 3B? 1B?
BA California League Ranking: 7th overall (3rd hitter)
2006-2008 Park Factor (San Jose): R (0.89), H (0.94), 2B (0.97), HR (0.87)

The switch-hitting, ambidextrous Sandoval ripped through the California League on his way to San Francisco, batting .359/.412/.597 in 301 PA. While a .387 BABIP surely aided Sandoval, he did display an interesting blend of contact ability (14.3 K%) and power, posting a .238 ISO. He continued his hot hitting and hacking in AA and in the big leagues, but he still needs quite a bit of work in terms of working the count: in 154 PA for the Giants, Sandoval swung at a mind-bending 53.8% of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. The 5-11, 245 pounder has experience behind the plate and at the infield corners, but it remains to be seen just where he ultimately settles in. He’s potentially very interesting if he can stick behind the plate, though FSU star and 2008 first-rounder Buster Posey seems to be San Francisco’s heir apparent behind the dish.

4. Carlos Triunfel, Mariners: .338 wOBA
Age: 19 (18 during ’08 season)
Position: SS (likely 3B later)
BA California League Ranking: 15th (9th hitter)
2006-2008 Park Factor (High Desert): R (1.13), H (1.05), 2B (1.03), HR (1.23)

Wait a minute, a .338 wOBA? In a great hitter’s park? What’s he doing on this list? Admittedly, this selection might be a slight reach, but color me impressed that a player like Triunfel can hold his head above water in High-A ball at an age where most Americans are still in high school. There’s nothing eye-popping about his numbers, but how many Aflac All-Americans or Area Code Games stars could you stick in advanced A-ball and get a .287/.336/.406 line from? Triunfel will likely have to move off of shortstop down the line, and his rocket arm fits in just fine at third base. It’s far too early to suggest just what sort of player the Dominican Republic native will become, but he’s certainly worth keeping an eye on. Triunfel is an example of why context is so important with regards to minor league stats: plenty of guys have better raw numbers, but most of them are three or four years older and have had far more developmental time to hone their skills.

5. Josh Reddick, Red Sox: .422 wOBA
Age: 22 (21 during ’08 season)
Position: RF
BA California League Ranking: 8th overall (4th hitter)
2006-2008 Park Factor (Lancaster): R (1.14), H (1.08), 2B (1.04), HR (1.21)

Reddick also had the good fortune of playing his home games in Lancaster’s wind-aided environs, but he did post a .343/.375/.593 line with a .250 ISO. Taken one round before Lars Anderson in the ’06 draft, Reddick has some juice in his left-handed swing, but he’s going to have to do a better job of working the count as he moves up the organizational ladder: he drew a walk just 5.2% of the time at Lancaster. There’s some hope on that front, though, as Reddick upped that figure to 9.3% upon reaching AA Portland.

We hoped you liked reading Prospects in Proper Context, Pt. 3: High-A California 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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Lucky Strikes
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Lucky Strikes

How did Carlos Santana not make the cut into MLB.com’s top 50 prospects for 2009? Everyone else seems to rank him as one of the better young prospects in the game.