Checking in on the Midwest and South Atlantic Leagues

The Midwest League and the South Atlantic League are the two Single-A leagues in professional baseball. These two leagues provide the first full-season experience for many young prospects.

The South Atlantic League has a reputation as the more pitcher-friendly league, but in general the two leagues usually facilitate comparable levels of run production. This year, however, run scoring is significantly down in the Midwest League. While the runs allowed rate per 9 innings (RA) is usually between 4.5 and 5.0 runs in the Midwest League, it is down to 4.33 runs so far this season. The South Atlantic League is actually the higher run-scoring environment this year, at 4.74 RA.

The Midwest League All-Star Game takes place at 8:00 ET tonight in Davenport, Ohio. The South Atlantic League All-Star Game in Eastlake, Ohio will start at 7:35 ET tonight.

Midwest League

The following lists represents the top 10 pitching performances (ranked by fielding independent ERA) among pitchers with at least 60 innings in the Midwest League this year.

ORG AGE  PLAYER             IP   W  L   H  BB   K HR   ERA FIP-ERA
Stl  19  Jaime Garcia     77.2   5  4  67  18  80  1  2.90    2.12
Tex  18  Omar Poveda      71.0   1  7  73  14  78  3  4.44    2.36
Laa  19  Nick Adenahart   90.2   9  2  72  21  89  3  2.08    2.36  0.83 ERA in May
Tb   23  Mike Wlodarczyk  79.0   6  4  66  25  66  0  2.51    2.53
Tb   20  Wade Davis       74.0   4  4  56  35  94  2  2.31    2.60  6 ER over first 50 IP this season
Tb   19  Jacob McGee      77.1   6  5  58  37  98  3  2.33    2.69  Leads league in strikeouts  
Cin  22  Zach Ward        71.2   6  0  50  20  66  1  2.89    2.76
Cin  20  Johnny Cueto     69.2   7  1  48  14  76  5  2.71    2.77
Min  20  Eduardo Morlan   63.0   3  3  47  27  73  2  2.57    2.77  
Min  20  Oswaldo Sosa     72.0   5  5  69  25  58  0  2.75    2.85

Now, let’s take a look at the most productive hitters in the Midwest League. Gross Production Average (GPA) is a simple rate statistic that properly weights OBP and SLG and scales it in a way that resembles a batting average. The following GPA figures are not park-adjusted, but I will complement the cumulative numbers with information about possible park effects where appropriate.

ORG AGE  PLAYER             POS   AB   H  BB  SO  HR   GPA
Oak  23  Jeff Baisley       3B   245  79  31  45  13  .317  Top SLG in the league
Min  21  Eric Lis           1B   235  74  33  44   8  .309
Stl  24  Randy Roth         1B   265  81  16  39  13  .296
SD   19  Kyle Blanks        1B   204  60  25  53   7  .295
Oak  22  Anthony Recker      C   174  53  19  55   7  .294
Stl  19  Bryan Anderson      C   179  58  23  37   1  .294
Cin  19  Jay Bruce          OF   259  75  22  58  10  .290
Sd   23  William Venable    OF   212  67  28  40   1  .288
Stl  19  Colby Rasmus       OF   260  79  25  50   8  .285  .304 GPA on the road
Chc  20  Mark Reed           C   175  60  11  39   2  .282

All Star Most Likely to Succeed

Justin Upton is the easy pick here, but I’m going with Dayton’s Jay Bruce instead. Bruce is a five-tool player that was also among the most productive hitters in the Pioneer League last year. Bruce just turned 19 a couple months ago, and he already has over 60 extra-base hits as a professional in the Cincinnati Reds system.

All Star Most Likely to Struggle

Mitch Atkins is 6-1 with a 2.29 ERA, and certainly deserving of a roster spot on the Western Division All-Star team. The Cubs prospect was virtually unknown before his hot start this season, however, and his component statistics are not in line with the early results.

Pleasant Surprise of the First Half

Nick Adenhart was one of the top high school pitching prospects in the country before elbow problems and Tommy John surgery sidelined him in 2004. The Angels drafted him and gave him a big signing bonus anyway, and the gamble appears to be paying off. He could be one of the top pitching prospects in baseball next year if he keeps this up.

Disappointment of the First Half

The Twins invested $1M in young first baseman Henry Sanchez last summer and so far the results are not good. The 260-pound first baseman has only hit 4 HR this year an is striking out in nearly 40% of his plate appearances. To make matters worse, Sanchez has already committed over a dozen errors at first base this year.

South Atlantic League

Here are some of the league’s top pitchers during the first half of the season:

ORG AGE  PLAYER              IP  W  L   H   BB  K HR   ERA FIP-ERA
Bal  18  Brandon Erbe      61.2  4  4   50  17  73  1  2.34    2.06  Third round pick in 2005
Lad  23  Cory Wade         70.0  4  2   64   8  74  3  3.73    2.31  29 K and 3 BB in June
Nym  19  Jonathan Niese    66.1  7  4   72  37  80  0  3.66    2.79
Phi  22  Matthew Maloney   80.2  4  5   50  30  93  3  1.56    2.83  Leads league in strikeouts
Hou  22  Thomas Fairchild  87.2  8  3   72  18  79  5  1.85    2.97
Pit  21  Todd Redmond      68.1  5  4   60  11  65  4  2.77    3.00
Phi  19  Carlos Carrasco   76.2  4  4   55  29  83  3  2.47    2.98  Minor knee injury last week
Bal  26  Manny Basilio     67.2  5  2   53  16  54  2  2.26    3.02
Bos  19  Michael Bowden    58.0  4  3   56  12  68  6  3.72    3.07  5.78 ERA in April
Mil  24  Derek Miller      69.2  7  1   75  27  76  4  3.88    3.16

The top hitters are once again ranked according to Gross Production Average (GPA):

ORG AGE  PLAYER             POS   AB   H  BB  SO  HR   GPA
Atl  21  Kala Kaaihue        1B  225  75  51  65  15  .363  Leads league with .622 SLG
Bos  23  Jeff Natale         2B  175  60  41  20  10  .362  Promoted to Carolina League
Fla  22  Gaby Sanchez        1B  189  60  39  20  14  .352
Lad  22  Sergei Pedroza      OF  233  66  58  70  15  .343  Tied for league lead in HR
Hou  23  Ole Sheldon         1B  201  69  38  33   3  .332
Hou  22  Justin Towles        C  175  58  15  31   8  .320
Lad  23  Andrew Locke        OF  240  79  19  41   8  .310
Hou  22  Mark Ori            1B  182  57  19  45   7  .306
Pit  22  Brent Lillibridge   SS  253  72  49  58  10  .305  20-for-25 in SB attempts
Bal  24  Ryan Finan          1B  209  57  47  46   9  .303

All Star Most Likely to Succeed

You probably know all about the risks associated with young pitchers, but I’m going to go with the 18-year-old who is striking out nearly 11 batters per 9 innings. I’m most impressed with Brandon Erbe‘s consistency this season. Until last weekend, Erbe had not allowed any more than 3 earned runs in a start.

All Star Most Likely to Struggle

Relief pitcher Cory Stuart is having a nice season so far, but he’s older than much of his competition, injury-prone, and has been ineffective away from his pitcher-friendly home park.

Pleasant Surprise of the First Half

Kala Kaaihue just keeps on slugging for the Rome Braves. He has demonstrated outstanding on-base skills and league-leading power this year. He plays half his games in a pitcher-friendly home park, so you need to check out his slugging percentage on the road to fully appreciate his dominance at the plate this year.

Disappointment of the First Half

A couple of young shortstops, C.J. Henry and Elvis Andrus, share this honor. Many people believe both players have a chance to be the parent club’s shortstop of the future, but both ballplayers are struggling at the plate and on the field in the South Atlantic League. The Yankees’ C.J. Henry is hitting .225 this year and had a 3-error game last week. Andrus has only been a bit better at the plate, but he’s not making up for it in the field. He had his own 3-error game in April and has made 10 errors in the past month alone.

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