Checking in on the Florida State and Texas Leagues

The All-Star games are already underway in the minor leagues, so this is as good a time as any to do some mid-season assessments. Over the next three weeks, I’ll review some of the best and worst performances in each of the full-season minor leagues. We’ll start today with the Advanced Single-A Florida State League and the Double-A Texas League.

Florida State League

The Florida State League (FSL) is a 12-team league that is home to the advanced Single-A teams for eight National League and four American League organizations. The average age for both pitchers and hitters in the FSL is about 23-years-old. Prospects in this league are usually at least two years away from contributing to the parent club. The Florida State League has a reputation for being a pitcher-friendly league, and that’s as true as ever this year. The league RA (runs allowed per 9 innings) is down to 4.52 this year, after hovering near the 4.70 mark for the past two seasons.

The West All-Stars defeated the East All-Stars by a score of 7-4 on Saturday. Mets prospect Ambiorix Concepcion hit a three-run home run for the East All-Stars, but the West All-Stars pitchers stole the show early in the game. Twins prospect Kevin Slowey and Reds prospect Homer Bailey struck out the first six batters of the game for the West All-Stars. Blue Jays prospect Ryan Patterson won the home run derby contest and later picked up 3 RBIs for the West All-Stars.

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

ORG AGE  PLAYER            IP    W  L  H   K   BB  HR  ERA  FIP-ERA
Min  21  Kevin Slowey      81.2  4  1  48  92   7   2  1.10    1.71  0 runs allowed in June
Mil  21  Yovani Gallardo   73.0  6  3  51 100  20   4  1.97    2.13  33 K in last 23 IP
Fla  21  Jose Garcia       77.0  6  2  60  69  16   3  1.87    2.63  Promoted to Southern League
Tor  21  Jesse Litsch      75.2  5  6  80  69   7   5  3.57    2.68  2.67 ERA away from Dunedin
Det  20  Jair Jurrjens     73.2  5  0  53  59  10   4  2.08    2.84 
Chc  20  Sean Gallagher    78.1  4  0  75  80  21   5  2.30    3.03  Promoted to Southern League
Stl  23  Blake Hawksworth  76.2  6  2  68  45  19   0  2.47    3.05
Tor  23  Eric Fowler       73.1  5  5  77  59  22   4  3.80    3.25
Fla  20  Gabriel Hernandez 79.2  7  3  77  79  22   6  4.07    3.26 
Cin  20  Homer Bailey      70.2  3  5  49  79  22   6  3.31    3.26  4.74 ERA in May

Now, let’s take a look at the most productive hitters in the Florida State 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
Chc  23  Jake Fox             C  249  78  27  49  16  .316  Only hitting .239 away from home park
Stl  24  Terry Evans         OF  238  74  20  50  15  .305
Chc  24  Sam Fuld            OF  264  89  30  40   3  .300  
Chc  25  Matt Craig          1B  221  65  33  64   8  .300  30-for-37 in SB attempts
Nyy  22  Brett Gardner       OF  232  75  43  51   0  .299  Leads league in OBP
Tor  24  Dustin Majewski     OF  210  57  47  37   7  .296  Only hitting .226 away from home
Det  23  Jeff Larish         1B  239  60  38  59  12  .287  
Phi  24  Brian Burgamy       OF  210  58  37  57   7  .285  Turns 25 years-old next week
Tor  23  Ryan Patterson      OF  262  78  16  49  14  .284  9 of 14 HR at home park
Tor  24  Ryan Klosterman     SS  241  68  18  62  11  .284  GPA of .256 away from Dunedin

All Star Most Likely to Succeed

It’s never a good idea to identify a young pitcher as “most likely” to do anything, but Yovani Gallardo has the stuff to succeed and his performance has been outstanding this year. He flirted with a no-hitter a couple weeks ago and has struck out 10 or more batters in each of his last three starts. The Florida State League is a relatively friendly environment for pitchers, but it’s uncommon for 20-year-old pitchers to strike out 12 batters per 9 innings in any league.

All Star Most Likely to Struggle

20-year-old Charlie Fermaint started in right field for the East All-Stars and stole a couple bases during the game. Fermaint has good speed and impressive tools all around, but he has not demonstrated much power this year, and most of his value has been tied to his .293 batting average. Unfortunately for Fermaint, he probably won’t be able to maintain that high batting average unless he suddenly stops striking out in 30% of his plate appearances. I expect less production from Fermaint in the second half of the season.

Pleasant Surprise of the First Half

A few months ago, Jose Garcia was relatively unnoticed behind a number of high-profile prospects in the re-stocked Florida Marlins system. He spent his first three seasons of professional baseball in the Dominican Summer League and was expected to return to Single-A Greensboro this year. Instead, he tore through the Florida State League and was promoted to the Double-A Southern League earlier this month. He has only allowed one earned run in his first 12 innings against Double-A competition.

Disappointment of the First Half

Minnesota’s Trevor Plouffe, a former first rounder, is hitting .207 with no home runs for the Fort Myers Miracle this year. Plouffe had a terrible 2005 season at Beloit, and many people thought he would rebound and re-establish himself as a top shortstop prospect this year. That has not happened, and in the meantime the Twins are giving him more starts at third base, where his bat looks even worse. At 20 years of age, however, Plouffe is still far too young to give up on.

The Texas League

The Texas League is the smallest of the three Double-A leagues. There are only eight teams in the Texas League, and the average player is 25 years old. Although most Texas League players are at least another year away from getting a chance at a big league job, top prospects occasionally make the jump from Double-A to the major leagues.

The Texas League is usually the highest run-scoring environment at the Double-A level. This year’s league RA is at 4.8, just slightly under the run-scoring rates of the past two seasons.

The 70th annual Texas League All-Star Game will take place in Little Rock, Arkansas on Tuesday, June 20. The rosters are loaded with some of baseball’s top young hitters.

First, let’s take a look at some of the league’s top pitchers during the first half of the season:

ORG AGE  PLAYER              IP  W  L   H   K  BB  HR  ERA  FIP-ERA
Col  22  Ubaldo Jimenez    68.1  8  2  48  76  37   2  2.63    3.22  1.67 ERA away from Tulsa
Hou  22  Mitch Talbot      64.1  3  3  78  64  24   3  4.20    3.43
Hou  23  Matt Albers       86.1  8  2  70  65  31   4  2.08    3.61  1.14 ERA at Corpus Christi
Col  27  Enmanuel Ulloa    71.2  4  2  68  66  22   6  3.39    3.65
Oak  26  Ray Aguilar       79.1  5  4  86  61  23   6  3.86    3.74    
Hou  27  Joshua Miller     80.1  7  6  86  60  21   6  3.59    3.80
Oak  25  Benjamin Fritz    71.0  1  4  63  51  22   4  3.30    3.83
Sea  21  Yorman Bazardo    57.2  3  2  51  37  19   3  2.97    3.96  Elbow problems last month
Hou  22  Juan Gutierrez    78.2  7  3  76  86  28  10  3.20    4.00  Leads league in strikeouts
Stl  23  Mike Parisi       67.1  3  2  71  56  27   6  4.01    4.10  

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

ORG AGE  PLAYER             POS   AB   H  BB  SO  HR   GPA
Stl  28  Rico Washington     3B  228  75  49  47  13  .359  Sixth season in double-A
Col  24  Joe Koshansky       1B  242  78  35  66  19  .338  Leads league with 19 HR
Oak  25  Vasili Spanos       3B  242  78  29  42   8  .318
Kc   22  Alex Gordon         3B  226  69  34  46   9  .313  Hitting .231 with 0 HR in June
Hou  26  J.R. House           C  260  91  20  26   8  .310  Leads league with .350 batting average
Laa  21  Brandon Wood        SS  257  74  30  88  14  .305  Hitting .247 away from cozy Ray Winder Field
Hou  25  Jorge Cortes        OF  216  70  28  28   3  .304
Hou  25  Ben Zobrist         SS  253  82  39  41   2  .303
Hou  23  Hunter Pence        OF  268  79  21  55  17  .300  12 of 19 HR have been on the road
Kc   20  Billy Butler        OF  264  84  25  40  10  .296

All Star Most Likely to Succeed

Alex Gordon, the top pick from last year’s first-year player draft, didn’t play much professional baseball last summer while negotiating a signing bonus. That did not stop many people from declaring him one of baseball’s top hitting prospects. Gordon’s performance in the Arizona Fall League convinced the Royals to aggressively start him in Double-A Wichita this year, and in hindsight it looks like a sound decision. Gordon has hit for some power and demonstrated outstanding plate discipline, but don’t expect him in Kansas City this year. New general manager Dayton Moore believes players need Triple-A experience before succeeding in the big leagues, so Gordon and Wichita teammate Billy Butler will probably spend at least half a year in Omaha before contributing to the Royals sometime in 2007.

All Star Most Likely to Struggle

Houston Astros pitching prospect Matt Albers has an 8-2 record, a 2.08 ERA, and may earn the start for the Southern Division All-Stars on Tuesday. His component statistics, however, are inconsistent with his impressive results. His ERA will probably rise by another run or two, particularly if he earns a promotion to Round Rock. Albers has benefited a 1.47 ERA with no home runs allowed at spacious Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi, TX.

Pleasant Surprise of the First Half

Joe Koshansky went undrafted as a junior in college two years ago, and last year shocked the Rockies by hitting 36 home runs in the South Atlantic League. Many onlookers dismissed Koshansky and attributed the performance to his advanced age and hitter-friendly home park at Asheville. He’s warranting a second look in the Texas League, where he has a .410 OBP and has hit more home runs (19) than popular sluggers like Brandon Wood, Hunter Pence, and Alex Gordon. Tulsa’s Driller Stadium is a fine place to hit home runs, but Koshansky has actually hit more on the road this season.

Disappointment of the First Half

Rockies third base prospect Ian Stewart has a .251 batting average, .333 OBP, and .429 SLG for Tulsa this season. Stewart posted a .240 OBP for the month of May, but that may represent the low point of his career. He put together a 9-game hitting streak in June and will probably finish the season with something like a .350 OBP. A couple of wrist injuries from the 2005 season may be taking their toll on Stewart; he only has three home runs in a relatively hitter-friendly context this season. That’s an alarming result for a guy who many projected to be a middle-of-the-order bat for the Rockies lineup.

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