The most improved minor league hitters of 2007

Who were the most improved minor league hitters in 2007? To answer this question, I compared players’ league- and park-adjusted rates from 2005-2006 and compared them to their 2007 performances. I’ve listed the top three improved hitters (along with a handful of honorable mentions) as judged by strikeout rate, walk rate, and isolated power (slugging percentage – batting average).

Most Improved Contact

Wladimir Balentien

Seattle Mariners | OF | 23 years old

            SO%   BB%  ISOP
2005   A+ 23.8%  6.1%  .262
2006  AA  29.7% 13.4%  .205
2007 AAA  19.2% 10.4%  .218

Balentien has developed into a complete hitter over the past two seasons. While he has always had exceptional raw power, he added patience to his repertoire in 2006 and walked more times in that season than he had in his entire professional career. In 2007, Balentien drastically cut down on his strikeouts while maintaining above-average patience and power. He still won’t be a high average hitter in the major leagues, but he can now hit enough to be a good fourth outfielder and useful power bat off the bench for the Mariners.

Reid Brignac

Tampa Bay Devil Rays | SS | 21 years old

           PA   SO%   BB%  ISOP
2005   A  565 23.2%  7.1%  .152
2006   A+ 455 18.0%  7.7%  .231
2006  AA  121 24.6%  5.8%  .173
2007  AA  599 15.7%  9.7%  .173

Brignac experienced a breakout season at the hitter-friendly California League last year, and his plate approach continued to improve as he posted career-best walk rates and strikeout rates in the Southern League this year. His traditional statistics were underwhelming in 2007 as he only hit .260 in a full season with the Montgomery Biscuits. The components of that performance are highly encouraging, however.

Asdrubal Cabrera

Cleveland Indians | 2B/SS | 21 years old

           PA   SO%   BB%  ISOP
2005   A  229 14.0% 13.2%  .156
2005   A+ 244 19.3%  6.1%  .134
2006 AAA  233 21.9% 10.8%  .124
2006 AAA  208 18.8%  3.8%  .074
2007  AA  425  9.9% 10.6%  .144
2007 MLB  186 15.6%  9.1%  .138

Cabrera was widely regarded as a defense-only infielder until this year, and it was hard to view him as anything else given the way he was rushed to Triple-A and overmatched against much more experienced pitchers. Cabrera struck out so often that he only posted .263 and .236 batting averages for Tacoma and Buffalo last year. He started the 2007 season down a level in the Double-A Eastern League, where he made contact enough to post a .310 batting average and .381 OBP. By the end of the season, he was maintaining those skills in the middle of a major league pennant race.

Honorable Mentions: Chris Nelson, Paulo Orlando, Nelson Robledo, and Nate Schierholtz

Most Improved Walk Rates

Neil Walker

Pittsburgh Pirates | 3B | 22 years old

           PA   SO%   BB%  ISOP
2005   A  520 13.7%  3.9%  .151
2006   A+ 294 13.9%  6.5%  .125
2007  AA  431 14.8% 11.4%  .174

The switch-hitting Walker improved his on-base skills and power production while learning a new position in 2007. The Pittsburgh-area native has always possessed a pretty swing, and now his well-rounded offensive performance deserves positive attention as well.

Matt Tuiasosopo

Seattle Mariners | 3B | 21 years old

           PA   SO%   BB%  ISOP
2005   A  466 20.7%  9.5%  .110
2006   A  252 23.0%  5.6%  .073
2006  AA  240 26.7%  8.3%  .033
2007  AA  550 20.5% 14.2%  .144

It looked like Tuiasosopo made a mistake. He was lured away from a promising football career when the Mariners offered him a $2.3 million signing bonus, and he struggled at every level until this year. In 2007, he cut down on his strikeouts and was among the league’s top ten line drive hitters and top ten most patient hitters. And he’s only 21 years old.

Drew Macias

Drew Macias | CF | 24 years old

           PA   SO%   BB%  ISOP
2005   A+ 546 14.2%  8.3%  .107
2006  AA  485 19.4%  9.1%  .109
2007  AA  394 13.5% 13.7%  .148
2007 AAA  131 19.1% 16.0%  .127

While the light-hitting Macias batted in the bottom half of his teams’ lineup all year, he demonstrated the speed and patience of a traditional leadoff hitter. Macias was called up to San Diego in the final week of the 2007 season, but he did not get an at-bat.

Honorable Mentions: Eric Campbell, Dexter Fowler, John Jaso, and Alan Rick

Most Improved Power

Geovany Soto

Chicago Cubs | C | 24 years old

           PA   SO%   BB%  ISOP
2005 AAA  345 22.3% 13.9%  .089
2006 AAA  391 21.0% 10.5%  .114
2007 AAA  447 23.3% 11.6%  .299

Soto has a strong arm and good skills behind the plate, and was viewed as a well-rounded backup catcher for most of his career. Then, he launched 26 home runs and drove in 109 runs in only 110 games for Triple-A Iowa this year. Soto will compete for the starting job in Chicago in 2008.

Chase Headley

San Diego Padres | 3B | 23 years old

           PA   SO%   BB%  ISOP
2005   A- 260 13.1% 13.1%  .173
2006   A+ 570 16.8% 13.0%  .143
2007  AA  529 21.6% 15.3%  .250

Headley was in a hitter-friendly league, but 63 extra-base hits is noteworthy in any context. He may force a trade or position move for the Padres’ Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Jed Lowrie

Boston Red Sox | 2B/SS | 23 years old

           PA   SO%   BB%  ISOP
2005   A- 240 12.5% 14.2%  .120
2006   A+ 436 14.9% 12.4%  .112
2007  AA  337 14.2% 16.4%  .204
2007 AAA  177 18.6%  6.8%  .206

Did Lowrie improve or was he just finally healthy? Either way, he quietly emerged as a top prospect while Boston’s major league rookies were grabbing the spotlight during the 2007 season. Lowrie has always demonstrated exceptional on-base skills, and his improved power production suggests he’s a well-rounded hitter who could compete for a role in Boston as soon as next year.

Honorable Mentions: Jeff Clement, Fernando Perez, Pablo Sandoval, and Jordan Schafer

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