With the Minor League regular season winding down and the playoffs starting next week (congrats to the Brewers for winning the rookie-level Arizona League crown — Reds 2010 first-rounder Yasmani Grandal caught for the Reds in that title game), some players are putting on the finishing touches of some fine statistical performances. What they mean or how impressive they are might be in the eye of the beholder, but maybe some context will help.
Let’s start with Matt Moore, the Rays left-handed pitching prospect. With 11 strikeouts on Wednesday, he surpassed the 200-strikeout plateau for the season and is up to 208. That hasn’t happened since 2005, when Francisco Liriano did it (204). It’s the most K’s by a Minor League pitcher since Clint Nageotte piled up 214 back in 2002 (that turned out well). Moore would potentially have one more start to eclipse that number, but with his Charlotte Stone Crabs playoff-bound, they’re going to save him for the opener of the postseason.
It sound fairly impressive and rare… until you dig a little deeper. In 2001, for example, two pitchers topped 200 K’s, Josh Beckett and Brandon Claussen. David Williams did it in 2000, John Stephens hit the mark in 1999 and, get this, there were six at 200 or above in 1998. So it’s more that it hasn’t happened so much recently, perhaps because teams have gotten so much more cautious with innings and pitch counts.
Perhaps more intriguing is that Moore will end up leading all of Minor League Baseball in strikeouts for the second consecutive year. He topped MiLB with 176 K’s in his first taste of full-season ball in 2009. He’s got a 12.9 K/9 rate over the last two seasons and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a full-time starter with a better rate than that in the same time frame. I went back as far as 1990 and didn’t find a single instance of a pitcher winning back-to-back strikeout titles in the Minors. How significant is that? You decide, but it’s at the very least an interesting factoid.
On to the other bit of statistical fun. I read recently how Giants prospect Brandon Belt joined a small and elite group of Minor Leaguers to go 20-20-20 — 20 doubles, homers and steals. Right now he’s got 40 doubles, 22 homers and 22 steals, numbers that make him a definite candidate for MiLB Hitter of the Year. The only other player to pull off this feat so far is the Mariners’ Nick Franklin, who in his first full season is at 22-22-25.
How special is this triple play? I’m not sure. There are several players who are close to reaching the plateau: Melky Mesa (21-19-31), Jerry Sands (28-34-18), Danny Espinosa (18-22-25), Domonic Brown (22-20-17) and Brad Snyder (33-23-17). Brown might be the most impressive since he’s spent 25 games in the big leagues. Snyder is up now with the Cubs, so he won’t get any further.
I think it’s a nice feather in the cap, but keep in mind that 14 players did it in the big leagues in 2009, albeit in a longer season. On the flip side, only two have gotten there so far this year.