I thought it would be appropriate to highlight some of the individual parts of what made up the 2012 Texas League Champions. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to feature the top 5 hitters (according to regular season wRC+), the top 5 pitchers (according to regular season FIP), and a few honorable mentions. If you feel like I’ve neglected any players, feel free to discuss them in the comments section.
Before following the jump to the rest of the post, enjoy a video recap of Springfield’s triumphant season:
Oscar Taveras, CF (.415 wOBA, 161 wRC+): In Future Redbirds’ 2012 top 20 prospects ranking, azruavatar declared that Taveras, “might be the highest upside position player the Cardinals have had in the system since Colby Rasmus.” Taveras fulfilled this comparison by posting very similar numbers to Colby’s 2007 season in Springfield (.414 wOBA, 152 wRC+). Taveras hit for more power (.572 SLG was 21 pts higher), struck out half as often (10.5% compared to Colby’s 19.4%), and did so at a younger age (Taveras turned 20 in June 2012 while Colby turned 21 in August 2007). And we’re not the only ones gushing over the kid. See Kevin Goldstein’s twitter profile here and here.
Greg Garcia, SS (.378 wOBA, 137 wRC+): Out of the two middle infielders that used to make up Hawaii’s double-play combination, Garcia surprised by having the better season. Although he is one year older than Kolten Wong, he’s still age-appropriate for his league. Garcia’s major skill is the ability to draw walks as demonstrated by his impressive 15.9% BB%. He doesn’t have a ton of power but did manage to pop 10 HRs and 20 2Bs, not insignificant totals for a SS. His 20 errors and .966 fielding percentage (terrible stat, but what else do we have for minor leaguers?) sound unappealing, but these numbers were not that far removed from other Texas League shortstops. He’ll crack some (all?) top-20 lists next spring.
Jermaine Curtis, 3B (.372 wOBA, 132 wRC+): Curtis has struggled to climb his way out of double-A. He debuted at Springfield in 2010 and found himself stuck at the same level at the end of 2012, but he was a pivotal cog in its offensive machine. Curtis walked (10.7% BB%) about as often as he struck out (11.4% K%), a skill that he’s repeated over time, but his slugging percentage actually decreased from 2011 and not many players can sustain a .358 BABIP. Given his age and experience at the double-A level, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of projectability here.
Chris Swauger, OF (.354 wOBA, 121 wRC+): One of the veterans lauded for positively influencing Springfield’s roster (see Kary Booher’s article), Swauger enjoyed a fine season after struggling in brief exposure to triple-A Memphis. Of players with at least 100 PAs, Swauger’s .474 slugging percentage ranked second to Taveras. His power, although a welcome addition to Springfield’s lineup, was not substantial enough to overcome a poor walk rate (6.0%) and advanced age (25-years-old) in terms of prospect status.
Xavier Scruggs, 1B (.346 wOBA, 115 wRC+): Scruggs started off the season ice-cold with an isolated slugging well below .200 in Mar/April (.130) and May (.156). And then June happened. By far his best month of the season, he mashed to the tune of a .356 ISO on the strength of 7 HRs. He couldn’t maintain that pace for the rest of the season, but he was able to hover around the .200 mark in the final two months. Scruggs’ achilles heel is his tendency to strike out. Of the players with at least 100 PAs, his 28.7% K% was the worst rate on the roster.
Scott Gorgen (92.3 IP, 4.09/3.57 ERA/FIP): In his first taste of triple-A, Gorgen underwhelmed by posting fewer strikeouts (16.2%) and more walks (11.8%). Consequently, he spent another season in Springfield where he debuted in 2009. Gorgen responded by striking out more than a batter per inning for the first time since low-A (2008). His inflated ERA (when compared to FIP) can partially be explained by an elevated .325 BABIP. While a perfectly fine pitcher, he’s the type in danger of getting squeezed out of the organization because of an influx of younger arms with greater promise, some of whom are already offering superior results.
Seth Maness (123.7 IP, 3.27/3.59 ERA/FIP): Admittedly, Maness is one of my favorite prospects. It’s easy to become fascinated by players who possess one freakish skill. For Maness, that’s the ability to avoid walks. In a season split between two levels (Palm Beach & Springfield), Maness walked 10 batters in 169.7 IP. That’s a 1.5% BB%. Let that sink in. His 9.22 K/BB ratio led all Texas League pitchers with at least 100 IP (next closest pitcher had 3.95 K/BB) despite a below average 16.4% K%. Maness’ disdain for the walk is truly incredible. Revisit the interview Jeff conducted with Maness back in July.
Carlos Martinez (71.3 IP, 2.90/3.84 ERA/FIP): Some have predicted that Martinez will end up in the back of an MLB bullpen (you can find a Goldstein quote in this Derrick Goold Birdland post from February 2012), but his minor league performance hasn’t really cooperated with that forecast as he’s yet to fail as a starter. The shiny 2.90 ERA might have been the result of some luck as his .280 BABIP and slightly deflated strikeout rate (19.7%, compared to 23.4% career) would suggest, but he coaxed a ton of ground balls (57.4%) and allowed very few line drives (10.0%) at the ripe age of 20, so there’s plenty of room for optimism.
Eric Fornataro (67.7 IP, 2.39/3.07 ERA/FIP): It’s hard to get too excited about a guy who’s been around since 2008 but just now made it to double-A at the age of 24. Fornataro did feature better than league average control (6.3% BB%) and kept the ball on the ground (55.0%), but his strikeouts descended further below an already unimpressive rate. He served his role on this team well but it’s tough to imagine him ever reaching St. Louis at his current pace.
Keith Butler (58.7 IP, 2.76/3.52 ERA/FIP): After time spent at three different levels in 2011, Butler advanced for a full season at double-A. His strikeouts fell to a less outlandish rate (33.3% in 2011 to 23.8%) but he also shaved a couple percentage points off of his walk-rate to help compensate.
Kolten Wong (.339 wOBA, 111 wRC+): After a promising start to 2012, Wong’s numbers deflated over the summer’s final months and his slugging percentage dropped 100 points from his time in Quad Cities in 2011. Much of that downturn occurred in July when Wong suffered through 121 PAs with a .242 BABIP. Was that simply misfortune or the sign of a player wearing down in his first full season of professional baseball? Either way, his numbers recovered in August & September despite a walk rate that plummeted to 3.5%. Let’s hope Wong can recharge his batteries and have a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League.
Michael Wacha (8.0 IP, 1.13/0.08 ERA/FIP): Touted as a quick-mover through the system, Wacha made some believers by striking out more than half (53.3%) of the batters he faced in 21.0 IP spread across 3 levels and ending in Springfield. The batted ball rates (reliability questionable) he generated were also quite impressive (51.6% GB%, 9.7% LD%). I’m definitely more excited about him now than I was the day he was compared to Jon Garland. MLB.com already has him rated as the Cards’ 7th best prospect.
Boone Whiting (12.0 IP, 1.50/2.70 ERA/FIP): Whiting started 2012 on the disabled list but he finally surfaced for Quad Cities in August and then snuck in a couple of starts for Springfield before the playoffs. I thought Whiting was worth including in this post because he did pitch the deciding fifth game against Tulsa in the opening round of the playoffs, but we didn’t learn much about him this season because of the injury. It’ll be interesting to see how his stuff (powered by a plus changeup) translates to higher levels of competition. Next stop: Arizona Fall League.