Sluggers on the Rise

The minor leagues has a history of 40 homerun hitters who never made an impact in the major leagues. Some of those names include Brandon Wood (43 - 2005), Dallas McPherson (40 - 2004) and Todd Greene (40 - 1995). Other players such as Ron Kittle (50 - 1982), Russell Branyan (40 - 1996) and Ryan Howard (46 - 2004) were expected to make more of a contribution once they reached the major leagues. For many of these players low walk rates and a high strikeout rates led to their failures as they faced more advanced pitching.

With the domination of pitchers in the major leagues myworld thought we’d take a look at some of the breakout sluggers in the minor leagues. It is probably the first year four or more players could break 40 plus homeruns.

Joey Gallo (3b) Rangers - He is probably the player that shows the most power. He wowed the fans who witnessed him hit upper deck shots during batting practice at the Twins major league park in the Future’s Game. Many would have liked to see him hit in the major league homerun derby. This year he has 41 homeruns combined through High A and AA. At High A he hit .323 with a 51/64 walk to whiff ratio. In AA he has shown a bit of a struggle with a .235 average and an alarming 31/109 walk to whiff ratio in just 64 games. Last year he hit 40 homeruns making him the only player on this list who has achieved back to back 40 homerun seasons.

Kris Bryant (3B) Cubs - Kris may not even get an opportunity to hit back to back 40 homerun seasons in the minor leagues. Last year was his first professional season when he hit 9 homeruns in 36 games, the second player chosen in the 2013 draft. This year his power has flashed 43 homeruns in a 134 game season split between AA and AAA. Kris has not shown too much downturn in his numbers from AA (.355, 22 and 1.160 OPS) and AAA (.300, 21 and 1.061 OPS). His walk to whiff ratio is almost equal, 43/77 in AA and 41/80 in AAA so you would expect the same when he reaches the major leagues. Most people expect him to be the Cubs starting third baseman in 2015.

Matt Olson (1B) Athletics - Matt was a first round 2012 compensation pick. Last year he hit 23 homeruns at low A with an unimpressive .235 average. He has raised the stakes this year with his 36 homeruns and a .257 average. One of his biggest improvements is a growing ability to be patient at the plate, his walk totals increasing from 72 to 111. We know how the Athletics love their players who take walks. His OPS is at .938 because of a low batting average. This year he has improved his ability to hit the ball in the air and the balls are flying over the fence.

Peter O’Brien (c/1B) Diamondbacks - He started his season with the Yankees, a second round 2012 pick. The Yankees love their catchers who can hit. Last year O’Brien slugged 22 homeruns but more than half his time was spent in the pitcher friendly Florida State League. The Yankees traded O’Brien to the Diamondbacks to acquire Martin Prado to play third base for them in a last opportunity pennant run for Derek Jeter. O’Brien slugged 33 homeruns for the Yankees two affiliates in High A and AA. He only played four games with the Diamondbacks before an injury sidelined him, threatening his ability to join the 40 homerun club before this season is over.

Steven Moya (OF) Tigers - He was born in Puerto Rico but was raised in the Dominican Republic. At 6′7″ his arms can carry the ball a long way when they get extended. Last year Moya could only smash 12 balls out of the Florida State League parks. The big criticism with him was his inability to make contact with the ball, with an atrocious 18/106 walk to whiff ratio in 93 games. Injuries have prevented him from ever playing over 100 games in a season since his signing in 2009. After a slow start this year when his average anchored below .200 Moya caught fire. He is now hitting .270 with 34 homeruns leading the AA Eastern League in homeruns and RBIs (102). His walk to whiff ratio (21/159) is still not impressive but if he continues to deliver with an .845 OPS the Tigers will not complain. The scary thing about his homerun numbers is this is being done with a poor ground ball to flyball rate. If he hits more flyballs his homerun rate could increase.

Renato Nunez (3B) Athletics) - He and teammate Olson are making for quite a corner infield barrage of balls leaving the park. Nunez was signed out of Venezuela in 2010. His homerun numbers were a little muted his first couple years. This year he has broken out with 29 homeruns and a .280 average. His flyball rate has increased dramatically this year and his walk to whiff ratio has improved from last year (28/136) to this year (34/108).

Miguel Sano (1B/3B/RF) Twins - Last year Miguel Sano was one of the big sluggers with 35 homeruns and a .280 batting average split between High A and AA. Like Gallo he struggled in AA (.236 average) but his walk to whiff ratio was not as discrepant. The Twins were hoping to repeat his AA season but a sore elbow in spring training resulted in Tommy John surgery, ending his 2014 season. The Twins will hope he recovers his power onslaught for the 2015 season. The one big question with Sano is his position as his 6′4″ height makes him too big to play third base. Many expect him to move to first base or the outfield. Miguel has already starred in a documentary with his inability to show proof of his age and the Pirates trying to sign him at below cost because of this issue. The Twins stepped in and signed him to a big contract, the second highest bonus for a Dominican in 2009 after Gary Sanchez.

Javier Baez (SS/2B) Cubs - Last year Javier had a breakout season with 37 homeruns. In his previous seasons he had never hit more than 16 homeruns. The Cubs were high on him, drafting him in the first round of the 2011 draft out of Puerto Rico. This year was a bit of a disappointment with a slow start in AAA. He recovered to salvage his season upping his average to .270 with 23 homeruns. This earned him a promotion to the major league team where his power still impressed (7 homeruns in 23 games) but his inability to make contact (43 whiffs in 99 at bats) has brought his average down to .189. His flyball rate has increased significantly since his promotion to the major leagues, but when 7 of your 18 hits leave the yard that is not a surprise.

Kyle Schwarber (LF) Cubs - Kyle was the fourth pick in the 2014 draft. He was selected after playing catcher in college but the Cubs are giving him a shot in left field. His lack of speed there could be a negative, but his ability to hit for power and drive in runs are a positive. In his first year in the minor leagues he has bashed 18 homeruns in 70 games. He abused pitchers in rookie ball (.600) and low A (.361) which led to quick promotions to High A (.311). In High A he has a nice 26/35 walk to whiff ratio which could make him one of those .300 plus 30 plus homerun hitters when he reaches the major leagues.

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