Where is the season going? In less than a week, the calendar will flip from June to July, Minor League All-Star games have been played in many leagues, and teams are recalling top prospects and depth prospects alike to give them a shot at an MLB role. With this in mind, it’s time for another look at the context for minor league statistics within the Brewers system. This is an important exercise because it should help to underscore the environments within which prospects are working, and potentially raise some questions about statistics lines in either direction (don’t scout the stat line!).
For example, on May 12, I featured the fate of catching prospect Jacob Nottingham, who faced a brutal opposing OPS of .639 in the Southern League in his age-22 season (two years younger than the median age of the league); Nottingham’s extra base profile and walks looked solid behind his poor overall stats line, and since then the catcher continues to hit. Opposing pitcher quality has eased against Nottingham, but it is worth emphasizing that the catcher continues to face a tough Southern League. His .737 OPS is stronger than the opposing .666 mark allowed by his pitching competition, and his ascent from a .581 OPS on May 12 to his current mark does not simply match the extent to which pitching quality has eased in his version of the Southern League. The catcher is batting .318 / .414 / .494 since May 12, slugging 11 extra base hits (2 homers) and posting 15 K / 10 BB in 99 PA. By Total Average (TAv), Nottingham is the third best age-22 regular in the Southern League:
|age-22 Southern League Regulars||G||PA||H||HR||BB||SO||BPF||oppOPS||TAv|
|Josh Van Meter||69||291||62||1||31||61||99||0.697||0.242|
To underscore this feat by Nottingham, and to emphasize the importance of context, the Brewers prospect is young even for the Minor Leagues. Among 123 regulars in the Southern League, only 15 are playing in their age-22 season. Age-22 is quite young for Class-AA professional ball. Fellow Brewers prospects Mauricio Dubon, Javier Betancourt (remember him? He’s performing just as well as the recently promoted Dubon!), and Nottingham share the toughest environment of any of these players. Despite this, Nottingham is the third best age-22 bat in the Southern League (despite facing tough competition). Without context, someone might glance at a .249 Batting Average (AVG) / .350 On-Base Percentage (OBP) / .387 Slugging Percentage (SLG) and scoff at the idea that Nottingham could serve as one of the impact prospects in the Brewers system. In fact, the age-22 Southern League is batting approximately .251 / .306 / .372, which makes Nottingham’s line a standout performance.
This type of exercise could (and should) be repeated across each age group for each minor league level.
With this example in mind, here are how the Brewers regular minor league bats fare in terms of competition at each level.
|Brewers Affiliates (80+ PA)||Age||Median oppOPS||Park (Brewers)||Tough Competition||Easy Competition|
|AAA Pacific Coast (215)||26||.771||100 (113)||Phillips / Orf / Wren / Heineman||Sogard / Nieuwenhuis / Brinson / Susac|
|AA Southern (123)||24||.684||99 (101)||Davis / Nottingham / Reed / Dubon / Charles / Roache||Choice|
|A+ Carolina (124)||23||.711||99 (106)||Ray||McDowell|
|A Midwest (201)||22||.704||102 (104)||Gideon / Cuas / Segovia / Morrison||No One|
Next, the regular minor league arms:
|Brewers Affiliates (26+ IP)||Age||Median oppOPS||Park (Brewers)||Tough Competition||Easy Competition|
|AAA Pacific Coast (182)||26||.7695||101 (115.5)||Dillard / Archer / Wang||Hader / Suter / Kohlscheen / Woodruff / Espino|
|AA Southern (103)||24||.685||99 (101.5)||Uhen / Snow||Lopez / Ortiz / Ventura|
|A+ Carolina (115)||23||.712||98 (107)||Peralta / Burnes / Diplan / Hanhold / Kuntz / Torres-Costa||Yamamoto / Rodriguez|
|A Midwest (169)||22||.706||102 (104)||Desguin / Brown||Webb / Myers|
Compared to earlier surveys of the minor league context in 2017, it appears that several of the Brewers affiliated environments are becoming more moderate. This is reflected in a survey of the Baseball Prospectus Top Ten, where four of the Brewers’ most valuable prospects have found their environment to improve as the year progresses:
|Prospect||Class||June 27 Competition||April 25 Competition||Judgment|
|OF Lewis Brinson||AAA||Easy||Easy||-|
|LHP Josh Hader||AAA||Easy||Tough||Improved|
|OF Corey Ray||A+||Tough||Tough||-|
|2B Isan Diaz||A+||Moderate||Moderate||-|
|RHP Luis Ortiz||AA||Easy||Moderate||Improved|
|OF Brett Phillips||AAA||Tough||Moderate||Declined|
|OF Trent Clark||A+||Moderate||Moderate||-|
|3B Lucas Erceg||A+||Moderate||Tough||Improved|
|IF Mauricio Dubon||AA||Tough||Tough||-|
|RHP Cody Ponce||A+||Moderate||Tough||Improved|