One man’s Minor League MVP choices

By Sam Dykstra

Even though the Minor League season has met its conclusion, the Major League season continues to roll along toward its close, and that means it’s the time that everyone begins to hoot and holler over who should win the MVP award in each league. It’s a time for debate, even if that sometimes takes the turn toward the vitriolic. (I mean, really, everybody. We’re debating whether Player X is “more valuable” than Player Y. There’s no reason for it to get personal.)

Anyways, we’ve already had a full season and postseason of Minor League ball behind us, so it’s high time to present my picks for the MVP in each of the 10 full-season circuits. A couple of notes first. Each league gives out its own awards for this, and I’ve pointed that out below. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don’t. So it goes. Also, it’s important to remember that these are league-based. Some of the best performances — George Springer, Miguel Sano, Garin Cecchini to name a few — go unrewarded here because their seasons were split between two leagues. (Some truly dominant split seasons do have spots below, though. You’ll see what I mean.)

Enough with disclaimers, let’s get to the awards.

International League: Chris Colabello, Rochester – We start with what may be the easiest selection of the group. Colabello, who signed with the Twins as a Minor League free agent in 2012 after spending seven seasons in the independent Can-Am League, destroyed IL pitching this season. No one else was as good in this particular Triple-A circuit — at least those who spent enough time in the league to qualify — and it wasn’t even close. The Red Wings first baseman led the league with a .352 average. His nearest competitor (Jeff Kobernus, Syracuse) batted .318. His lead in slugging was just as impressive — .639 vs. runner-up Mauro Gomez’s .521 for Buffalo.  He also closed out the slash line Triple Crown with a .427 OBP and thus his IL-best 1.066 OPS. He could have led the league in homers (24, sixth) and RBIs (76, fourth) had the Twins not called him up to play 51 games in the Majors, as of Saturday. Even if he only played in 89 games in Triple-A, you’d be hard-pressed to even think about a more dominant season at that level. (Actual MVP: Colabello)

Colabello 800

Pacific Coast League: Dean Anna, Tucson – This one was not as simple. I admittedly had to bang this around for longer than the other leagues before landing on the Padres middle infielder. The league voters went with D-backs No. 3 prospect Chris Owings, so let’s do some comparing. Anna grabs the attention because he was the PCL batting champion with a .331 average, but Owings wasn’t too far behind at .330. Owings was better at collecting home runs (12-9), RBIs (81-73) and steals (20-3). That’s obviously a lot going for him. Still, Anna held a lead in walks (61-22) and OBP (.410-.359) while tying in slugging (.482) — therefore, giving him the better OPS (.892-.841) — and striking out significantly less than the Reno shortstop (65-99). The way I see it, yes Owings had the better power numbers, but he struck out too much and didn’t walk enough to earn my nod over Anna. (Actual MVP: Owings)

(For what it’s worth, Corey Dickerson was running away with the award with a .371/.414/.632 line over 75 games for Colorado Springs before the Rockies called him up for good in late July. I don’t think he minds.)

Eastern League: Allan Dykstra, Binghamton – Is there such thing as a name homer? If there is, I’m probably it. There aren’t enough Dykstras out there, OK? We need to stick together. Anyways if you can look past any bias, (not-my-cousin Allan) Dykstra is the clear choice here. After returning to the B-Mets for the third straight season, the 26-year-old first baseman/DH erupted in 2013 to lead the Eastern League in OBP (.436) and OPS (.938). He walked an incredible 102 times for a rate of 20.9 percent. There was plenty of power there too as he hit 21 homers (fifth in the EL) and drove in 82 runs (fourth). Teammate Cesar Puello (.326/.403/.547/16/73) could have challenged Dykstra for this award until his season came to a premature end when he was suspended 50 games for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. (Actual MVP: Dykstra)

Southern League: Marcus Semien, Birmingham – With apologies to Dan Black, this pretty much comes down to Semien and Joc Pederson of Chattanooga. Semien had the upper hand in average, OBP and OPS — .290/.420/.903 vs. .278/.381/.878 — while Pederson led in homers, RBIs and stolen bases — 22/58/31 vs. 15/49/20. You can stare at the numbers until you’re blue in the face, and you still might not be able to decide exactly who had the better year in the southeast Double-A circuit. Here are my tie-breakers. Both undoubtedly reached base at a nice clip, but Semien also struck out far less (66 times in 393 at-bats) compared to Pederson (114 in 439). In fact, he walked more (84) than he struck out this season. Doing that while splitting time in the middle of the infield where offense is usually at a premium, Semien earned the edge in my mind. (Actual MVP: Semien)

Semien

Texas League: Anthony Aliotti, Midland – I thought this was an easy pick. The RockHounds first baseman won the Double-A slash line Triple Crown with a .350/.452/.541 performance in 91 games this season. His .993 OPS in Midland was 130 points clear of Springfield’s Xavier Scruggs (.863) and 55 points above Dykstra for best in the three Double-A circuits. Apparently, Texas League voters disagreed with me. They chose George Springer, who of course thrived with a .297 average, .978 OPS, 19 homers, 55 RBIs and 23 steals for Corpus Christi. But that came over 323 plate appearances in 73 games, rendering him ineligible in the league’s hitting categories. Listen, Springer was outstanding in his time with Corpus Christi, but his last game in a Hooks uniform before moving up to Triple-A Oklahoma City was the Texas League All-Star Game. Aliotti at least played part of the second half in Double-A, and for that, I give him the nod here while reserving my right to contradict myself later. You’ll see what I mean. (Actual MVP: Springer)

California League: Zach Borenstein, Inland Empire – I’ll make this one short. Borenstein led the Cal League in average (.337), slugging (.631), OPS (1.034) and homers (28). He ranked third in both OBP (.403) and RBIs (95). Delino DeShields, with a .405 OBP and league-best 51 steals, is the closest competition the 66ers first baseman had, and even then, it’s still Borenstein walking away. (Actual MVP: Borenstein)

Carolina League: Chris Curley, Winston-Salem – The Dash shortstop/third baseman led the Carolina League with 24 homers and 92 RBIs and although his .280 average kept him from winning the circuit’s Triple Crown, his .821 OPS was good enough for sixth. Potomac teammates Michael Taylor (51 steals, 87 RBIs) and Billy Burns (54 steals, .813 OPS) were also contenders. (Actual MVP: Curley)

Florida State League: Javier Baez, Daytona – Here’s where I’ll contradict myself, albeit because the cases are different. In the Texas League, there was a MVP candidate who both qualified in hitting categories and was dominant in them. I don’t see that here in the FSL. Sure, Dustin Lawley led with 25 homers and finished second with 92 RBIs, but his .260/.313/.512 slash line leaves something to be desired. Baez, on the other hand, was a dominant force over 76 games in an otherwise pitcher-friendly league. He owned a .274/.338/.535 slash line — better than Lawley across the board — and hit 17 homers and 57 RBIs to put him on a pace that would have at least matched his St. Lucie counterpart, if not exceeded had his power continued to grow like it did in Tennessee. That being said, you can’t hand this to Baez based on projection and I assure you I’m not. I just believe he’s most deserving of the honor because he performed the best over an acceptable sample size. (Actual MVP: Lawley)

Javier Baez

Midwest League: Byron Buxton, Cedar Rapids – Basically, see above. Except this time, the voters support me. Buxton put up a .341/.431/.559 line with eight homers, 10 triples, 15 doubles, 55 RBIs and 32 steals and added stellar defense in 68 games for the Kernels. He moved up to Class A Advanced Fort Myers in June, but he spent half of his first full pro season in Cedar Rapids building what I think is the most impressive campaign by a position player this year. He beats out fellow blue-chipper Carlos Correa (.320 average, .872 OPS), Rays prospect Andrew Toles (.326 average, 62 steals) and Cedar Rapids teammate Adam Brett Walker II (27 homers, 109 RBIs) for this spot. As good as those three were, their overall performances just don’t scream award-winner quite like Buxton’s did. (Actual MVP: Buxton)

Buxton

South Atlantic League: Rosell Herrera, Asheville – Herrera put on one of the best turnaround performances in the Minors this season. After struggling last season to put together a .241 average with a .609 OPS last season for Asheville and Class A Short-Season Tri-City, he broke out with a .343/.419/.515 line, 16 homers and 76 RBIs back in the Sally League in 2013. He won the circuit’s batting title by a 28 points over teammate Francisco Sosa (.315) and finished third with his .933 OPS. Joey Gallo might have caught a lot of attention for his league-leading 38 homers, but Herrera’s numbers across the board are just too good to ignore. (Actual MVP: Herrera)

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