This or That: Early-season edition
By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com
Before the season began, we all had our questions about what was about to happen. With two weeks of Minor League Baseball almost under our belts, we have some answers, but there are also plenty more questions. Here is a binary attempt to wade through some of these.
Which batter’s hot start is the most impressive?
Nothing like starting off with a bang. Both Polanco and Betts ran away with the International and Eastern League Offensive Player of the Week awards, and it wasn’t even close. As of Tuesday, Polanco is slashing .465/.511/.744 with two homers, two triples, two doubles and 11 RBIs through his first 11 games with Triple-A Indianapolis. Betts owns a .450/.500/.725 line with six doubles, a triple, a homer, five RBIs and four steals with Double-A Portland.
To split hairs here and call one “more impressive” almost seems unfair, but we don’t call this “This AND That” after all. There needs to be a tie-breaker, and as it turns out, batting against same-side pitching appears to be the perfect one.
Polanco, a left-handed batter, is 10-for-19 (.526) against southpaws compared to 10-for-24 (.417) in the early going against right-handers. (This isn’t a new phenomenon; the Pirates prospect batted .281 against left-handers in half a season at Double-A Altoona compared to .253 against right-handers.) The splits for Betts, a right-hander, are more predictable. He’s owned lefties, going 7-for-12 (.583) with four walks, while handling right-handers quite well with a 11-for-28 (.393) showing thus far.
Betts’s numbers are obviously nice and desirable, but Polanco has stripped away the same-side advantage pitchers usually own over their hitting counterparts. That earns him the check mark here. Decision: Polanco
Which 2013 first-rounder is making the best transition to full-season ball?
We go to the Southern League for our two nominees in this category. Bryant — the third overall pick by the Cubs last June — has picked up right where he left off last year with an impressive full-season debut for Double-A Tennessee. The 22-year-old third baseman is among the league leaders in homers (three, second) and slugging percentage (.606, sixth) through his first 10 games of the season. That shouldn’t take anyone by surprise, given that he’s got a 70 power tool according to MLB.com, but those numbers count for points in his favor nonetheless. You can tack on a few more for his 17.1 percent walk rate and .415 OBP.
By a similar token, Hursh — the 31st overall pick by the Braves — is living up to his own reputation on the mound. His heavy sinking fastball, which comes with his developing slider and changeup, should generate a lot of ground balls, and that’s been the case so far with Mississippi. The 6-foot-3 right-hander has recorded 18 groundouts in his first two outings (10 innings) compared to only two flyouts. While he’s added only four strikeouts in that span, Hursh has shown an ability to command the zone (two walks) and be efficient (127 pitches in 10 innings). (Read up on Hursh here.)
Hursh’s ability to keep the ball on the ground makes this closer than their Draft position would initially suggest, but Bryant’s impressive all-around resume gets him the nod here. Decision: Bryant
Which top-100 prospect is doing better job of meeting expectations in the PCL?
Sticking with the same-circuit theme here, we move to the Pacific Coast League, where both Bradley and Pederson began their seasons after flirtations with the Majors during Spring Training.
Bradley tossed five scoreless innings en route to a win in his debut with Triple-A Reno on April 6 and then took a tough-luck loss last Friday, despite giving up two runs on three hits and two walks in seven strong innings. As it stands, the 21-year-old right-hander, who lost a potential spot in the D-backs rotation to Randall Delgado, owns a 1.50 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and eight strikeouts through 12 innings.
Pederson, who was featured in our PCL Notebook this week, also shot out of the gate for Triple-A Albuquerque after being left out of the Dodgers’ crowded outfield. The left-handed center fielder has hits in nine of his 11 games and has flashed some decent power (three homers, three doubles) along the way. He also continues to reach base at an incredible rate with 11 walks and a .520 OBP that rank first and fourth in the PCL, respectively. His four steals also place him in a four-way tie for fourth.
It’s early, but Pederson has flashed the impressive all-around game that led MLB.com to place him at No. 34 overall in its prospect rankings. Meanwhile, the start for Bradley (No. 5) is also noteworthy, but you’d hope to see more strikeouts from the right-hander, who posted a 9.59 K/9 last season. Assuming neither has been called up beforehand, the two could square off from May 23-26 when Albuquerque hosts Reno. Decision: Pederson