One MiLB.com writer’s 2014 league-by-league MVP choices
By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com
For about the last week or so, league after league in the Minors has announced their postseason All-Star teams and end-of-season awards. So now that the individual circuits have had their collective says — aided by coaches, front-office people and local media — it’s time for the PROSPECTive blog to weigh in on who should have won the MVP awards in each of the 10 full-season leagues.
International League: Steven Souza Jr., Syracuse – This is about as easy a pick as you’ll find on this post. Souza was the best player in the league from beginning to end in what was the 25-year-old outfielder’s best season by far in the Minors since he was a third-round pick back in 2007. Souza won the IL’s slash-line Triple Crown with an impressive .350/.432/.590 showing, and that alone would be good enough to give him the nod in this space. But for good measure, he tacked on 18 homers, 75 RBIs and 26 steals in 96 games with the Chiefs as a means of showing off his all-around offensive profile, besides helping Syracuse make the playoffs for the first time since 1998. The Nationals called up their No. 5 prospect on two different occasions, and he’s back up with the big club after recovering from a left shoulder contusion suffered at the beginning of last month. Souza hasn’t been able to get his feet under him in the Majors yet (1-for-12, four strikeouts) but has built up a resume worthy of a Major League outfield spot, either in Washington or elsewhere, in 2015. (Actual MVP: Souza)
Pacific Coast League: Joc Pederson, Albuquerque – Another easy selection given the history involved. In case you haven’t visited this blog or the MiLB.com site this season – first, welcome! – Pederson became the first player to record both 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in a PCL season since 1934. He led the league with a .435 OBP and 1.017 OPS and finished third with a .582 slugging percentage. His .303 average wasn’t exactly shabby either. The only thing holding MLB.com’s No. 18 overall prospect in the PCL this season was a crowded Dodgers outfield. Now that rosters are expanded, he’s finally getting his big league chance and has started two of his first three games in center field.
Pederson grabbed his fair share of headlines, but we shouldn’t forget the performance of Salt Lake outfielder Brennan Boesch, who led the PCL in batting average (.332) and slugging percentage (.636) and tied Pederson atop the rankings with a 1.017 OPS. The former Tigers and Yankees slugger added 25 homers and 85 RBIs for the Bees. At 29, Boesch is a Quad-A player at this point, but his numbers do stick out among his PCL peers. He was named the DH on the 2014 All-PCL Team. (Actual MVP: Pederson)
Eastern League: Michael Taylor, Harrisburg – Finally, some dissent! Erie outfielder and Tigers No. 7 prospect Steven Moya was named MVP after leading the league with 35 home runs and 105 RBIs, beating out his next-closest competition in the Triple Crown categories by 12 and 28, respectively. That’s some fantastic production and certainly worthy of MVP discussion, perhaps even leading the talk.
Here’s my issue. Moya’s MVP resume is based solely on power. Taylor’s profile is much more well-rounded. The Nationals’ No. 3 prospect holds a heady advantage in average (.313 vs. .276), OBP (.396 vs. .306) and OPS (.935 vs. .861) and was only slightly behind in slugging (.539 vs. .555). The fact that Taylor reached base in nine percent more of his plate appearances isn’t small potatoes. Of course, the Nats chose to bring him up to Triple-A Syracuse in early August, but he still registered enough time in the Eastern League to qualify for the lead in OPS and finish third in average, fourth in OBP and second in slugging. Among his counting stats, he managed 22 homers, 61 RBIs and 34 steals playing primarily out of the leadoff spot in Harrisburg.
Sure, Moya played more games, but Taylor was better when he did play and still had enough at-bats to qualify for the league leaderboard. Good enough for me. (Actual MVP: Moya)
Southern League: Jake Lamb, Mobile – If you’ve scrolled through here just looking to find Kris Bryant’s name on this list, you won’t find it. Bryant dominated two different leagues for half a season each. In both cases, I believe there was a player who played the entire the season in said circuit and as such deserved to win its top honor. Sorry to disappoint.
For now, let’s not take anything away from Lamb, who, like the four above him, rode a magnificent 2014 season to make his Major League debut. It started in Double-A Mobile, where he won the SL batting title with a .318 average while finishing first in OPS (.949), second in OBP (.399), slugging (.551) and RBIs (79) and third in doubles (35). He was promoted to Triple-A Reno on Aug. 1 and spent only five games with the Aces before joining the D-backs, for whom he’s played 19 games with a .185/.250/.292 line with two homers and nine RBIs. (Actual MVP: Lamb)
Texas League: Joey Gallo, Frisco – No Bryant, but Gallo deserves not one, but two (as you’ll see later) MVP awards? Well, yes, and that’s more of a comment on the two circuits in which he should have won them.
Let’s start in Double-A. Gallo joined Frisco on June 9 and started pulverizing Texas League hurlers from the get-go , homering in four of his first five games. He finished with 21 homers, which was somehow good for second most in the circuit despite playing in only 68 games. The 20-year-old slugger drew some attention for hitting just .232 and striking out 115 times with the RoughRiders. But his .323 on-base percentage, boosted by a 12.4 percent walk rate, was respectable, and his .524 slugging percentage and .858 OPS would have led a Texas League, if he had been there long enough. Simple enough, the Texas League was largely devoid of downright dominant position players in 2014, and Gallo best fit the bill, even if we’re only talking about the second half.
If you’re looking for a more full-season MVP, Northwest Arkansas Lane Adams (.269/.352/.427, 11 homers, 36 RBIs, 38 steals) might be your best bet. The league itself went with Arkansas second baseman Alex Yarbrough, who led the league with 38 doubles and batted .285 with a .718 OPS. Meh. (Actual MVP: Yarbrough)
California League: Marquez Smith, Bakersfield – Talk about being conflicted. On the one hand, you have a 29-year-old slugger who was statistically the best hitter in a league where he was six years older on average than his peers. On the other, there’s one of the most promising young hitters in the game who dominated before breezing out to a higher level. Let’s just lay out their resumes.
Marquez Smith: 121 games, .323/.438/.623, 29 homers, 126 RBIs
Corey Seager: 80 games, .352/.411/.633, 16 homers, 72 RBIs
Man, do those Seager numbers look enticing, but I’m stepping away from them here because unlike the Texas League, there was a player deserving of the MVP trophy who played more than 100 games in the league. Smith was a batting title away from taking the slash line Triple Crown. Still, he finished third in batting. He also led the circuit in RBIs, clearing the runner-up by 26.
You can take away points (or add in the case of Seager) for age, if you want, but this award is for MVP, not Most Promising Prospect. Apologies also go out to Matt Olson, who led the league with 37 homers, slashed .262/.404/.543 with 97 RBIs for Stockton and would have been No. 3 on a potential MVP ballot. (Actual MVP: Seager)
Carolina: Gallo, Myrtle Beach – Yes, Gallo again, and he’s certainly worthy of the second honor. The Rangers top prospect played only 58 games with the Pelicans but finished tops with 21 homers. His slash line sat at .323/.463/.735 in a league where only two qualified players batted above .300, one had an OBP above .400 and another had a slugging percentage above .500. Nobody dominated anything quite like Gallo dominated the Carolina League before his departure in June. Before anyone balks, the league agreed with me. So there. (Actual MVP: Gallo)
Florida State League: Josh Bell, Bradenton – The FSL is notably a pitching-friendly league, so whenever a player can put up impressive numbers, it becomes all the more notable. (See Javier Baez in 2013.) Enter Bell. The Pirates No. 3 prospect led the FSL with a .335 average, .502 slugging percentage and .886 OPS in 84 games with the Marauders. The numbers for the runners-up were .316, .458 and .816. Bell added nine homers, four triples, 20 doubles and 53 RBIs before moving up to Double-A Altoona in mid-July. The 22-year-old outfielder impressed enough this season that he moved up from No. 74 on MLB.com’s list of prospects before the season to No. 32 after a midseason update. (Actual MVP: Bell)
Midwest League: Clint Coulter, Wisconsin – This feels like the Joe DiMaggio vs. Ted Williams AL MVP in 1941, albeit on a smaller scale. In one corner, you have the best statistical hitter in the league. In the other, you have a player who put together a record-breaking streak.
Andrew Velazquez earned fame for reaching base in a Minor League-record 74 straight games from April 22 to July 16 and finished with a .290/.367/.428 line and a league-best 50 steals for South Bend. Coulter led the Midwest League with a .410 OBP and .930 OPS, tied for the lead with 22 homers and finished second with a .520 slugging percentage.
Velazquez’s streak was amazing and worthy of praise, but given that it’s a season-long award, this particular accolade should belong to Coulter. (Actual MVP: Wynton Bernard, West Michigan, .323/.394/.442, 45 steals)
South Atlantic League: Wilmer Difo, Hagerstown – There are a couple of options here. Delmarva’s Chance Sisco batted .340. Greenville’s Carlos Asuaje had a .933 OPS. Asheville’s Ryan McMahon and Correlle Prime both had 102 RBIs. But Difo is the pick despite not leading the Sally League in any one category. He finished second with 49 steals, fourth with 90 RBIs (despite batting primarily second for the Suns) and owned a solid .315/.360/.470. Others might have better individual stats, but they didn’t have quite the overall profile of the Nationals’ No. 20 prospect. (Actual MVP: Difo)