Last week, I took a look at organizational leaderboards in home runs. With the home run derby taking place tonight, I thought I’d look at some of the minors’ leading home run hitters. Many leagues, if not all of them, have home run derbies at their All-Star Games, but of course choosing players for that can be inconsistent, and some teams don’t like their players participating in them. This won’t account for park factors or league factors, and I’m just using the home run totals that each player currently has.
T-1. Paul Goldschmidt, AA Mobile (25, Southern League leader)- Goldschmidt has been minor league baseball’s best home run hitter over the past calendar year. He was on fire in the second half of the Cal League season last year, and he proved his power is for real this season in AA with Mobile. He started the Futures Game in front of his future fans in Arizona.
T-1. Bryan LaHair, AAA Iowa (25, Pacific Coast League leader)- A lot of times, the minor league home run leader is an experienced slugger that’s made a career for himself in AAA. If LaHair takes home the title this year, he will be one of those players. He’s 28 years old and only has 136 ML at bats. He’s spent parts of every year in the PCL since 2006.
3. Cody Ransom, AAA Reno (24)- Ransom has always hit for some nice power in the minor leagues, and in a hitting friendly environment in Reno and the PCL this year, it’s a perfect storm for a lot of home runs. He also leads the minors in RBI with 85 already, and they haven’t even held the AAA All-Star Game yet.
T-4. Michael Choice, A+ Stockton (23, Cal League leader)- If I had done this two weeks ago, Choice may not have been on this list. In July, he hit a home run in five straight games and six in seven games. Three of those were at High Desert, but it’s still an incredible accomplishment nonetheless. The big club in Oakland could use some of his pop.
T-4. Kody Hinze, AA Corpus Christi (23)- Hinze isn’t the Texas League leader because all but one of those home runs was with Lancaster in the Cal League. He was recently promoted after his breakout season with the JetHawks, and his home/road splits there were actually even and not inflated by Clear Channel Stadium.
6. Tim Wheeler, AA Tulsa (22, Texas League leader)- After being a first round selection in 2009, Wheeler’s pro career was a bit of a disappointment through 2010. He’s breaking out this year and showing great power in the Texas League. In 197 career games prior to this year, he only had 17 home runs, and he’s more than doubled that in 85 this season.
7. Yazy Arbelo, A South Bend (21, Midwest League leader)- I was surprised to see a low-A player this high on the leaderboard since players there usually haven’t developed power yet. Arbelo is a bit different though. He’s a big player and already 23 years old, so he should be able to hit well at the lower levels. He has a .898 OPS this year after posting a .898 OPS after being drafted last year.
T-7. Ryan Lavarnway, AAA Pawtucket (21)- In 106 games in 2009, Lavarnway hit 21 home runs. In 126 games in 2010, he hit 22. This season, he already has 21 across two levels. His bat is very good, and soon he could add to an already stacked Red Sox lineup. Despite their problems at catcher in recent years, he might not be an answer due to his defense.
T-7. Jai Miller, AAA Sacramento (21)- Miller has posted some solid minor league numbers in the past, but this is his breakout season. He’s posting career highs in his rate stats, BA, OBP and SLG. He’s also already set a career high in home runs with 21, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. He’s still young enough to get an extended shot in the majors eventually.
T-7. Wily Mo Pena, AAA Reno (21)- Pena has developed a cult following of sorts this season. After spending some time in an indy league last year, he signed a minor league deal with Arizona with an invitation to spring training. He crushed the Cactus League but didn’t make the roster. Recently, he was called up, and he’s the same Wily Mo he’s always been.
T-7. Trayvon Robinson, AAA Albuquerque (21)- Robinson’s power may be inflated by Albuquerque’s home park since the only other season he hit for great power was in the Cal League. However, it’s still impressive, and if the Dodgers are hurting for offense, maybe he should get a shot soon even if his bat doesn’t profile in a corner.
T-7. Jorge Vazquez, AAA Scranton (21, International League leader)- Vazquez is having one of the more interesting seasons on this list. He hit 18 home runs in April and May and obviously only three since. He only has nine doubles on the season, and he barely walks which is unusual for big home run hitters. He set a career high in home runs in his U.S. career.
Other league leaders
Ian Gac, A+ Winston-Salem (20, Carolina League leader)- Isn’t it time for someone to finally try him in AA? He has 814 career games at high-A or lower, and it’s not like he’s been a bad hitter. He’s average to above average, but even those guys get a shot to advance at some point. Gac has been stuck at these levels with two different organizations.
Bill Rhinehart, AA Harrisburg (19, Eastern League leader)- Like several players on this list, Rhinehart already has a career high in home runs. He’s already 26, so he’s not really a prospect. However, every organization needs the good soldiers that perform well and are willing to play at any level, and Rhinehart is that guy for Washington.
Corey Dickerson, A Asheville (19, T-South Atlantic League leader)- Asheville is a rare hitters’ paradise in the lower minors, and Dickerson is taking advantage of it. His 2010 and 2011 OPS’ aren’t identical like Arbelo, but a lot of his numbers- AB, BB, K and SLG are close. He has 16 home runs at home and only three on the road.
Adam Duvall, A Augusta (19, T-South Atlantic League leader)- Duvall is tied with Dickerson, and he’s not doing it with an absurd home/road split like Dickerson is. Last year in his pro debut, he didn’t hit for power or hit at all really. At 22 years old in low-A, he needs to go to higher levels to prove himself, but this is a huge season for him to get on the map.
Brock Kjeldgaard, AA Huntsville (18, Florida State League leader)- It’s hard to hit for power in the Florida State League, and Kjeldgaard bears that out. He was promoted to AA two weeks ago, and he still leads the league. This was his second year in the league after an average year last year. He hasn’t set a career high in home runs yet, but he’s close.
Matt Lipka, A Rome (0, most AB in the minors without a homer)- Lipka is the opposite of the preceding players. He was a high pick by Atlanta recently, and despite this rough season, he’s still very young and has plenty of time to develop. He did hit a home run in his pro debut last year but in 2011, he has the most at bats in the minors without a home run.
That’s a look at this season’s home run leaders, and in Lipka’s case, non-home run leader. It’s heavily influenced by the PCL, but that’s not surprising since we all know about the great places to hit out there. The HR leaderboard is always a fun sideplot to follow during the minor league season, and it’ll be interesting to see if a prospect will take home the title or a minor league veteran.