A look at the Astros A-Short Season affiliate, the Tri-City ValleyCats, offense
Let's take a moment and create some controversy. Maybe even a bitter rivalry. No, not really, but I am going to steal a quote from conroestro's post yesterday on Tri-City's pitching staff.
The Tri-City ValleyCats had a very impressive season this year and finished just one win short of winning the pennant. A big part of their success this season can be attributed to strong pitching from both the starting rotation and relief pitching. Their pitching ranked near the top of the New York Penn League in most statistical categories.
Well good sir, the Tri-City offense was ranked at the top of the most important statistical categories, and not just near the top. BOOM! The ValleyCats were the best team in terms of on-base percentage, slugging percentage, batting average, and of course, OPS! Lets add a little insult to injury by saying they also ranked first in walks, stolen bases, and home runs and second in runs and hits. I'd say they were just as big of a part of their success if not bigger.
All kidding aside, this was a phenomenal team in both aspects of the game and it's a fool's errand in trying to debate which aspect had a bigger impact on the team's success. This team's offense not only started hot right out of the gate and received a boost with the late signing of Preston Tucker and endured through the losses of Jobduan Morales and Andrew Aplin.
The offense was structured exactly how Jeff Luhnow wants a team structured, from top to bottom, players can get on base. Two players, Andrew Aplin and Tyler Heineman, posted OBP over .400 and they both had over 150 at-bats. On any given night, there were about five players in the lineup who had OBP's over .350 which is just ridiculous. You can point at some of the batting averages as reason for high OBP's, but this team knew how to work the count. Tyler Heineman, Andrew Aplin, and Preston Tucker all drew more walks than they were sat down by strikes. That combined with Joe Sclafani and Austin Elkins being ranked 9 and 19th in the league in walks, were a big contributing factor in how this team was able to lead the league in walks.
But, this team also hit for power as Tucker and Dan Gulbransen slugged their fair share of bombs while Heineman, Jesse Wierzbicki and Elkins lined their fair share of doubles. Tucker actually tied for fourth in home runs with eight and Gulbransen tied for tenth with six. Heineman and Wiezbicki were ninth and eleventh respectively in SLG for the league, but don't mistake either one as future sluggers. Both had their numbers inflated by high averages and Heineman actually had an ISO below .100. Wierzbicki has some power, but not in the same vicinity as Tucker.
The majority of individual highlights we have planned for TC is centered around pitching, so I'm going to give some brief highlights for some of the notable hitters.
Who doesn't like a solid defensive catcher who is capable at the plate? I know I do. Don't get me wrong, there are still questions with Heineman as he just doesn't have any pop in his bat. But, he's going to stick at the position and threw out 41% of would be base-stealers while getting on-base (.452 OBP). He draws walks at a clip around 10% while striking out less. He also hits for average (.358) with a swing that creates a lot of line-drives and a few of those will fall for doubles.
This is the team leader in OPS on the final team roster with an .899 OPS in 165 at-bats. He started off slow and improved as he adjusted to professional ball. It's almost scary to think what he could have done if he would have signed earlier. It's refreshing to see a slugger with an ISO of .186 draw more walks (18) than strikeouts (16). The walk rate is just below 10% and the SO% is just under 9%. I'd like to see his LD% climb a bit from his current 16%. Also, his numbers don't seem to be inflated judging by his .309 BABIP, but we need to remember his offensive home environment. Defensively, he played the majority of his time in RF and even recorded three assists out there. It will be interesting to see if that continues as I projected him to be limited to LF or 1B when he was drafted.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the draft pick whom clack has compared to Ben Zobrist. There's not a whole lot that stands out with Elkins, but he does a lot of things well. He's definitely the type that can fly under the radar and move up through the organization as an under-appreciated prospect. He doesn't have the positive BB/K ratio, but a 15% strikeout rate isn't bad and the 10% walk rate is above average. He hits a few home runs and some doubles, but he actually can steal some bases (18). He'll likely need to become more versatile defensively than just a second baseman, but he'll need to work on his swing as a 13% infield flyball rate (small sample size) is a little alarming for future performances.
Wierzbicki is limited to 1B and definitely old for the level, so his prospect status isn't really notable. However, respect is given to where it is due on this blog, and he earned it with a very nice season. He put up an OPS over .800 in an eight game stint with Lexington but the majority of his time was in TC where a late season slump dropped the OPS just under .800. He hit for power with 11 doubles, 3 triples, and 5 home runs. He also stole 19 bases, so he's quicker than your typical first baseman. He hit a triple slash line of .297/.376/.422.