Ricky Bobby once said "If you're not first, you're last!" Despite what you think of that quote (I think it's genius), that is basically the route the Corpus Christi Hooks took the last two years. OK, so I'm exagerating a bit with that comparison but after ranking in the bottom half of the league in almost all categories in 2011, the offense turned things around a bit in 2012 to lead the Texas League in most categories offensively.
The reason for the turnaround? Well, that primarily lends itself to ever increasing quality of talent in the upper minors, especially later in the season. Last season, T.J. Steele and Jon Gaston tied for the most at-bats for CC and both failed to have an OPS over .700! The number nine player in terms of at-bats was David Flores, and he couldn't get his OPS over .600. This season, Jonathan Singleton and Jose Martinez were the top two in total at-bats and both had their OPS over .800, and Singleton flirted with a .900 OPS.
I'm not saying Jose Martinez is a great prospect given his advanced age, but he is at least a former well thought of prospect that had to leave the game for awhile because of a tragic situation. He has good talent and could be a late bloomer. The point is that both of these guys have significantly more upside and this years team produced like a better team. After all, Baseball America listed them as a top 10 minor league team in baseball before the season started.
Last season's OPS was this beautiful .708 (sarcasm) while the team leader posted this amazing .795 OPS. Taking a look at team OPS this season, you see that three teams posted a lower OPS than the Hooks did last year and they posted a league leading .751 OPS this year. So, basically, it looks like as a whole, the pitching in the Texas League was much better this year, or at least most offenses were worse. Either way, while most teams were going through an offensive decline, the Astros had a minor league team improving their offensive numbers.
The Hooks ranked first in all of the following categories this season: Runs, Hits, Doubles, RBI's, Total Bases, OBP, SLG, and average. They ranked second in triples, stolen bases, and caught stealing (the bad second) while ranking third in walks and strikeouts. They also ranked fourth in home runs. Most of those categories, they were solidly in the bottom half in 2011. Let's look at what areas contributed the most in the teams improvements on offense.
The team's average went from .258 to .268, so ten point improvement doesn't look like a huge impact. But, the OBP went from an awful .320 to a nice .342, the average contributed ten points to the 22 point improvement. This team could actually draw walks (480 in 2012 vs. 408 in 2011). You have to give a lot of credit to Singleton (88) and Jake Goebbert (55) for this as they both had more than Brandon Wikoff's team leading 47 in 2011. The other side of the coin for plate discipline didn't improve as they struck out 1054 times this year compared to last year's 1022.
Coincidentally, the SLG improved by the same 22 points from .388 to .410. It's hard to really filter out who really played a huge role in improving the power as last year's team had big boosts from J.D. Martinez and Jose Altuve who both posted higher SLG numbers than Singleton. Altuve's sample size was fairly small (35 games), but J.D. played in 88 games and sprayed doubles in the outfield like an AR-15. As a whole, there was more power on this years team because of the home run power of Singleton and the team's ability to hit lots of doubles (240 vs 218).
I know it sounds like I'm giving Singleton a lot of the credit for turning this team around and it's hard not to given his great season, but in reality his numbers weren't quite as good as J.D. Martinez's, despite Singleton having close to 150 more at-bats. I really want to emphasize the improvement as a team in talent level. Jonathan Villar's numbers improved and Jose Martinez had a really good season. Chris Wallace provided some decent offense, and better than he did last year in CC. Brandon Barnes played very well in his 44 games as a Hook and Drew Locke posted on OPS over .800 in his return from Indy Ball. Jair Fernandez also put up the best numbers the Hooks have seen from a catcher in several years as well. So, it was an overall team effort in there improvement.