We may be in for an absolute treat in Lancaster next year, because 2014's Quad Cities team could flat-out hit. In a league not really renowned for hitters' parks, this offense was the cream of the crop. The team consisted of power hitters, slap hitters, those who could pull the ball, those who could hit to all fields, those with excellent plate discipline...what more could you ask for?
I took a trip to Quad Cities this summer, and was definitely impressed by what I saw, and with whom I talked. To give a quick summary, the offense was hitting the ball all over, getting on base, and showing off their aggressiveness on the basepaths. The River Bandits led the league in doubles, tied for second in homers, led the league in walks, had the fourth-fewest strikeouts, led the league in OBP, SLG, and OPS, and was second in batting average.
Luhnow's fingerprints are all over this team. Nearly all of the players who played for the River Bandits this year were acquired by him (I tried to count, there are too many to name). This explains why the team was so well-disciplined at the plate. Without further ado, let's delve in a little deeper.
The Power Guys
Of those who played for Quad Cities at some point this year, two of them hit double-digit home runs this year while on the QC roster, Ronnie Mitchell (16 on the season) and Brett Phillips (17) matching each other with 13, while Chase McDonald (18) hit 16 for the River Bandits. In the case of the 2014 draft class, J.D. Davis hit 8 homers in 43 games for the River Bandits, while A.J. Reed added 7 in 34 games.
As for those who weren't picked this year, Tyler White (15 total) hit 7 for Quad Cities and Jon Kemmer (16) hit 4 for QC. Conrad Gregor (16) hit only 1 for the the River Bandits, but it was a very special one. There were definitely some standouts in the power department on this team.
The OBP guys
The River Bandits had a number of players excel in this category. While playing for the River Bandits, Mitchell, Phillips, Chan Moon, Davis, Jose Fernandez, Tanner Mathis, McDonald, Gregor, and White all had an OBP of at least .360, with the latter two breaking .400. As I stated above, this team led the league in walks and OBP, so this isn't much of a surprise.
One player I want to discuss right here is Ronnie Mitchell. He hit 16 home runs on the year to go along with an OPS of .818. He may not be considered a top prospect, as he will turn 24 in the middle of next season and has only reached Lancaster, but he has carved out a decent career thus far for a 38th-rounder.
The Top Prospects
J.D. Davis and A.J. Reed should be penciled in to move up a level next year, and maybe more than one over the course of the season. They were both drafted as hit-first prospects, and they showed us why. Davis has slashed .293/.371/.508 in his short minor league career, coupled with Reed's .289/.375/.522. Unfortunately, neither of them showed the plate discipline they also possessed, with both posting single-digit walk rates and mid-twenties K rates for the River Bandits. However, as Reed told me in the interview, the Astros haven't even started working their magic on the two. I predict massive seasons for both in Lancaster in 2015.
Conrad Gregor was already seen as an advanced college hitter coming into Quad Cities, and he really showed that. Although his power had not quite been awoken in Quad Cities, Gregor still had nearly-identical K and BB rates to go along with a .407 OBP in Low-A. Lancaster seemed to wake him up, as he hit 12 homers in 47 games to go along with a .311 ISO in Lancaster before being promoted. His plate discipline didn't suffer at all; in fact, he had more walks than strikeouts in Lancaster. He has struggled a bit at Corpus so far, but his wRC+ in the Texas League was still 102, and his K rate didn't exceed 16.9%. He may be a late September call-up, but is more likely to make the team out of spring training next year.
Brett Phillips. Man, what a guy. Maverick had an absolute breakout season. The counting stats say so, with 21 doubles, 12 triples, 13 homers, 18 stolen bases, and a .302/.362/.521 slash line for the River Bandits. The advanced stats say so, with a 148 wRC+, .219 ISO, and a .394 wOBA. He continued his monster year in the California League to the tune of a .339/.421/.560 slash line, 4 homers and 5 SBs in 27 games, 156 wRC+, .220 ISO, .425 wOBA...it's really no wonder he scored a 72.5 on JAVIER's projection system. Phillips should stay in Lancaster in 2015, probably dominate, and possibly get called up to AA around July.