Is Bryce Harper the Man? Breaking Down the Race for MiLB Player of the Year
Bryce Harper came into the 2011 season with all the attention that could possibly be afforded a No. 1 overall pick, and for a few months it looked like he was going to pull a "Matt Wieters" and surpass all the hype, transcending from uber-prospect to franchise-savior.
Then the 18-year-old ran into Double-A pitching, and his once "electric" season has been downgraded to "impressive."
His .262 average and two home runs through 29 games for Harrisburg, has pretty much excluded him from making a real case for Minor League Player of the Year honors.
But fret not baseball fans, there are still more than a few talented prospects worthy of taking home the hardware that last year was awarded to fellow uber-prospect Mike Trout.
So, let's dig into it, and see who the front-runners are.
These are the guys whose names have either been in the discussion since Opening Day or who have put together such fine performances that not mentioning them in talks now would be an incredible disservice to them and to Minor League Baseball.
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Throughout the first half of the minor league season, there was no hitter who was more feared than Goldschmidt.
He hit 22 home runs, drove in 61 runs and hit .328 for Double-A Mobile, earning an invite to the Futures Game and a spot on the Southern League All-Star squad. His pace slowed a bit after the break, but he still clubbed eight home runs in 33 games, bringing his season total to 30 before he was promoted to the big-leagues, where he's spent the last week.
Goldschmidt has fought critics his entire minor-league career. Hitting .334 with 18 home runs in 74 games during his debut season wasn't enough, and neither was crushing 35 long-balls, while maintaining a .315 average last year.
If he never sets foot in the minors for the remainder of the season, Goldschmidt will have to make his case on these numbers: .306, 30 home runs, 94 RBI, 84 runs and an 82-to-92 BB:K ratio.
Joe Wieland, RHP, Texas Rangers/San Diego Padres
In addition to owning one of the filthiest strikeout-to-walk ratios in the minor leagues (139-to-15), and the second-lowest ERA (1.79), Wieland is also one of just a handful of pitchers to have a no-hitter to his name this season.
"Dream season" would be an understatement for the kind of campaign that the 21-year-old has had. He's won 10 games, jumped from High-A to Double-A and endured being dealt from Texas to San Diego with considerable aplomb. His final start for Texas was his no-hitter. His first start for the Padres Double-A affiliate was six innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts and no walks—otherwise known as the "Wieland regular."
Wieland has certainly performed better than the average fourth-rounder, which he was back in 2008. For the season, his line looks like this: 10-3, 1.79 ERA, 135.2 IP, 139-to-15 K:BB and two complete game shutouts.
Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros
Despite his small stature (5'7", 170 lbs) Altuve has played like a monster this year, leading the minors with a .389 batting average—and, like Goldschmidt, earning a chance to play everyday in the big-leagues.
This kind of production should have been expected from the 21-year-old Venezuelan. He hit over .300 in three of four seasons coming into 2011, and has always had the hitting ability to make critics forget about his unfortunate size predicament.
Not only did Altuve rake at an ungodly pace, but he was also an extra-base-hit machine, cranking out 22 doubles, 10 triples and 10 home runs. He came incredibly close to setting career-marks in RBI, runs and home runs, but with a late-season promotion to Houston, I'm pretty sure he's not complaining.
He began the year in the hitter-friendly California League, where he raked to a .408 tune for 52 games. His numbers dropped to .361 after his promotion to Double-A, and the front office ultimately decided he could handle another jump, straight over Triple-A to the big-leagues.
And he's shown himself to be more than capable, hitting .328 in 17 contests.
Matt Moore, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Like Wieland, Moore has a no-hitter to his name this year.
It came during one of his final starts in Double-A, where he carved up Southern League hitters to the tune of a .187 average against, and a 2.30 ERA. He struck out 131 batters in 102.1 innings and walked just 28.
That earned a very un-Tampa Bay-like promotion to Triple-A, where Moore has been even more dominant, allowing just three earned runs in four starts. He's been even more prolific with the strikeouts, getting 39 in just 24.2 innings.
For the year, he's looking at an 11-3 record, a combined 1.98 ERA and 170 strikeouts in 127 innings. He's chasing down his third consecutive MiLB strikeout crown, and is currently five strikeouts off the pace of Edwar Cabrera, another potential Player of the Year candidate.
Moore has been so impressive, there's even been talk of promoting him for the stretch-run in September—something the Rays rarely do, no matter how talented the prospect.
Brett Lawrie, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
If he hadn't missed all of June and half of July, Lawrie would have practically been a shoo-in for the annual honor.
Instead, he'll have to settle for duking it out with the rest of the characters on this list. He certainly has a good case, one which he has built playing in just 73 games, 30 fewer than Goldschmidt.
In that time, he's hit .347 with 64 runs, 24 doubles, six triples, 18 homers, 62 RBI and 13 steals.
He's also blown the socks off of the Toronto front office with his impressive defensive play at the hot corner. Lawrie came into the season having played a new position each season, giving catcher, second base and the outfield a try.
The 21-year-old's bat has looked big-league-ready for quite some time now, and it looks as if the Jays finally agree. They promoted him in time for this past weekend, and he's responded by hitting .455 with one home run in three contests.
Julio Teheran, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Last season Teheran jumped three levels in the minors, posted an incredible 159-to-40 K:BB ratio and held down a 2.59 ERA.
This year, it seemed like the only way for him to go was backwards. That's how good he was as a 19-year-old in 2010.
Surprisingly, he's gotten even better in 2011, accumulating a lower ERA (2.16), more victories (12-2) and earning a chance to make his big-league debut. He's become less of a strikeout-machine, instead pitching to contact more in an effort to pitch deeper into games.
Pitching in Triple-A, as a 20-year-old, certainly agrees with Teheran, which is a good thing because he might be forced to start the 2012 season there as well.
These are the guys who aren't receiving a lot of attention at this point in the season, but who should get a nice, long look.
Under the microscope, you will discover that these guys are some of the better performers in the minors this year.
David Cooper, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays
Cooper has always shown decent power in his four years in the minors, but for the first time ever, he's really showing off some incredible hitting ability.
His .374 average, accumulated in the Pacific Coast League, is the second-best number in all of the minors. He paces all of minor league baseball with a .446 on-base percentage and ranks in the top 10 of the PCL in just about every other offensive category.
Surprisingly, the increase in average (up from .257 in 2010) has come at a cost to his power-stroke. He's hit just nine long-balls this season. Luckily, it hasn't affected his ability to be a solid run-producer, as he's racked up 82 RBI.
Quite possibly the most impressive aspect of the 24-year-old's game has been his plate discipline. A year removed from striking out 22 more times than he walked, Cooper has reversed that trend, earning 16 more free passes than whiffs.
In addition to his .374 average, nine HR and 82 RBI, Cooper has also rapped 44 doubles and scored 64 runs.
He also earned himself a big-league call-up.
Jedd Gyorko, 3B, San Diego Padres
In case you hadn't noticed, it's been a very strong year for San Diego's farm system.
In addition to picking up Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland, they've also witnessed explosive campaigns from several of their hitters, none as impressive as Gyorko.
The 22-year-old former second-round pick (2010) has flourished in his first extended taste of full-season ball. He began the year in the Cal League, which could make even Cesar Izturis look like Mark McGwire. He left after 81 games with a .365 average, 35 doubles, 18 home runs and 74 RBI in just 81 games.
Upon his promotion to Double-A, Gyorko struggled to maintain his lofty average, but still proved to be adept at driving in runs. He's added 20 more RBI in 33 games, bringing his season total to 94, a number that is tied for fifth in all of MiLB.
With nobody but the light-hitting Chase Headley blocking his path, Gyorko could be manning the hot-corner full-time by the All-Star break next year.
Gary Brown, OF, San Francisco Giants
There a few reasons that Zack Wheeler was the primary prospect shipped out for Carlos Beltran, and not Gary Brown.
With a very strong pitching staff, the Giants could afford to cut loose a promising arm, but with a struggling offense, Brown is a guy they need to cling to for dear life. He's shown this season what he's truly capable of.
Putting a slow start to his career behind him, Brown has exploded this year, albeit in the hitter-friendly Cal League. He's hitting .317 with 26 doubles, eight triples, nine homers and 62 RBI. He's scored 85 runs and ranks fifth in the minors with 142 hits.
Brown has excellent speed and it's been on full display so far in 2011. He's swiped 43 bags in 106 games, and has been caught just 15 times, a solid number for a player with only 118 career games under his belt.
Like a few other guys on this list, Brown also made a great impression during the Futures Game.
Brad Peacock, RHP, Washington Nationals
Despite the fact that Stephen Strasburg made an appearance in the Nats farm system this year, without a doubt, the top pitcher in the organization has been Brad Peacock.
The right-hander has had the season of his life, pitching his way from "future reliever" status before the season began, to an integral part of the team's future rotation, leaving Double-A and Triple-A hitters in his dust.
He's already got 12 victories to just three losses, and has an impressive 2.61 ERA. He's posted a 152-to-38 K:BB ratio in 124 innings and has one complete-game to his name.
Peacock was named to the Futures Game and was rewarded with an Eastern League All-Star nod.
Nolan Arenado, 3B/1B, Colorado Rockies
The Rockies have a few guys who could deserve a place on this list, but nobody has had as strong a season as Arenado, who is quickly emerging as one of the top hitters in the minor leagues.
He's posted back-to-back-to-back seasons with an average at or above .300, and this year he's turned into a run-producing machine. His 96 RBI rank him second in all of the minors, behind veteran Mike Jacobs. Arenado has also scored 70 of his own runs.
He's kept a solid eye at the plate, striking out just 45 times in 417 at-bats and has already set a new career-mark with 14 home runs.
There are those who feel that Arenado will eventually slide over to first base and become the heir to the throne of Todd Helton.
If that is the case, first base is in excellent hands.
**The Obligatory Mike Trout/Bryce Harper Category**
Both Trout and Harper have lost ground in the race for MiLB Player of the Year, an honor they were both expected to compete for before the season.
Trout missed 14 games due to a mid-season call-up, where he struggled, hitting a mere .163 in nearly three weeks worth of action.
Harper has a strong case, but has fizzled in 29 games in Double-A.
Still, they're two of the more talented players in the minors, so they have to receive at least a quick look.
Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
It was going to be hard to top the campaign that Trout put together last year, but in just 82 games in the minors, he's tried his best.
He's hitting .326—an incredible number considering Trout is still just 20 years old and playing in Double-A. He has 14 doubles and 13 triples, showing off his amazing athleticism. He's shown great pop, bashing nine home runs and RBI capabilities, with 30 of those in just 82 contests.
As usual, he's been a terror on the basepaths, swiping 31 bags.
More importantly, he has the support of friends in high places. Baseball America's editor-in-chief Jim Callis stated in his weekly Ask BA column that Trout would be his choice.
Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
Harper put together a strong campaign during three months in Low-A ball.
There, he hit .318 with 17 doubles, 14 home runs, 46 RBI and 19 steals. He showed great athleticism, both in the field and on the basepaths, and looked every bit as good as advertised.
By the time the All-Star break rolled around, Harper looked like a lock to finish in the top five of voting.
Two months later, and it looks like he won't even have his name mentioned in the race, except for when someone invariably makes the statement, "if only Harper could have kept his pace."
With his sub-par Double-A stats factored in, his season looks like this: .302, 24 doubles, 16 homers, 54 RBI, 24 steals.
Strong, but without a fantastic finish—likely not enough.