Five Guys in the Minors

There are several intriguing stories in the Padres minor-league system — the emergence of Beamer Weems (giving up switch-hitting was a good idea, huh?) and international signee Luis Domoromo, the sudden glut of third basemen, the signing of first-round pick Cory Spangenberg — but today we’ll focus on a few items I’ve been tracking…

Jaff Decker’s Slump

The 21-year-old lefty-swinging left fielder is hitting .228/.374/.434 on the season. Despite the low batting average, that is nice production. Decker is even hitting well (.282/.440/.466) at San Antonio’s Wolff Stadium, a notoriously difficult environment. The downside is that he isn’t doing much on the road (.184/.316/.408).

The further downside is that since a torrid April, Decker’s bat has disappeared:

Month(s)   PA*  BA  OBP* SLG HR%  BB%   K%
Apr        98 .316 .449 .759 8.2 18.4 26.5
May & Jun 188 .181 .335 .262 1.1 17.6 27.1

* doesn’t provide HBP or SF for batters (man, I miss, so the PA and OBP numbers are guesstimates but should be close enough to make the point. Stats are through games of June 14.

Decker’s BB% and K% haven’t changed much; the only thing he’s doing differently now is not hitting the bejeezus out of the baseball when he makes contact. His track record suggests this is probably a blip, but when you’re striking out more than a quarter of the time and sporting a sub-.300 SLG, it’s time to make an adjustment.

Oramas and Blanks

Left-handed pitcher Juan Oramas (21) and 1B/LF Kyle Blanks (24) are healthy and were recently promoted to Triple-A Tucson. Oramas missed the first several weeks of the season with shoulder issues but returned to active duty in May and made a few starts at San Antonio before joining the T-Padres last week. On June 13, he made his Triple-A debut at Reno and got shelled.

I’m not sure how much of a prospect Oramas really is. His stuff isn’t overpowering, but I like his youth and dominance (career 9.9 K/9 in 320 IP). As with all things Padres, we watch and hope.

As for Blanks, he has played three games each at first base and in left field. He’s off to a blistering .391/.417/.696 start (love me some small samples), and our pal John Conniff likes what he sees, noting that Blanks “seems to be much more aggressive at the plate and moved very well in his start in the outfield.”

I have concerns about Blanks in the outfield — I worry about his health — but with Anthony Rizzo now in San Diego, first base doesn’t appear to be an option… at least not with the Padres. A trade still seems likely to me.

Hagerty and Fuentes

Third baseman Jedd Gyorko (22) has been getting all the attention at Lake Elsinore (and deservedly so — he’s hitting a nearly unfathomable .384/.445/.663), but catcher Jason Hagerty (23) is no slouch himself. Hagerty is a bit old for the California League, and some folks wonder about his defense, but there is no questioning the switch-hitter’s offensive abilities.

Hagerty is hitting .330/.398/.578 this year. He is showing more power this season than last (.248 ISO vs .192), but at the expense of plate discipline:

Year  ISO  BB%   K%
2010 .192 16.5 19.5
2011 .248  8.5 19.4

No change in strikeouts, but a dramatic decrease in walks… Still, Hagerty is improving as the season progresses:

Month(s)   PA*  BA  OBP* SLG HR% BB%   K%
Apr        78 .296 .346 .479 2.6 6.4 26.9
May & Jun 133 .351 .429 .640 3.8 9.8 15.0

* Again, PA and OBP are estimates.

This is encouraging. We’ll have to check back in after the season to see whether Hagerty is able to sustain his current levels of production. If so, he just might be something.

Less encouraging is the bat of center fielder Reymond Fuentes (20). He is three years younger than Hagerty and at a different stage of development, but at some point, a guy has to produce.

Given that Fuentes hit just .270/.328/.377 at Low-A ball last season, his advancement to High-A on arriving in the Padres organization (he was the third guy to come over in the Adrian Gonzalez trade — certainly the fastest and the one most related to Carlos Beltran) seems a bit aggressive. The fact that his offensive game hasn’t progressed at all this year lends further support to that idea, although with kids that young, sometimes the light bulb just goes on one day.

That being said, Fuentes isn’t hitting as well Cedric Hunter did at the same age in the Cal League:

Player  Year  PA   BA  OBP  SLG BB%   K%
Hunter  2008 641 .318 .362 .442 6.6  7.3
Fuentes 2011 269 .299 .351 .357 6.3 20.8

Granted, Fuentes steals a lot of bases (28 in 58 games, at a 77.8% success rate) and is considered a superior defender, but that empty .300 troubles me.

You know this already but it’s worth reiterating that statistical output seldom tells the entire story. Fuentes is a 2009 first-round pick and a good athlete. I remain skeptical of his ability to translate that athleticism into useful baseball skills, but as always, I hope I’m wrong.

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22 Responses »

  1. @Geoff – love the farm system posts… I too have been tracking Jaff Decker and have watched his average fall off a cliff….given his K rate and BB rate have been relatively unchanged, I am wondering what is going on. Either bad luck or some type of injury/illness that is zapping his power. I am not too concerned, but would still like to see the K rate drop to about 20%.
    Why not get Blanks in the lineup with Rizzo? Give Blanks an occasional start at LF and at 1B to keep guys fresh and also let him DH against the AL and pinch hit in the NL. I would not be at all surprised if the Padres call up Blanks to DH in the AL soon. I would much rather have Blanks DH’ing than Hawpe or Cantu.
    I would be interested to know if Fuentes has learned how to bunt to get on base.He has the speed and this could improve his OB percentage. I am not at all concerned with power numbers for Fuentes, just his ability to get on base.

  2. Geoff – have you been tracking Vincent “Vince” Belnome at all? I’m loving his numbers for the third year in a row. Like his college teammate Gyorko, the guy seems like a pure hitter. And like Spangenberg, he’s a lefty-hitting second baseman.

    He even wears a tough goatee, a la Joey Hamilton in ’98.

    I’ve been trying to find something not to like, but can’t come up with it.

  3. @Ryan – I would like to see Belnome’s k rate be a little lower, but he draws walks so I can’t complain too much if he is being patiently agressive. He has been splitting time this year at 2b/3b/1b. 2b looks like his best position, but he looks like he is being groomed for a utility role. Looks like he could be a better hitting version of Logan Forsythe.

  4. @Ryan: Belnome is fascinating to me. As PF notes, he draws walks and has decent power. When I saw him play 3B at Elsinore, he looked stiff on defense. I didn’t expect the move to 2B to work well, but the results are promising. I agree with PF that Belnome seems more like a future utility guy, but he is worth watching.