2011 Minor League Baseball Top Hitters – Cal League

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2011 California League
Top Hitting Prospects

Cal League Website: Official Site
A+ Minor League Affiliates for MLB Teams

California League Teams:
Stockton (A’s) – San Jose (Giants) – Modesto (Rockies) – Lake Elsinore (Padres)
Inland Empire (Angles) – Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers) – Lancaster (Astros)
Visalia (Diamondbacks) – High Desert (Mariners) – Bakersfield (Reds)

Over the course of the 2011 Minor League season I was fortunate enough to attend over 50 games at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, CA – home of the Single A affiliate of the Oakland A’s.  Many of the games brightest young stars came through and I was able to get an up close and personal glimpse of several top prospects. The list below is NOT a ranking – but merely observations I had while watching so many games. I am not a baseball expert in any way. But I’ve watched the game for over 20 years and I really started following SF Giants prospects about 5 years ago.  In 2009 Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner were members of the San Jose Giants and I saw them play in Stockton and just a year and a half later they helped the Giants win the World Series. If there is a Minor League team near where you live I encourage you to go check out a game and see top prospects playing in your backyard.

Banner Island Ballpark is a hitters park. The wind is always blowing out due to the fact it’s located on the water and the dimensions feature short distances to both right and left field. Several of the HRs I saw hit this year would be fly ball outs in most – if not all – Major League ballparks. Typically I sat in the front few rows – right next to the on-deck circle. I like to see these guys up close. The seats are so close to the field they are almost dangerous. I’ve seen broken bats and foul balls wiz by without even time to flinch – so hopefully this article was worth the fear factor!

Michael Choice – CF
Stockton Ports (Oakland A’s) #14
Age: 21 – Bats: Right – Throws: Right
2010 1st Round Draft Pick – #10 Overall
On Twitter: @VinnyChoice

Season Line: .285 30 HR 28 2B 82 RBI

The crown jewel of my season watching minor league baseball was Michael Choice. The California League leader in Homeruns (30) flashed his power to all fields and I made sure I was always in my seat when he came up to bat.  Choice does not look like your typical power hitter – only 6 feet tall – but not many guys have a pair of thick legs like he does, NFL Running Back thick.

I’ve read that baseball experts consider his swing ‘unorthodox’ and I guess I’d have to agree. Choice has a double move before swinging turning his left knee, then his left hip to get in a torqued position.  You’ll want to check out videos of his swing to get a better idea – here is one I took on a somewhat rainy night early in the season. Be sure to search YouTube for better quality ones.

Michael Choice Oakland A's Top Prospect

Hitting Observations: The thing that impressed me most about Choice is that he hits balls hard all over the ballpark. Many of the HR’s I saw him hit early in the season went the other way to RF. As the season rolled along many of them started to soar out to CF and a few would be pulled out to LF. The sound of balls off his bat are different. This is something you pick up on in a minor league setting. In a big league park there is so much going on – so much noise. But sometimes you can hear a pin drop in Banner Island Ballpark on a Tuesday night. Choice makes loud contact and hit some impressive HRs that didn’t need any wind or short porches to go out.  He can get anxious at times, but that is the case with most hitters down here. He took 61 walks which was 12th most in the league, so I imagine that he will cut down on the strikeouts as he gets older.

Defense Observations: Michael only played CF or DH during the 2011 season. He has decent speed and took good routes to balls. His arm is pretty good too – but neither his speed or arm is elite for CF. I have no idea what the A’s have planned for him in the future. A guess would be he ends up in RF or LF where he would be considered above average. I saw some other outfielders have trouble at times with routes and picking up the ball off the bat. I saw none of that from Choice – so any of the 3 outfield spots are a possibility.

Personal Observations:  First and foremost – Michael Choice signed autographs for fans before every game I went to. The people of Stockton appreciate that and take notice of the good guys. Choice is a good guy. There were autograph hunters who would put 10 baseball cards in front of him and he would sign them all.  He doesn’t have to do that. Some of his autographed licensed trading cards made by Topps are worth good money – but he took the time and I saw him sign his name to anyone who asked. Very serious demeanor on the field before and during the game. It’s hard to catch Michael with a smile on his face. He looks like he belongs out there – plays more mature then most 21 year old players. Michael is active on Twitter and his tweets provide insight into the life of a minor league player chasing a goal. Choice will be missed in Stockton and hopefully he has continued success as he moves up the ladder of professional baseball.

Gary Brown – CF
San Jose Giants (San Francisco)
Age: 22 – Bats: Right – Throws: Right
2010 1st Round Draft Pick – #24 Overall
On Twitter: @garybrown909

Season Line: .336 14 HR 80 RBI 53 SB
Anything I write about Gary Brown is biased. I am a huge San Francisco Giants fan and see their prospects through glossy eyes. As you can see from his numbers – he can hit and run and has a little bit of power to drive balls. I saw Brown play in person – I think 8 times and on local TV maybe another 10 times.

His speed plays in all facets of his game. Brown is able to beat out balls that are hit slowly in the infield and that puts pressure on the defense to come up clean with the ball every time. On the bases he is very aggressive and will run at any moment.


Gary Brown San Francisco Giants Top Prospect SJ Giants

Hitting Observations: Holds the bat very close to his right shoulder and is quick and fast through the ball. I’ve seen a few of his HR’s and it’s usually when he jumps on a fastball and drives it out pull-side to LF. His .336 batting average was 3rd in the Cal League and his 53 SB were 2nd. Thinking toward the future, the Giants home ballpark plays right into Brown’s speed and gap power game. Brown could potentially lead the league in triples by shooting balls into ‘triples ally’ – a 421 foot lane for him to aim at. There is a strong possibility Gary will be called up to the MLB Giants in 2012.

Defense Observations: Brown is an excellent CF because of his great speed.  His arm is average but good enough to be his natural position. I doubt you’ll see the spectacular catches that earn players gold gloves – but Brown has the potential to play CF for many years in the big leagues.

Personal Observations: Gary is on the top step of the dugout – it seems like at all times. Very involved in the game even when he is not coming up to bat anytime soon. Pre-game he goes through a number of running exercises and stretching routines. Seems more focued and driven then some of the other players. Is very cordial to the fans. 1st class guy – very nice to kids and young people – always signed autographs and was talking to fans. Brown is on Twitter and openly expresses his love for pop singer Taylor Swift.

Yasmani Grandal – C
Bakersfield Blaze (Cincinnati Reds)
Age: 22 – Bats: Both – Throws: Right
2010 1st Round Draft Pick – #12 Overall

Cal League Line: 56 Games .296 10 HR 40 RBI 41 BB 57 SO

Grandal was not in the Cal League all season – playing just 56 games. I saw 3 or 4 of them and he is an impressive looking athlete. Grown man type body – big strong – thick – just how you want a catcher. I only saw him hit left handed and he has a power stroke that should develop over time. His arm is big behind the plate.

The Reds have a couple nice catching prospects but Grandal will force the issue as early as 2012 to get to the MLB. He will most likely start the year in AAA Louisville.

Yasmani Grandal Cincinnati Reds Prospect

Angelo Songco – LF/1B
Rancho Cucamonga (L.A. Dodgers)
Age: 22 – Bats: Left – Throws: Right
2009 4th Round Draft Pick

Season Line: .313 29 HR 48 2B 114 RBI

They list Songco at 6 feet tall, probably with his spikes on. Not a big guy – but ranked 2nd in HR and 1st in doubles. Powerful bat, I didn’t know who he was when he came into Stockton – in the 2 games I saw him he went 5-10 and smashed 2 deep homeruns. The thing that I liked was he displayed bat control and with two strikes he cut down his swing and was looking up the middle.

Songco has had a good minor league career thus far and if he can get out of the gate hot in 2012 in either AA or AAA then he could push for a job in Los Angeles. This is a player to watch out for and it wouldn’t shock me to see him play in the big leagues for several years.

2010 Topps Pro Debut #88 Angelo Songco

Myrio Richard – LF
Stockton Ports (Oakland A’s)
Age: 23 – Bats: Right – Throws: Right
2009 9th Round Draft Pick

Season Line: .292 8 HR 29 2B 57 RBI

The one player who always seemed to make consistent contact was Myrio. He is not a well known prospect at all and didn’t put up gaudy numbers. But there wasn’t another player who I saw have  so many good at bats and it felt like he always squared up the ball. Typically hit lead off for the Ports but he spent time in many different lineup spots. I could see him as a great 4th or 5th outfielder if he can make it all the way to the major leagues.

There was one game where he went 1-4 but all of the balls were smoked and his 3 outs were on defensive web gems. He won’t be a huge power guy at all, but can control the bat and it wouldn’t surprise me if he hits over .300 when he gets back out to AAA Sacramento.

2010 Pro Debut Gold #49 Myrio Richard /50

Nolan Arenado – 3B
Modesto Nuts (Colorado Rockies)
Age: 20 – Bats: Right – Throws: Right
2009 2nd Round Draft Pick

Season Line: .298 20 HR 32 2B 122 RBI

Nolan is a very good hitter and looks like a natural baseball player. His 122 RBI ranked 1st in the Cal League and I was also very impressed with several plays he made at 3B. Balls that he had to charge and make an off balance throw were made with ease.  Could develop even more power because he hit two of the deepest HR’s I’ve seen hit this year.

At just 20 years old, Arenado may still be at least two years away from reaching Colorado. Third base is a premium MLB position and the Rockies look like they have a good one on their hands. As a Giants fan, I am very worried.

2011 Topps Pro Debut #100 Nolan Arenado

Rashun Dixon – RF
Stockton Ports (Oakland A’s)
Age: 21 – Bats: Right – Throws: Right
2008 10th Round Draft Pick
On Twitter: @Sir_Peanut

Season Line: .243 11 HR 19 2B 47 RBI

Dixon is a very likeable guy because of his outgoing personality. He seems taller then his listed 6’2″ and perhaps that is because he was sporting a 1980’s style flattop for much of the season. Rashun’s brother is Anthony Dixon who is a running back for the San Francisco 49ers. Anthony was at many of the games this season to cheer on his brother. Both of those guys are first class and very quick to shoot you a smile.

On the field, Rashun is developing and I saw him get better this year hitting breaking balls. Those give him the most trouble and pitchers know it therefore he strikes out a lot. I am not sure Rashun will ever make it to the major leagues – but I am certainly pulling for him, he is a great guy and a fan favorite.

2011 Stockton Ports Card Rashun Dixon Autograph

Matt Davidson – 3B/1B
Visalia Rawhide (Diamondbacks)
Age: 20 – Bats: Right – Throws: Right
2009 1st Round Draft Pick #35 Overall

Season Line: .277 20 HR 39 2B 106 RBI

Just 20 years old this season, Davidson is a big, strong, impressive looking player for the Arizona Diamondbacks. There is a good bet he’ll end up at 1B at some point in his career as his defense is questionable at 3B. But his bat plays as a 3, 4, or 5 hitter and that is where he shines the most.

Much like most of the players down at this level, Matt needs to be more selective and cut the strike outs down. The Dbacks will probably give him at least another two full years in the minors before bringing him up to the big leagues.

2011 Bowman Topps 100 28 Matt Davidson

Other Players of Note:

Josh Rutledge – SS – Modesto Nuts (Colorado Rockies)
Maybe has the best bat control in the league. Could be a .300 hitter for years to come

Brandon Crawford – SS – San Jose Giants (San Francisco)
I saw Brandon playing in Stockton one night – the next day he gets called up to the MLB team. I remember his family was at the game in Stockton and I thought about how happy they must have been for him.

Francisco Peguero – OF – San Jose Giants (San Francisco)
He only made a quick pit stop in San Jose. He is a little guy – who is a .300+ hitter with some pop and great speed. Might be overlooked because of Gary Brown, but watch out for Peguero.

Keon Broxton OF – Visalia Rawhide (Diamondbacks)
Made two unbelievable catches in center field – one to save the game in the 9th and another to end it in the 10th one night.

Kiel Roling 1B – Modesto Nuts (Colorado Rockies)
He hit a broken bat HR – one of the few I’ve ever seen in my life and the only one in person.

Leonardo Gil
3B – Stockton Ports (Oakland A’s)
Hot girlfriend award – I’m in love.

Vinny Catricala 3B/1B – High Desert (Mariners)
Runner up hot girlfriend award. Also a good player.

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