Minor League Recap: 2008 Burlington Bees

It’s easy to see why 2008 was such a banner year for the Bees, as they took home a championship and also featured arguably the league’s best hitter and pitcher. I guess that shouldn’t come across as rocket surgery, really, as there exists a pretty strong correlation between having the best players and winning a bunch of games. Still, if you’re lucky enough to succeed in both areas, I would imagine it gives you a smile and a warm fuzzy feeling in your gut. (Or maybe that’s the gin? Fess up, drunkie.)

Burlington winning the league championship provides an added bonus for Royals fans, as it makes it easier to tell the difference between the Burlington Bees (they were good!) and the Burlington Royals (they were like a dog‘s breakfast!) Now we just need to find a way to determine where in the world Burlington is, as the town’s name is as ubiquitous as Springfield -- by my count, something like 46 states in the union feature a Burlington, (48 if you include coat factories.)

 

 

The Bees served as sort of the flagship affiliate for the Royals last year, as they excelled in all areas of the game. They had guys who struck out a bunch of people, guys who hit a lot of homeruns, guys who hit for average, guys who walked a lot, guys with low ERAs, and, of course, guys who stole a lot of bases. This makes it difficult to whittle down the top 5 pitching and hitting performances of 2008.

This also, thankfully, makes selecting the top performances an enjoyable exercise. This wasn’t the case with some of the previous affiliates, where the performances suggested a future for the Royals reminiscent of some sort of post-apocalyptic Road Warrior society, where nobody can get the ball out of the infield or walk or strike people out from the mound.

Okay, that’s a terrible analogy. But the point is that the future looked bleak. With the Burlington Bees, though, the future of the organization looks positively utopian. It’s all puppies and rainbows.

TOP 5 HITTING PERFORMANCES

1. Mike Moustakas, SS/3B
496 At Bats, 22 HRs, .272/.337/.468, 43BB, 86K

To build suspense, I probably should list these in ascending order, from worst performance to best, but I wouldn’t be surprising anyone by selecting Moustakas at the top spot, so might as well get it out of the way.

At first glance, Moustakas’ line looks a bit pedestrian, as he hit just .272/.337/.458 over the course of the season, which didn’t even crack the top 20 in the league in OPS. That’s a bit deceiving, however, and to fully appreciate his season, you must take a couple of factors into account.

First, Moustakas’ numbers were depressed by a miserable April in which he hit like a arthritic schoolgirl -- his .479 OPS during the month would be enough to make Tony Pena, Jr. blush. A .208 BABIP during the month certainly didn’t help matters.

Mike righted the ship after that, never failing to clear an .800 OPS in any month after April. And he had a monster, Lubanski-esque second half, with a MVP-caliber August in which he compiled 16 extra base hits in just 116 at bats, which earned him a .986 OPS during the month.

Second, Moustakas was one of the youngest players in the Midwest league, at just 19 years old. Of all the players under 20 years of age in the league, only three managed OPS’s over .800 (Dodgers OF Andrew Lambo, Reds SS/3B Neftali Soto, and Moustakas) one of which (Soto) seemed entirely dependent on batting average to do it. Most impressively, Moustakas hit 22 homeruns, which led the league in the category. Nobody under 22 cracked the top 5, which should give you an idea on why scouts and statisticians are so high on the guy.

2. Jason Taylor, 3B/1B
433 At Bats, 17 HRs, .242/.372/.418, 81BB, 97K

If you looked at the dearth of publicity on the guy, it might make you think he’s not considered much of a prospect. He really should be making more top prospect lists, when you consider his draft pedigree (2nd rounder in 2006) and his pretty awesome performance in 2008. He was the league-leader in walks, took 4th in steals, and was tied for 5th in homeruns -- all at a relatively young age of 20. One could make the case that Taylor had the #1 hitting performance for 2008.

So why the lack of buzz surrounding Taylor? It may have to do with the buzz Taylor has self-inflicted… he’ll be serving a 50 game suspension to start 2009 for violating the minor league drug policy. He had also faced some "disciplinary issues" for violating team rules in 2007, which resulted in his not playing for that entire year.

The team or the league won’t disclose the exact nature of the 2007 suspension, but since his most recent issue stems from recreational drug use rather than steroid abuse, it makes me feel more confident of his ability to rebound, if indeed he can stay clean. (Josh Hamilton comes to mind here.) If he can’t stay sober long enough to make it to the pros, I’m sure he’ll still make a pretty good one-hitter. Heh.

3. Kyle Martin, SS/3B
190 At Bats, 8 HRs, .316/.373/.537, 17BB, 40K

While Kyle was originally drafted as a SS, he played all over the diamond in 2008, splitting his time mainly between SS and 3B, but also logging time at 1B, 2B, and DH.

Martin led all Bees in OPS with .910, and had he been given enough at bats, there’s a chance he could have ended up with more doubles and homers than Moustakas, as he had about half the extra base hits as Moustakas in less than half the number of plate appearances.


Based on his college stats and draft slot, Kyle’s one of those guys who is unlikely to repeat this sort of performance at higher levels, so hopefully he enjoyed this season to the fullest, as it’s likely to be his peak. With all players in the minors, though, there’s always a chance his step forward is for real. Time will tell.

4. Nick Van Stratten, OF
139 At Bats, 1 HRs, .345/.400/.489, 12BB, 20K

The rankings get a little muddier after the top 3 performances, as about four or five guys could lay claim to the final to spots. I gave the edge here to Van Stratten, though, as he led the team in OBP and was third in the Midwest League in batting average (.345).

The problem here, though, was that Van Stratten’s performance is completely unsustainable. His .398 batting average on balls on play is plenty proof that his lofty numbers were more the result of good luck than any sort of skill set. Factor in his lack of power (only 1 homerun in 139 at bats) and his high GB% (57.9%), and it’s not hard to predict a giant plummet in numbers for Nick in 2009. So while performance-wise he gets the edge over guys like Johnny Giavotella or David Lough in 2008, his long-term prospects are a little more dubious.

5. Clint Robinson, 1B
379 At Bats, 17 HRs, .264/.333/.472, 33BB, 67K

Robinson isn’t really considered much of a prospect, but he has hit everywhere he’s played. While he didn’t slug as well as he did in 2007, when he had an impressive .593 SLG, he still displayed plenty of power during his time in Burlington. His 42 extrabase hits were third on the team, but he also had about 100 at bats fewer than the two guys ahead of him.

One of the obstacles standing in Robinson’s way of success is his clay feet. I don’t know what the methodology is for determining the speed ranking on BaseballCube.com, but Clint only scores a 1 out of 100. Not surpisingly, he was caught on all 3 stolen base attempts last season. He still managed three triples, so perhaps his speed is misleading, in a Prince Fielder sort of way. Or maybe he’s just adept a scoring the super-elusive ground rule triple.

Honorable Mentions: David Lough, Johnny Giavotella

TOP 5 PITCHING PERFORMANCES

1. Daniel Duffy
81.2 IP, 2.20 ERA, 102 K, 25 BB

The pitching performances were fantastic across the board for Burlington in 2008, but Duffy comes out on top by virtue of his eye-popping K/9 (11.24), a stellar a WHIP (.99), and a team-leading ERA. It might be easy to assume he was used as a reliever when you see his 102 strikeouts in 82 innings pitched, as that’s the sort of strikeout rate you’d expect from an elite closer or set-up man, not a starting pitcher, unless that starting pitcher is of the Jake Peavy/Tim Lincecum variety. Yet Duffy was indeed starting, notching 17 games in the rotation for the Bees. More impressively, he put up these numbers as a relatively young 19 years old, which in 2008, at least, made him sort of the pitching equivalent of Mike Moustakas.

Considering his youth, and the fact that he accrued these numbers exclusively as a starter, the case could be made that his was the best performance in the Midwest League in 2008. One could debate this, of course, but what is undeniable is that his future looks very bright.

2. Daniel Gutierrez
90 IP, 2.70 ERA, 104 K, 25 BB

If Duffy is #1, Gutierrez could rightfully be considered #1B, as his numbers nearly mirrored those of Duffy’s. His K/9, BB/9, IP, and ERA were all very, very close to Duffy’s. Sure, this Daniel was 2 years older, but it doesn’t make his year any less sparkling, and some actually consider Gutierrez the better prospect of the two. It will be interesting to see how he performs this season in Wilmington, where he’ll be playing in an even more extreme pitcher’s park/league. Okay, maybe it won’t be that interesting -- he’ll likely do very well.

3. Alexander Caldera
149.1 IP, 2.89 ERA, 120 K, 36 BB

What’s not to love about the Burlington rotation? Caldera was tops on the team in strikeouts (120) and games started (25), and was ahead of both Duffy and Gutierrez in BB/9. He was also older than the two pitchers, but that really shouldn’t be held against him.

Long term his star isn’t as bright as the two pitchers listed above or the two listed below, but one shouldn’t be surprised if he develops into a dependable 4th or 5th starter at the ML level if he doesn’t get untracked somewhere along the way.

4. Matthew Mitchell
116.2 IP, 3.47 ERA, 77 K, 25 BB

Another 19 year old starter, Mitchell didn’t post a particularly great K/9, but he was, like Caldera, more adept at issuing the free pass, and he did a reasonable job of limiting base runners (and base scorers.) There wasn’t anything that screams FUTURE ALLSTAR about Mitchell’s season, but there’s very little to complain about here, either, except for maybe a slightly high homerun rate.

As with all people on this list, he’s proof that, if nothing else, Dayton Moore seems to know how to find good pitching in the draft. That Mitchell was a 14th round pick is gravy.

5. Edward Cegarra
54 IP, 2.67 ERA, 53 K, 5 BB

We could have just listed the entire Burlington rotation in this top 5, as any other year Eduardo Paulino (3.68 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 4:1 K:BB ratio) probably would have made the list. Cegarra gets the nod here though on account of his age (another 19 year old), his league leading BB rate, and a K:BB ratio that is absolutely wunderbar (over 10:1).

Cegarra’s walk rates evokes a young Rowdy Hardy, but by all accounts, Cegarra’s got considerably more zip on his fastball and registers as a bonafide prospect. It’s nice to see, and while Edward’s talents might end up being wasted in the pen, it will be an easier pill to swallow than when someone like Duffy or Mitchell gets shifted there later on, as seems to be the Royals front office modus operandi.

Honorable Mentions: Eduard Paulino, Henry Arias, and Pretty Much Every Other Bees Pitcher

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