Chicks dig the long ball, or so the old commercial tells us. I’m not a chick, but I’ll admit it: I dig the long ball. I’m guessing that you, too, probably enjoy watching a home run over watching a ground out to second base, but hey – maybe you are a weirdo and prefer the alternative.
On the minor league side of things there just aren’t as many home runs hit as there are in the big leagues. There’s a lot of reasons for that, but the largest reason is two fold: One, the players simply aren’t as physically mature and two, they play significantly fewer games. While home runs are nice, they aren’t the only thing that means “power”. Extra-base hits is a nice way to look beyond home runs for power output. Obviously the amount of playing time comes into play for pure total extra-base hits, so let’s take a look at the leaderboards in the organization for isolated power, which is calculated by subtracting batting average from slugging percentage – counting only the “extra bases” per at-bat.
Now, as we all know, not every ballpark is created equal. In the minor leagues, not every league is, either. The Reds minor league system from A-ball to Triple-A is missing any hitter friendly ballparks. Dayton plays about neutral, but Daytona, Pensacola and Louisville play pitcher friendly. Billings and the Arizona Rookie League team in Goodyear play in hitter friendly leagues, though the ballpark in Billings is considered pitcher friendly for the league itself (but by comparison is still quite hitter friendly – the rest of the league is just incredibly hitter friendly with one park having their right field wall a meager 279 feet from home plate with several others barely at 300 feet throughout the league). The teams that play in the Dominican Summer League – I honestly don’t know.
Looking at the list there’s not really anyone who stands out from the top part of the list in terms of a surprise, with the exception being John Sansone. Coming out of Florida State he wasn’t exactly known for his power. That’s not to say he was a light-hitting type of guy, but as a senior he hit nine home runs at Florida State with aluminum bats. This season in just a handful more plate appearances in Dayton he’s hit 11.
When we look at the Rookie Levels list, though, there are two rather big surprises. The first is Alejo Lopez. The 21-year-old is 5′ 10″ and 170 lbs. Last season in Billings he slugged .327. In half as many games he’s matched his doubles total, added one more triple and tripled his home runs (he has three this season). The other surprise is Debby Santana. The reason it’s surprising that he’s on the list is that he’s just 16-years-old. While the Dominican Summer League doesn’t generally have a bunch of power hitters by the nature that the average player is just over 18-years-old, when a 16-year-old is hitting well in the league it sticks out. I wrote a little bit about Santana in June when he was out to a really hot start to his professional career if you are interested in reading the little bit of information I do have on him at this point.
Let’s get back to the long ball side of things though. One of my favorite articles that I do each week at RedsMinorLeagues.com (which, if you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t been aware of, that’s where I write daily about things going on in the farm system) is look at the longest home runs hit on the farm system for a given week. I use a combination of google maps measuring tool along with videos of the home runs, and in some cases I am able to get trackman information on home runs hit as well. This week there have already been two different home runs that were hit over 420 feet by minor leagues – one by Miles Gordon and one by Michael Beltre. I’m trying to get more information on the one hit by Beltre to verify the actual distance because it would be the 2nd longest of the year of any minor league I’ve gotten confirmation on. Here’s how the Top 10 list on the year plays out – but just note that this list is incomplete and some home runs aren’t here for various reasons (camera guys missed the landing spot, information from rookie ball is tough to get and or impossible and some games simply aren’t capable of being tracked back for video and the stadium isn’t giving out trackman distances). Still, I’ve got information on over 175 home runs this season between Billings and Louisville, which is more than half of the homers hit between those teams.
The two home runs this week would both make the list, but I’m not including them just yet. The Gavin LaValley home run at the top of the list is one that I had heard about being an absolute bomb, but wasn’t able to confirm it until my trip to Florida. It’s easily been the longest of the year to this point of the season, though depending on what comes back on the Beltre homer, there may be one that is a bit closer than the current second place shot.