However, I do not have the considerable resources I need to actively scout the independent leagues. Additionally, I do not have the considerable connections needed to ask people who have a good read on the players in the independent leagues. So, I will be doing some performance scouting. That performance scouting will be based on an approach I have used for collegiate numbers.
I will be focusing on three skills measured with four metrics. To qualify as being exceptional for a specific skill, the player needs to rank in the top 20% of players in the league for that metric. The skills:
Plate discipline - I measure plate discipline by the walk rate (BB%) and the ratio of walks to strikeouts (BB:K). The intention behind this is to target players who have a good understanding of hittable pitches and their ability to work for a walk.Additionally, these leagues have a level of competition that is more or less on par with low A and below talent with an occasional old salt who would be average in AA. As such, I am looking for players who are 25 and younger (emphasis on younger) where there may be some hope for a few years of development. This kind of player should be not available in these leagues. The MLB scouting apparatus should have found them and locked them into their minor league systems.
Contact rate - I use batting average for this. From an anecdotal perspective, players with good plate discipline AND poor contact rates have trouble progressing through the minors. As they face a greater number of pitchers with more command of their pitches, the opportunities for walks will decrease. Pitchers are more likely to pitch in the zone and for a player to make contact. Players who do not have good contact rates tend to get eaten up as they move on to higher levels of competition.
Power - Good contact rate and plate discipline are a great foundation for a hitting skill set. However, slapping the ball in professional leagues with players who field better is not as useful. There are just not many Ichiro Suzukis out there who have the speed to take advantage of a rapidly improving defense. In the pro game, there needs to be some power to go along with these skills. Otherwise, pitchers will go at hitters and give them pitches to hit, knowing that there is unlikely to be much damage.
The first independent league I will cover is the American Association.
The marks for a top 20% hitter in the AA are performances above 11.56 BB%, 0.97 BB:K, .315 AVG, and .194 ISO. Does anyone younger than 26 and with at least 300 plate appearances stand out in 2013? No, but there are some near hits.
Mike Padgett 1B/3B
35 years old
Drafted in 5th Round (Clemson) in 1998, Florida Marlins
|A- (1 season)||A-||271||9||1||4||4||3||22||73||.219||.281||.312|
|Ind (6 seasons)||Ind||2741||164||14||68||19||5||309||472||.286||.368||.451|
|A (2 seasons)||A||687||31||2||17||6||3||73||179||.260||.342||.402|
|A+ (1 season)||A+||515||37||2||8||10||1||64||101||.293||.390||.441|
|AA (4 seasons)||AA||1489||86||4||45||9||8||131||337||.255||.323||.427|
|AAA (4 seasons)||AAA||1194||67||8||46||4||6||97||299||.276||.336||.481|
Padgett has continued his travels in Independent ball to Kansas City and New Jersey where he excelled on all four metrics, but at the age of 35. The last time he was with an MLB affiliated team was 2007 with Ottawa. He had a career where he was really only a break or two away from getting a cup of coffee with both the Marlins and Phillies, but the opportunity never seemed to present itself. As an Indy player in 2013, he has been a top 10% performer with walk rate, batting average, and isolated power. He was a top 20% performer with BB:K. He would probably be a below average AAA player with this level of performance.
The Near Misses
Ryan Scoma, 1B
25 years old
Scoma was a 36th round, 2009 selection for the Giants. He proved to be a first basemen with gap power and that simply was not going to get things done. In 2013, he was a top 10% performer with BB%, BB:K, and batting average. However, he has not seen any growth in his power. It would be surprising to me if he signs with an MLB organization.
Willie Cabrera, 2B/LF
26 years old
Cabrera was drafted out of a JuCo by the Braves in the 14th round in 2005. He performed well up through AA, but suffered greatly in two AAA stints and does not appear to truly play any position well. If he has a place in the minors, it would be as a left fielder. In 2013, he was a top 10% performer with BB:K and a top 20% performer with batting average and isolated power. His walk rate was acceptable for the league. At 26, this might be his last chance to stick with an MLB organization. I would consider giving him a shot in Spring Training though my optimism would be greatly tempered.
Abel Nieves, 3B
27 years old
Nieves was a 50th round pick by the Angels in 2004. He was a decent 3B, showed no acumen with the bat once he left A ball. In 2013, he was a top 10% performer with BB:K and AVG while being a top 20% performer with BB%. He needs to show more power and it seems doubtful he ever will.
C.J. Ziegler, 1B
27 years old
Ziegler was taken out of Arizona in the 16th round by the Giants in 2008. He showed some power, but was over several years older than his competition. As an indy player, he has shown great power. In 2013, his .327 ISO was an elite show. He also was a top 20%er with BB% and batting average. His most glaring issue is that he has been a little too easy to strike out given the players he has hit against. He probably deserves to fill out someone's organization to see how his power shakes out in the minors.
Ron Bourquin, 3B
28 years old
Borquin was a notable 2nd round selection by the Detroit Tigers in 2006. He walked a decent amount, struck out a little too much, had moderate power, and had difficulty fielding. He still appears to struggle in the field and may be able to play at 1B. He was a top 10%er with BB% and ISO and a top 20%er with BB:K. With his age and fielding problems, I don't see how he would fit in an organizational as filler.
Brent Clevlen, LF
29 years old
Clevlen is a another Tiger 2nd rounder, but was drafted in 2002. Before 2004, he was a Baseball America top 100 prospect. In 2006, 282/317/641 over 42 plate appearances made it appear that he was a MLBer for good. That was not the case. In the minors he has spent time with the Tigers, Braves, Reds, Phillies, and Diamondbacks. In 2012, Clevlen performed well for the Diamondbacks, but a shaky start in 2013 led to his release. Once in the American Association, he was a top 10%er in ISO and a top 20%er in BB% and batting average. With his background, one would think he should be able to find a home with an MLB organization next year and be a potential 6th outfielder.
I would not suggest that anyone here needs to be signed. There are a couple guys, Cabrera and Ziegler, who I think would be interesting players as organizational filler. If Aaron Baker will be up in Bowie, then I could see Ziegler being able to get some time in Frederick. They does not seem to be an obvious player currently in the organization to start the year there. Cabrera? Left field and second base looks too crowded to me for him to get any time. However, I do not think either of these players are needs.