Midseason Report: High Desert Offense

In part three of a series of midseason reports, publisher Scott Sepich looks at the High Desert Mavericks and sees a team that is struggling to score runs (relatively speaking) with its top three hitters now swinging in West Tenn.

Moving on to the advanced A level, the High Desert Mavs have been somewhat of a disappointment this season offensively. The team's three best hitters have since been promoted to AA (Greg Halman, Johan Limonta, and Matt Mangini), leaving a lineup that is just OK. One thing to keep in mind is that offensive numbers are very high in the California League. The Mavs are only fifth out of 10 teams in runs, despite averaging 5.35 per game. Where the Mavs really struggle is pitching and defense, where they are dead last in the league in runs allowed at 6.58 per game (that's 0.6 more runs per game than the next worst team, Rancho Cucamonga). Adelanto has always been considered one of the best environments for hitting, with a combination of wind and elevation leading to Coors Field-type effects. But since the Mariners became affiliated with the Mavs last season, the majority of the balls flying out of the yard have been hit by opponents. This discrepancy can be due to one or more of the following:

1) The Maverick pitchers are just worse than the pitchers faced by the Mavs' hitters.

2) The Maverick hitters just haven't been very good.

3) Seattle's accelerated promotion schedule has taken better-performing players to AA and left the Mavs with below-average players for the league.

I think there's something to all of these things, though #3 is the most intriguing reason. I'll see if I can investigate that. Last season, the Mavs were horrible all the way around, winning only 54 of 140 games, and giving up 7.75 runs per game. But I wonder if there's any pattern to the team performing well early, before players were promoted. For now, let's look at the offensive unit thus far in 2008.

The Mavs are hitting .268 as a team with a .324 OBP and .414 SLG. They are the worst team in the league at drawing walks (224 in 88 games) and have the second-highest strikeout total (716). If you're scoring at home, that's 3.2 strikeouts for every walk. So despite a favorable offensive environment at home, the Mavs have the second-lowest OBP in the entire league.

Leury Bonilla, 1B/3B/OF, .301/.372/.407 (BA/OBP/SLG), 3 HR, 23 RBI, .256 EqA

Only in the Cal League can someone have a .779 OPS and rate as a below-average player, which is the case with Bonilla. Leury has actually drawn the most walks (25) on the entire team, but has only 16 extra-base hits. Bonilla can play several positions, which increases his value, but it doesn't seem like he's quite ready for the next level. A .399 BABIP has certainly helped the batting average rise north of .300.

Chris Minaker, 2B, .295/.327/.452, 5 HR, 44 RBI, .254 EqA

Minaker (pronounced MINE-ah-kerr) is the king of doubles in the Cal League, with 35 so far on the season (seven better than anyone else in the league). That offsets his general lack of power otherwise (5 HR). Minaker is actually on a demotion this year after he rocketed to West Tenn last season after a successful 40-game stint in Wisconsin in 2006. He OPS'd .570 for the Diamond Jaxx last year and found himself back down a level this year at age 24. Conventional wisdom is that he'll get another shot there next year.

Carlos Peguero, OF, .293/.310/.461, 10 HR, 70 RBI, .248 EqA

On a team full of guys who don't walk and strike out a lot, Peguero is the poster boy for the affliction. He has 93 strikeouts in 358 plate appearances and just nine walks. Carlos' relatively robust .376 BABIP keeps his batting average just under .300, but the .310 OBP is not an attractive number. His 10 home runs lead active Mavs, but the rate of nearly 36 PA per HR in this league doesn't exactly project him as a big power guy. He's only 21, though, so maybe plate discipline will come to him all of a sudden.

Travis Scott, C, .270/.327/.461, 9 HR, 41 RBI, .252 EqA

EqA is not a friendly stat to the Mavs, as every current regular stands below the average level of .260. Scott, however, has some power, hitting 22 home runs in just over 500 PA for the Mavs in the last two seasons. Scott's OPS is down over 100 points from last year, though, and all of his rates are worse. He's hitting fewer home runs, walking less, and striking out more. Let's just hope it's normal variance and not indicative of something else.

Carlos Triunfel, SS, .246/.304/.315, 1 HR, 17 RBI, .216 EqA

Of course, I have to talk about Triunfel when discussing the Mavs, but he's been hardly worth talking about this year. I'm prepared to cut him some slack, though, as he's the only 18-year-old playing regularly at this level. He represented himself pretty well in 50 games with the Mavs last year, putting up a solid if unspectacular .288/.333/.367. It was certainly as well as any 17-year-old could possibly do, and as Carlos is not shaping up to be a power hitter (he has one home run in his pro career), the low slugging percentage was not that alarming. But he's definitely taken a step back this season, derailed partly by injuries and partly by a suspension that had him sent away for 10 days back in May. As a result, Carlos has never really had a long stretch where he was playing every day. Since coming back from his latest injury, he's hitting much better, compiling a .333 batting average so far in July. The good news is that he's still very young and has a lot of time to improve. Perhaps the bump in the road will benefit him and make him realize that this isn't going to be easy. I wouldn't be surprised to see Carlos back at this level next year (whether or not that's in High Desert remains to be seen).

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