Minor League Hitter of the Week:
Joey Meneses, 1B/OF, Rome: 11/25, 4 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 7 R, 10 RBI, 2 BB, 4 K, .440/.481/1.040
Joey Meneses absolutely mauled Sally League pitching last week, and takes home the honor of being TC's top hitter. Although there were certainly other strong performances last week, many by players with a better shot than Meneses of making a Major League roster, it's hard to ignore the guy who posted a slugging percentage north of 1.000. Meneses, a native of Culiacán, Mexico, was signed as an international free agent by the Braves and given a $15,000 signing bonus in May of 2011. After spending 2011 at the Dominican Academy and playing in the Dominican Summer League, Meneses made his stateside debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2012, slashing .303/.352/.407 in 41 games. Meneses also spent last season playing for Rome, and was underwhelming, putting up a triple-slash line of .257/.308/.349, which gave him a .305 wOBA and an 89 wRC+ in his full-season debut as a 21-year-old in A-ball. Meneses spent the 2013 season splitting time between left and right field, and as you can see, his offensive numbers in his first turn at A-ball left a little to be desired for a corner outfielder who doesn't possess notable defensive tools. His power was non-existent (he produced a .092 ISO and hit only two home runs in 414 plate appearances), struck out quite a bit (23.4% K-rate), and didn't walk much (6.8% walk rate). Meneses' results at the plate last season, at least in my mind, mirror what Chris Johnson has done at the plate this season for Atlanta--sure, he sprayed some liners for singles and hit the occasional gapper, but when you don't walk and don't produce power numbers, the offensive profile is quite underwhelming and unproductive.
However, in 2014, the script has been flipped for Meneses. The power has gone up, as have the walks, and his numbers last week certainly reflect that (to a larger magnitude, of course). Meneses smacked three home runs, four doubles, and a triple last week, reached base in nearly half of his plate appearances, and generally destroyed Sally League pitching. Meneses fell just a double short of the cycle last Tuesday against Asheville, and was only a triple short of the cycle in the first game of Thursday's double-header against Greensboro. Meneses' only game in which he didn't record an extra-base hit was in the second game of the aforementioned doubleheader, in which he was held hitless in a 7-inning game. So, it's pretty easy to see that Meneses totally ravaged his opponents' pitching staffs last week. Below is video of Meneses' triple against Asheville last week.
Meneses has posted a wOBA of .421 and a stellar 163 wRC+ this season, along with 8 home runs and an ISO that's been tripled since last season at .270. So, the question must be asked--why is Meneses suddenly hitting so much better? In my mind, red flags go up when I see that Meneses is repeating a level and that he's older than the average player at his level (if you're unsure about this, Baseball-Reference's AgeDif tool is helpful). Hitters who are older than the average player at a certain level generally tend to find more success than younger players, as they have more experience and are more physically-developed and fine-tuned as hitters, and thus have a leg-up on the average hitter and pitcher at their level. Hitters also tend to fare much better on their second turn at a level, and Meneses has the advantage of having spent the entire 2013 season in Rome as well. It's still mind-boggling just how much Meneses has improved, however--a power spike like the one that he's experienced is, well, impossible to ignore. While I don't think that Meneses has suddenly morphed into Barry Bonds, it's possible that he's made some corrections and improvements to his swing in order to generate more power and lift. Perhaps he's begun a different approach at the plate, worrying less about making contact and being more patient, working deeper into counts and jumping on mistake pitches. His walk rate has risen from 6.8% to 10.2% this season. In my mind, what we're seeing from Meneses is likely a combination of a few things working together: small sample size, a modified approach, increased strength, and familiarity with his level. Personally, I still don't view Meneses as more than an organizational piece. He's old for his level, he doesn't really have a defensive home (the glove won't play in the outfield), and his success this season is likely unsustainable. However, his improvements this season have piqued my interest, and it will be interesting to see how he performs once he's summoned to a higher level.
Minor League Pitcher of the Week:
Shae Simmons, RP, Mississippi: 4 GP, 4 SV, 4 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 5 K, 0 BB, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP
I decided to give this week's Pitcher of the Week award to Shae Simmons both due to his excellent week and so that I can speak on just how fantastic he's been this season. Simmons, a diminutive righty (he's "officially" listed at 5'11", but I don't buy that) who was selected by the Braves in the 22nd round of the 2012 Rule IV Draft out of Southeast Missouri State, has developed into Atlanta's top relief-only prospect. Coming out of college, the book on Simmons was that he had an electric arm, capable of pumping upper-90's fastballs and a wicked slider, but had major bouts with wildness and couldn't always turn his stuff into effective outings. These concerns were certainly manifested in Simmons' first two seasons of the organization. He began his professional career with the GCL Braves, and was sent to Danville after a month of working 14.1 scoreless innings. Simmons struggled with control at both of his stops in 2012, posting a 14.8 BB% in the Gulf Coast League and a 15.7 BB% in the Appalachian League. Of course, it would be silly not to mention his ridiculous strikeout numbers, as he retired upwards of 40% of hitters via the strikeout after being promoted to Danville. Simmons began his 2013 season in Rome and was utterly dominant, posting a 1.49 ERA and a 1.71 FIP and lowering his walk rate to 8.5% in A-ball. Simmons' strong performance earned him a call-up to Mississippi, skipping Lynchburg, in the season's final month. He continued to dominate hitters with a 2.45 ERA and a 1.91 FIP, but saw his walk rate creep back up a bit (small sample size caveats apply, of course) to 15.9%.
This season, however, Simmons has taken on the role of Mississippi's closer and has slashed his walk rate, putting up an utterly video game-like season to this point. TC named Simmons its number 15 prospect going into the season, and he's done nothing but justify his prospect hype and then some. The 23-year-old flamethrower has allowed zero runs in 16 of his 17 appearances this season, with his only hiccup being a non-save outing in Pensacola at the end of April in which he gave up a pair of runs on two singles and a walk. Last week, Simmons was brilliant, saving four games in four chances for Mississippi, allowing only two runners to reach base on singles and striking out five batters. Simmons' numbers last week reflect what he's done for Mississippi this year. He has been a model of consistency, as he is 12/12 in save opportunities and has refined his control significantly. Simmons has walked a total of four batters in 20 innings of work in 2014, which has slashed his walk rate to a minuscule 5.3%. It's also worth noting that his strikeout rate has fallen just slightly, from 37.5% in Rome and 36.4% in Mississippi last year to 34.2% this season. Is it possible that Simmons is sacrificing a few strikeouts in the name of control? I suppose it's plausible, but I think Simmons is probably just continuing to harness his wicked arsenal, and the drop is strikeout rate is nothing more than random variation. Do I believe that his walk rate will continue to stay this low this season? Probably not, as a 5.3% walk rate is unsustainable for all but the most adept control artists out of the bullpen, such as Sergio Romo and Koji Uehara, two pitchers who rely more on command and finesse than Simmons. However, it's encouraging to see how much Simmons had improved control-wise, and it's still mind-boggling to consider how many batters he strikes out, as well as the fact that he has never allowed a home run in professional baseball (!). I foresee a future for Simmons in the back of Atlanta's bullpen, sooner rather than later. Injuries could push him up to Atlanta this season, but I would expect him to see time in the bigs next year. In the meantime, take a look at this video below, courtesy of Nathaniel Stoltz, and salivate along with me at that pure stuff.