For me it was Albert
A group of school children attended Wednesday’s game between the Indians and Scranton Wilkes Barrre Yankees. They were attending an Indians Baseball in Education game and had great seats behind home plate. I shared with the kids some history on the team and which players they should pay attention to. By the time I was finished the kids knew to watch Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, and Neil Walker. Minor League baseball is all about watching tomorrow’s stars and one of the three may become a 10 time All-Star.
2009 #1 overall pick Steven Strasburg is going to be a part of that future. He is creating such a buzz in the minor’s fans in Indy keep asking when they will see Strasburgh. Unfortunately the Indians will not see Strasburg in the minors. The Tribe isn’t slated to play Syracuse until late June and by then he had better be in the big leagues. He may become his generation’s best right handed pitcher, but he will not make my list of the best players I’ve seen play in the minors.
So who are some of the best minor league players that I have seen and the Indians players have seen? That was the question I posed to OF Kevin Melillo, OF Brandon Moss, and 1B Brian Myrow. They were apprehensive at first because ball players rarely applaud other players. They will give a guy his due, but labeling them a stud or an all-timer is something completely different. So I opened up the conversation by telling them that Albert Pujols is the best minor league player I ever saw. Before you mock my pick, let me tell you when and where I saw Albert the Great.
Pujols was a 20 year-old third baseman for the Peoria Chiefs during the 2000 season. That was my first season as the voice of the South Bend Silverhawks. The Midwest League is low-A and for many players the first league in which they will play a full 144 game schedule. That year the Silverhawks played Pujols and the Chiefs 8 times and he dominated all eight games. (In my scorecard I wrote Albert Poo-holes) Against South Bend he batted .433 (13-30) with 6 runs, 5 doubles, 2 home runs, and 8 runs batted in. He was not the best third baseman, but his swing produced lasers that sailed to all fields. The only players that I can remember who have hit the ball as hard as Pujols are Wily Mo Pena (Dayton Dragons 2001) and Pedro Alvarez. When Wily Mo was not missing the ball he was smoking line drives for the Reds single-A affiliate in Dayton. I have only watched Pedro play for 6 weeks, but his line drives and power remind me of Pujols and Mo Pena. His power can shrink any ballpark.
A close second to Pujols for “the best I’ve ever seen” is Victor Martinez. The Red Sox catcher was the Eastern League MVP in 2002 batting .336 with 20 home runs and 62 strikeouts vs. 58 walks. He was never better that year than in the month of July when he hit an amazing .414 over 24 games with more doubles (13) than strikeouts (10). Martinez had the best season I’ve ever seen, but Pujols was the best player.
Now let’s get back to the fellas in the clubhouse. Melillo says the best player he has ever seen is Jason Heyward. This raised the ire of Moss and Myrow because he is only a rookie. Melillo said he played against Heyward last year in double-A and saw enough to know he was awesome. The first at-bat for Heyward was against a really good lefty who had a great slider. “So he gets ahead of Heyward oh and 2 and I’m thinking to myself here comes that nasty slider to finish him off. Sure enough, it was the slider and Heyward drills a line drive, it didn’t get 15 feet off the ground to the opposite field off the outfield wall for a double. Our guy had a good slider and Heyward just laughed at it. That’s all I needed to see.”
Pitcher Hayden Penn chimed in and said OF Luis Terrero has more tools than anyone he has ever seen. Terrero was the Arizona Diamondbacks #1 prospect back in 2000. He had power, speed, a cannon arm, and was projected as the future in Arizona. It never worked out that way and his is currently playing for the Louisville Bats.
Brian Myrow struggled with the question and the first name that came to him was Alexis Rios. Myrow played against Rios in double-A during the 2003 season. “What I liked about him was his bat stayed on a line with good power. He was real young (22) and he stayed on the ball so long that you just knew he was a guy who could hit in the big leagues.” Myrow went on to say that he played with Robinson Cano and thought he was good, but didn’t foresee this much success.
That answer led to another topic of guys who are All-Star’s and you never saw that in their future. The main player the discussion centered on was Kevin Youklis. Both Moss and Myrow saw Youklis first hand and didn’t think you could walk your way to the big leagues. Now to be fair Youklis didn’t hit many home runs, but his batting average was always good and he hit a ton of doubles. It is hard to disagree with the guys when you consider Yuke’s .961 OPS last season was the third best of his professional career and the best in his Major League career. His previous best OPS was .962 in 44 double-A games and .976 in 59 low-A games. Moss and Myrow liked Youklis, but didn’t see him becoming one of the faces for the Boston Red Sox.
Brandon Moss didn’t offer much in terms of whom the best Minor Players he can remember, but was quick to discuss Major League pitchers. Moss was quick to talk about Tim Lincecum’s curveball. He says it’s the best he has ever seen, while Myrow gives that honor to Felix Hernandez. Myrow remembers facing King Felix in Triple-A Tacoma and after a single Myrow reached second base. While he was standing at second, Hernandez decided to throw his first curveball of the game. “I’m standing on second base, I have no idea how, we had like two hits off him through 5 innings. I guess he felt threatened because he throws a curveball that just snaps off the end of the world. I couldn’t believe it and knew my guy at the plate had zero chance. I meand ZEE-ROW chance. I didn’t even have to face him to know that was the nastiest curve I’ve ever seen.”
I still didn’t get some of the answers I was looking for, but it was enjoyable to hear the players talk about others and how every once in a while you will see someone special. There was one thing all three of them agreed on…
Me: “Who is the fastest pla…”
One final note on new Indians outfielder Kevin Melillo. Melillo has been a middle infielder his entire career. Before joining the Indians he played in 610 professional games without a single start in the outfield until May 11th. He has adjusted just fine to his new position and made a spectacular catch on Wednesday afternoon. This is a photo taken by Bill Gentry:
Here is the shot from John Gray:
Two great pictures and Kevin said it was surprisingly easy. “I sprinted back and everything timed up perfectly. I didn’t have to time a leap, but just run and jump.” My guess is that it takes more than that and it makes for two cool pictures.
Follow me on Twitter @ScottDMcCauley