Florida Marlins OF prospect Mike Stanton leads all the minor leagues with 13 home runs in 25 games. He’s playing in a league that typically depresses run scoring, in a home park that (as recently as two years ago) doesn’t make home runs easy (.94 HR Park Factor). If Stanton continues at this torrid pace, he will almost surely bypass AAA and move straight to Miami. Until then, he’ll have to make do as the Minors Top Hitting Prospect.
When he does get the call, teams will scramble for scouting reports to look for an edge over the Marlins newest toy. Talents like Stanton are the types that can swing a race in the second half, so you can bet NL East teams are hot after the big slugger’s weaknesses. He hasn’t shown many this year, but I thought going over a spray chart of his balls in play might tell us something. It does.
The 13 Home Runs
In all, we have six home runs to left, two to left-center, three to center field, and two home runs hit the opposite way. Six were off pitchers that have, at one time or another, been praised as legit big league prospects: Erik Cordier, Jake Thompson, Sean Watson, Dallas Buck, Justin Cassel and Nick Hill. Three home runs were against left-handed pitchers, and just two were on the road, but this is more a product of opportunity than an indictment of weakness.
The Ball-in-Play Hits
Culled from the play-by-play logs at MiLB.com, these certainly bear out some interesting results. Stanton has 18 hits this season that didn’t clear the fence: 12 singles and six doubles. Of those hits, six were classified as line drives, two as fly balls, and 10 as ground balls.
But most interesting is this; only 1 of the 18 hits was collected by a fielder on the right side; a line drive double on April 28. Of the other 17 hits, four were collected by the center fielder, four by an infielder on the left side, and the remaining nine went to left field. This means that throwing in the home runs, of Stanton’s 31 hits this season, just three have been hit the opposite way.
The Ball-in-Play Ground Outs
In total, Stanton has made 32 ball-in-play outs this season, and 14 of them have been ground balls. Again, we see a pull-heavy approach from the slugger. Half of his ground outs this season have been to the shortstop, and three more to the third baseman. Given that one ground out was to the pitcher, Stanton has grounded out to the right side just three times.
The Ball-in-Play Air Outs
First of all, I should note, Stanton has popped out to an infielder seven times this season. I don’t know how telling this is for the purposes of creating a spray chart, as an infield fly is just a ball that comes off the bat wrong. But it also represents Stanton’s most consistent opposite field approach: four of his seven infield flies when to the 1B or 2B.
This leaves us with 11 fly outs, which actually are a little more proportionate than the rest of his balls in play. Stanton has recorded an out to the left fielder five times, to the center fielder three times, and to the right fielder three times. That includes his lone sacrifice fly on the season, which went to right.
Note on the Danger of Minor League Batted Ball Conclusions
Not once this season has Mike Stanton recorded an out, and it noted in the play by play logs as a line drive. This classification seems to be very after-the-fact, so this should serve as a cautionary tale of drawing conclusions in a minor league prospect’s LD% or FB%. I can say however, with some confidence, that Stanton has a 11.1 IFFB% this season. But I just can’t believe he’s really hitting 1.000/1.000/2.375 on line drives this season. Whether his actual GB% is 38.1%, or his HR/FB% is actually 40.6%, as the play-by-play logs suggest, I leave that up to you.
Of course, sample size warnings apply here quite a bit, especially because Stanton only has 63 balls in play this season. Fans of True Three Outcomes players will be thrilled that one of their own is baseball’s top hitting prospect, as Stanton’s TTO% is 56.8% through 25 games.
If the Marlins do summon Stanton to Miami this season, you can bet that teams will know just how pull-heavy he really is. Of those 63 balls in play, just 13 (20.6%) have been hit the opposite way. If we remove infield flies from that number, we get 9 out of 56 (16.1%). While we don’t yet have the data to know Stanton’s preferences against different pitch types, his pull-happy nature should suggest that teams pitch him outside early and often when he debuts.