A new team on the Minor League landscape is always cause for fun. New logos. New uniforms. New fan bases. And new stadiums.Minor League realignment was one of the biggest stories coming into the 2019 season with San Antonio moving to Triple-A, Colorado Springs becoming a Rookie Advanced club, Helena
A new team on the Minor League landscape is always cause for fun. New logos. New uniforms. New fan bases. And new stadiums.
Minor League realignment was one of the biggest stories coming into the 2019 season with San Antonio moving to Triple-A, Colorado Springs becoming a Rookie Advanced club, Helena getting cut, and -- the important part for the purposes of this column -- Amarillo gaining a Double-A team. Last Friday's Toolshed on Triple-A park effects covered in part what happened to the Pacific Coast League when the circuit swapped the high altitude of Colorado Springs for the much more pitcher-friendly confines of San Antonio. This edition's look at the Double-A factors will tackle the other side of that coin -- what did the Texas League gain (or lose) by adding Amarillo's HODGETOWN?
The following tables illustrate the park factors for runs, homers and hits for the 2019 season and the average of the past three seasons. Amarillo's numbers from 2019 and San Antonio's average for 2017 and 2018 were added to the second table for points of comparison. The numbers have been put on a scale in which 100 equals average. Anything above that mark favors the offense. Anything below tips toward pitchers.
Texas League -- 2019
Texas League -- 2017-19
So what did the Texas League gain? A whole lot of offense. At least from one of its eight teams.
Amarillo's home run factor was by far the highest of any Triple-A or Double-A ballpark in 2019. The next highest was Reading, and that was 56 points below Amarillo. How does this happen? Well, there were 206 long balls hit in the 68 games in Amarillo during the regular season. Compare that to only 93 in 70 Sod Poodles road games, both by Amarillo players and their opponents. That's a huge gap and one made all the more stark by the conditions left behind in San Antonio, where batters went yard only 81 times in 2018. In total, Texas League homers bumped up from 961 in 2018 to 999 this season, but almost all of that can be explained by Amarillo's inclusion.
Why the jump? The altitude could be one thing. San Antonio sits only 650 feet above sea level, while up in the Texas Panhandle, Amarillo is much higher at around 3,600 feet. The second could be the wind. According to data culled by MSN.com from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Amarillo ranks sixth among United States cities for highest average annual wind speed at 12.8 mph. There were reports of up to 60-mph gusts at times at HODGETOWN, typically blowing out toward the gaps. Add in some typically dry heat, and they had the ingredients for some real slugfests. Rather fittingly, the last game played at HODGETOWN in 2019, which did not count toward these park factors, was an 18-9 Tulsa win in Game 2 of the Texas League Finals featuring 11 homers (including three by Drillers shortstop Jeter Downs).
At the other end of the spectrum, Arkansas' Dickey-Stephens Park was an oasis for pitchers. Since 2017, there have been an average of 7.3 runs per game at the home of the Travelers. Compare that to 9.2 runs per game on average everywhere else over the same period. Homers are particularly hard to come by with 204 hit at Dickey-Stephens over the past three seasons; the next lowest total in that span is 262 at Midland.
Looking for a neutral park? Try Frisco, which tended toward pitchers in 2019, but was typically within 3 percent of average in all three factors over the past three seasons.
Owen Miller: While some bigger names came through Amarillo (e.g. MacKenzie Gore, Luis Patiño, Taylor Trammell), none quite had the same sample size as Miller. The Padres' No. 10 prospect was sent to Double-A in his first full season and stuck with the Sod Poodles all year, playing 130 games for San Diego's new Texas League affiliate. The 22-year-old infielder was a perfect distillation of the hitter-friendly environs of Amarillo. Ten of Miller's 13 home runs came in HODGETOWN alone. He slugged .520 and produced a .911 OPS in 61 games at home compared to a .346 slugging percentage and .669 OPS over 69 contests on the road. The Illinois State product is considered to have an above-average hit tool but below-average power, and that was definitely more the case away from home in 2019, even if he deserves some points for making the leap to the Minors' second-highest level so quickly.
Dylan Carlson: The two-time MiLBY winner definitely enjoyed a power breakout in 2019, smacking 26 long balls between Springfield and Triple-A Memphis -- well above his previous career high of 26. While he showed impressive improvements to tap into that pop, his home-road splits indicate Springfield's Hammons Field might have played a role. Carlson hit 14 of his 21 Double-A dingers at home and produced a .612 slugging percentage and .991 OPS there as well while his numbers were .423 slugging and .774 OPS on the road. Of course, the switch-hitter's seven road homers indicate he was likely to break his previous career high anyway, and given what Carlson did at Triple-A, the breakout extended beyond his enjoyment of home cooking in Springfield. But these splits provide some context to keep in mind when analyzing the No. 24 overall prospect's 2019 campaign.
Evan White: White's best grades often come for his defensive work at first base, but the No. 58 overall prospect is also fairly well-regarded for his bat. Fans and evaluators could have seen more of that if he'd played somewhere other than Arkansas. White batted just .260/.309/.408 with five homers in 44 games at Dickey-Stephens Park, but was a monster on the road with a .321/.384/.556 line and 13 long balls in 48 games. His .940 road OPS was third-highest among Texas Leaguers with 30 or more games away from home behind Seth Beer's .996 and Christian Lopes' .954. For the record, Gavin Lux was just below White in that category at .915.
Eastern League -- 2019
Eastern League -- 2017-19
It's important to note early that the Eastern League is one of the more pitcher-friendly circuits in Minor League Baseball. Only the Florida State League (7.7) had fewer runs per game on average than the Eastern League's 7.8 in 2019. That context is important because, even as some parks above look extremely-hitter friendly, those numbers come in comparison to the other league stadiums.
That said, Reading's FirstEnergy Stadium has long been thought of as the place to see dingers in the Eastern League. Three Joe Bauman Home Run award winners have called Reading home since the award was first handed out in 2002 -- Ryan Howard (2004), Darin Ruf (2004) and Dylan Cozens (2016). That's more than any other stadium. So it should come as no surprise that Fightin Phils hitters have led the circuit in home runs the past five seasons.
But it's far from the only haven for hitters in the Eastern League these days. Hartford, with 8.3 runs scored per game in 2019, had the highest run factor among Eastern League parks as compared to road results, and Erie, with 2.0 dingers per contest, sported the highest homer factor. And remember how dominant Erie's starting pitchers were this season. Led by Matt Manning, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, SeaWolves hurlers ranked third in the league with a collective 3.29 ERA, only slightly lower than their 3.33 mark at the launching pad at home.
There were definitely pitcher-friendly parks in Richmond, Akron and Trenton -- each of which scored below 90 for the run and homer factors over the long term. Those who like balls in play should especially seek out Richmond's The Diamond. From 2017 and 2019, only 202 left the yard in Flying Squirrels home games compared to 332 on the road. So while the hit factor of 96 was well within the normal range, it was much harder to turn those hits into homers in Richmond than perhaps any other place at the Minors' second-highest level.
Isaac Paredes: Outside of the pitchers already mentioned, Paredes was the next highest-profile prospect to call Erie home in 2019, and the 20-year-old infielder definitely enjoyed his time at UPMC Park as compared to the rest of the Eastern League. Paredes lofted 10 of his 13 homers at home and his slugging percentage jumped from .347 on the road to .487 at home. The Tigers' No. 5 prospect derives plenty of value from his ability to put the ball in play with only 61 strikeouts in 127 games this season, but the more interesting tests of his power will come when he moves on from Erie, perhaps to start 2020.
Albert Abreu: The hard-throwing Yankees' No. 6 prospect gets his biggest demerits for subpar control that isn't so affected by park factors. But when Abreu made other mistakes, he was punished much more heavily on the road away from Trenton in 2019 than he was at home. Abreu posted a 2.61 ERA, a 1.40 WHIP and a .237 average-against in 41 1/3 innings at home compared to respective marks of 5.53, 1.77 and .303 on the road. All nine of the homers he allowed came on the road as well. Abreu's stuff would move him into the Top 100 alone, but if he doesn't find a way to command his fastball-curve-change mix effectively, he'll face even harsher punishments at Triple-A and above when he gets away from the comfier home in New Jersey's capital.
Joey Bart: The top Giants prospect's time in the Eastern League wasn't especially long, but played perfectly into the narrative that Richmond is a tough park for good hitters. Bart went deep three times in only 10 games on the road following his Aug. 9 promotion from Class A Advanced San Jose. He homered only once in 12 games at home. His slash line differences are even more stark over the same period -- .244/.271/.400 at home vs. .412/.487/.735 on the road. That's the difference between a cold introduction and setting a new league on fire. Bart will likely get a chance to build on his experience with a return to Richmond next spring, but this time, he should have an even better idea of how little offense he can expect at The Diamond.
Southern League -- 2019
Southern League -- 2017-19
Compared to the other two loops, Southern League parks have played much more fairly across the board over the past three seasons with limited extremes. Except for maybe one.
Mississippi's Trustmark Park is the place in the league where dingers go to die, with the walls down the line going 332 feet to right and 330 feet to left. The one in right is particularly high with advertising. In other words, it's tough to hit a cheapo in Pearl, Mississippi. As a result, there have been only 190 homers hit at Mississippi in the past three years. No Southern League park has hosted fewer than 264 dingers in that span.
Lastly, pour one out for Mobile's Hank Aaron Stadium. The BayBears are set to move to Madison, Alabama, for the 2020 season, when they will become the Rocket City Trash Pandas. Hank Aaron Stadium leaves the Southern League living up to its namesake in a way. The home of the BayBears was the most run- and hit-friendly SL park in 2019 and the third-best for home runs. Mobile played a little closer to average over the three-year term, but there's no doubt it was a hitters' park first and foremost. How the new park in Madison will play will have to wait for this time next year.
Jo Adell: The top Angels prospect's stay in the Southern League wasn't particularly long -- he arrived on June 2 and was promoted less than two months later -- but like Bart in the Eastern League, his splits fit perfectly with what Mobile showed in its parting season. Adell compiled a slash line of .343/.430/.687 with five homers in 19 games at home, only to have those numbers drop to .283/.359/.457 with three homers in 24 games on the road. An .816 road OPS at Double-A at age 20 is nothing to look down at, but it's notable that a lot of the excitement Adell provided during his time with the BayBears came at Hank Aaron Stadium.
Tucker Davidson: Those hoping for flashy slugging splits from other Braves prospects Cristian Pache and Drew Waters would be best-served by a reminder that both outfielders are power hitters and weren't as hurt by Mississippi's homer-depleting ways as a result. Meanwhile, Davidson was a midseason and an end-of-season Southern League All-Star, albeit one with some interesting splits. Davidson's 1.46 ERA in 55 2/3 innings at home was much lower than his still-solid 2.62 mark in 55 frames on the road. As more of a ground-ball pitcher, he did allow fewer homers at Mississippi than away from there but only by one -- two vs. three -- and his WHIP was actually higher at home (1.24) than on the road (1.16). The 23-year-old southpaw's 2.03 overall ERA was the lowest by any Southern Leaguer with at least 100 innings, but it's a wonder what that would have looked like had he called elsewhere home.
Sixto Sanchez: By most metrics, Jacksonville is a pitchers' park, except for one, and that's what perhaps led to some odd splits for the Marlins' top prospect. Sanchez actually posted a higher ERA (3.28) in 57 2/3 innings at home than he did in 45 1/3 frames on the road (1.59), despite Jacksonville's run factor. In part, that's because he allowed four homers at home and just one on the road. Jacksonville is a bit of an anomaly in that it allows more homers than average, but kills most other balls in play. Perhaps Sanchez would have been better served with a Double-A flyball rate lower than 31.7 percent in 2019, but it's doubtful he lost much sleep over it given his dominance on the road.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.