Older hitting prospects have a way of, well, dominating in Triple-A. For instance, in both the Pacific Coast League and International League (ignoring the Mexican League where the average age was nearly 30-years-old; three years older than the two stateside leagues), 14 of the top 20 highest Weighted Runs Created Plus totals were 25-years-older; three of them were over 30.
So when an older-ish prospect suddenly puts up the best numbers in his career, well, it’s noteworthy, just not that noteworthy. Case in point: International League MVP Russ Canzler.
Canzler’s had a rather arduous journey up the minor league ladder, trekking all the way up from a thirtieth round pick by the Cubs in 2004 to a player that forced Tampa Bay to promote to the major league club, even if it was only a short stint. Last year, the best season of his eight-year professional career, he hit .314/.401/.530, and according to wRC+ he was nearly 60-percent better than the league average. He walked in over 12% of his of plate appearances while managing to keep his strikeout rate comparable to his Double-A total in 2010. Due to a numbers crunch this offseason Tampa Bay sold him to Cleveland, the land of no first baseman and a million-plus left-handed bats. But it’s also a place where the right-handed Canzler has a chance to stick if he performs well enough in Spring Training.
Except Canzler’s going to regress next season, no matter the level of competition. Why?
Well, hitters’ batting average on balls in play (BABIP) tends to hover in close proximity of their established career numbers. And, yes, while it’s true the numbers in the minor leagues tend to be inflated by better hitters, it’s still very telling when a player’s BABIP suddenly spikes more than 60 points above his previous career best. Just like Russ Canzler.
While Canzler’s name has just begun to filter out, last season was his second consecutive noteworthy season. In 2010, he hit .287/.372/.566 in Double-A, good for a wRC+ of 151. His BABIP was .332; his career average prior to 2010 was .317. Obviously, the numbers aren’t too far apart.
Last season, his BABIP was .396, the fifth highest mark in the IL. See where the numbers are going next?
With his 2010 totals worked in, his career mark before the 2011 season was .319, nearly 80 points below his 2011 total.
So what does it all mean?
His numbers from 2011 should be looked upon as the anomaly for now. Could he end up repeating them? Sure. But assuming he plays another season in AAA – or at least a partial – some regression is probably going to be expected.
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