The High Desert Effect

If you’ve known me for very long, you’ve probably heard me comment from time to time on how deceptive High Desert is as an environment for evaluating prospects.  The Mavericks have a massively offense-friendly park in what’s probably the most offense-friendly league in professional baseball.  That has lead time and again to overly-inflated offensive numbers, and good pitchers putting up bad numbers.

High Desert plays their home games in Stater Brothers Stadium, located in Adelanto, CA.  Adelanto is in the Mojave Desert, which on it’s own would increase the offensive friendliness of the park thanks to the warm, dry air.  Making the place a ridiculous bandbox is the fact that the city’s elevation is approximately 2,870 feet above sea level.  The heat plus the thin air creates just a ridiculous environment for baseball to be played in, and unlike Coors Field, there’s no humidor to be found.

One “eyeball test” that has helped to weed out some of the legitimate hitters (and league-influenced pitchers) from the over-performing chaff has been to look at the home/road splits for the Mavericks.  As there were some  potentially interesting talents to look at in High Desert last year, I thought it’d be an interesting and hopefully useful venture to do just that and share the results with you, in a sort of modified Good/Bad/Ugly format.

Rich Poythress’ splits were discussed yesterday in his Top 20 post, so we’ll skip on past him and go on to some of the other notable splits.

The Bad: Denny Almonte
Home: 66 games, .265/.317/.541, 16 HR, 15 2B, 4 3B, 18 BB, 100 K’s
Away: 61 games, .245/.265/.367, 6 HR, 7 2B, 2 3B, 7 BB, 92 K’s

Yikes. That’s not a good split to see.  Almonte makes about as much contact (the batting average difference is ten hits over twenty at-bats), and still whiffs just as much, but his power goes from good home-run power to line-drive/gap power, and he stops showing what little patience he displayed at home.

Such a marked gap in both power and on-base numbers is worrying at best, especially given the offensive environment of the league, and would indicate that his overall line is not nearly as strong as it would appear.  Fortunately, Almonte isn’t considered much of a serious prospect these days, so this is no huge loss.

The Concerning: Johermyn Chavez
Home: 68 games, .341/.419/.693, 23 HR, 15 2B, 5 3B, 32 BB, 65 K’s
Away:  68 games, .288/.354/.461, 9 HR, 15 2B, 2 3B, 20 BB, 66 K’s

Chavez has a pretty pronounced split as well, but it’s actually less concerning than Almonte’s in a few ways.  Unlike Almonte, his numbers didn’t crash from “pretty good” to “awful”; instead, they went from “star-level” to “pretty good”.  That could be partly caused by being pitched to differently on the road, but either way the drop in on-base totals, both in walks and overall hitting, is something to at least take note of for the future.

While the drop in his homer total is certainly something to be concerned about, his doubles holding steady despite the drop in overall hitting lessens that concern somewhat.  Chavez was still getting good, hard contact out on the road, but if the difference in the home-run power is driven by Adelanto’s altitude, that could become a major red flag for an otherwise promising prospect.

The “Whoa, What?”: Dennis Raben
Home: 22 games, .447/.515/.906, 11 HR, 6 2B, 0 3B, 11 BB, 15 K’s
Away: 18 games, .253/.293/.427, 1 HR,  4 2B, 3 3B, 4 BB, 32 K’s

Small sample size, but man oh man is that a huge home/road split.  I’m not sure I’ve seen one that big before.  I’ve had my doubts about whether or not Raben can succeed in the long run thanks to the microfracture surgery on his knee that cost him his 2009 season and chunks of his 2010 season, but those splits only seem to reinforce those doubts in my mind.

The “Really? Hmm.”: Nate Tenbrink
Home: 21 games, .390/.485/.549, 2 HR, 3 2B, 2 3B, 15 BB, 14 K’s
Away: 23 games, .366/.416/.731, 7 HR, 7 2B, 3 3B, 7 BB, 19 K’s

Talk about a weird split.  Also a small sample size, Tenbrink only got 44 High-A games in last year before being sent up to AA, and for good reason.  Tenbrink was a really good hitter at home in Stater Bros. Stadium, showing good contact, patience, line-drive power, and speed.  Then on the road, he suddenly became a masher, with more homers, doubles, and strikeouts, but at the cost of walks and overall contact.  Tenbrink is probably more of the hitter that we saw at home in the Cal League than the Tenbrink we saw on the road, but the road performance did certainly raise some hopes for his future power numbers.

The Good: Kyle Seager
Home:  67 games, .345/.427/.504, 7 HR, 21 2B, 1 3B, 38 BB, 45 K’s
Away: 68 games, .344/.411/.502, 7 HR, 19 2B, 2 3B, 33 BB, 49 K’s

This is the split you want to see in the Cal League.  Performing better on the road like Tenbrink and Poythress did is certainly great, but this sort of wonderful consistency no matter the environment is always fantastic to see.  There was a slight drop in his walk rate and a slight uptick in his strikeouts, but the difference was so minor as to be negligible.

No one was quite sure what to make of Seager when the Mariners drafted him, and one of the concerns that was voiced was whether he’d ever be able to hit.  While I have my doubts about the power, especially the homer totals, seeing the consistency that he displayed in High-A last year went a long ways towards answering that question.

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One response to “The High Desert Effect

  1. Pingback: Mariners Top 20 Prospects: Number Seven | Mariners Farm Review

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