I’m not much for biases in baseball, or at least I try not to be, but I do openly admit to one: I love Quad-A players.
Guys who dominate in Triple-A for an extended period of time deserve an extended major league look, scouting reports be damned, if you ask me.
Now, I want to be clear here, though: Quadruple-A does exist, in two senses.
First, there have been plenty of players who dominate in Triple-A but fail in the majors, for any number of reasons.
Second, there has to be a line somewhere. I just think it’s often raised too high with some players. There was never a doubt in my mind when Jack Cust was destroying Triple-A in the Padres system in 2006 that he was a definite MLB player. But what about a guy like Brendan Katin (.244/.305/.499 last year)? Sure, he might be a decent major league player, but it’s not a Cust/Jon Knott/Scott McClain situation where he’s just making pitching look silly. Cust is the sort of player who either needs to be promoted to the majors on his own team or, if he’s blocked, traded for by another team. He’s a major league player better than many at the position he plays. Katin, on the other hand, can fit in the majors if needed, but isn’t the sort of guy you intentionally clear space for.
So, where do some of the Padres’ current good Triple-A hitters fall on this spectrum of “legitimately in AAA” to “needs to be in the majors NOW?”
I believe Chris Denorfia is pretty close to the MLB side, as he’s a practically perfect fourth outfielder. Craig Cooper, especially without his strong 2009 walk totals, is closer to the Triple-A side.
And that brings us to Portland’s best hitter, corner guy Mike Baxter.
Baxter is in his first full year of Triple-A ball, but he has spent parts of two other seasons there. He’s a career .277/.366/.420 hitter with Portland, but is at .301/.427/.493 this year. Baxter is also a career .312/.385/.477 hitter in Double-A.
The Double-A and recent Triple-A performance indicate Baxter has turned somewhat of a corner performance-wise, but this is still a 25-year-old outfielder with a career .749 minor league OPS. Not too exciting.
Baxter does rate as a solid-to-plus defender in the outfield corners, and even has some center field experience. He’s roughly defensively equivalent to Nick Swisher.
Unlike Swisher, Baxter has some good speed on the bases, and he’s already stolen seven bags in eight tries this year. The good speed and defense do set him apart from the traditional Cust-esque bat-only Quad-A players.
I think Baxter’s questionable offensive track record and lack of over-the-fence power (he only hit nine homers last year, and has never hit 10 in a season) preclude him from being a definite big league guy right now. However, we’re looking at a guy who just might have the offensive ability to hit .290/.380/.440, chipping in some solid speed and outfield defense.
That reminds me a lot of current Padre Chase Headley, and nobody’s arguing Headley shouldn’t be in the majors.
In order to really merit the big league time, though, Baxter is going to need to keep hitting near his current .301/.427/.493 line. Part of his slugging this year is four triples, which indicates his slugging might be coming down some. Baxter only has one home run. He hasn’t been able to keep a K/BB ratio this close to 1/1 (it’s 14/13 right now) before either, so he’ll need to sustain that.
If Baxter can keep his OBP over .400 and slugging over .450 until the All-Star Break, then we’ll have to start looking for ways to get his bat in the lineup (maybe replacing Blanks in LF after the inevitable Gonzalez trade?). Until then, however, he’s just a guy to keep an eye on, not a guy to start going crazy over.