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Beware the older hitting prospect playing in Reno?

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A timely reminder perhaps, that the PCL does tend to make hitters look better than they might be.

Arizona Diamondbacks Photo Day Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Pacific Coast League has a long reputation as a hitter’s league. From 2008 through 2018, the average runs per game in the league has been 5.04, with a low of 4.73 and a high of 5.56. In 2019, with the MLB rabbit ball being used, that number has jumped to 5.60 runs per game!

The other AAA league, the International League, has averaged just 4.26 Runs a game from 2008-2018, so over three quarters of a run less. Curiously, in 2019, thanks to the AAA homerun explosion, the IL is averaging 5.21 R/G, as close as it’s ever been to the PCL.

Jim took a couple of deep dives into what has popularly become known at AZSnakepit as the “Reno Effect” The first was in 2012 and then he gave an update in 2017. His was an extensive look at a varied group of players, and their before and after numbers. It’s definitely worth a review.

This is similar. There is a particular type of prospect I want to focus on however:

The older prospect with little or no MLB experience.

For the purposes here, I used age 24 as the youngest age I would consider a prospect to be “older”. There are just a few seasons that age I included. Most are between 25-30. I also didn’t include guys like Mike Jacobs from a couple years back who already had extensive MLB time for example. You will also notice a few repeaters, such as Brandon Allen, Nick Evans, Christian Walker and Kevin Cron. There is the gratuitous inclusion of Nick Ahmed as well.

Note I used wRC+ as the park and league adjusted metric. That is because it’s available on Fangraphs.com while OPS+ is not available for minor leagues at Baseball-Reference. Over 100 is above league average, below 100 is below average. 125-150 is really good, and anything over 150 is great. What I am highlighting here is not only were the unadjusted averages of BA/OBP/SLUGGING very high for all these guys, but almost all of them were among the leaders in the PCL in league adjusted wRC+. All were at or near the top of the DBacks affiliate table. So even for the PCL, these were great seasons.

The MLB PA and wRC+ are showing the entirety of the players career in MLB, regardless of whether they stayed in Arizona or not. So what you can get out of this immediately is almost to a man, each one of them completely failed to establish themselves as even average major league hitters, and most were just downright abysmal busts. The two lone exceptions are Mitch Haniger and Christian Walker.

It would not take much of a search of the archives to find me advocating a call up for many of these guys. I’d like to think most of the time I did so it was because the team only had an average or worse veteran filling or blocking a spot that should have been given to a younger player that at least deserved a shot during a losing season. But it’s truly sobering to see how many of the guys that had GREAT seasons in the PCL failed to do anything at all in the majors.

Perhaps this track record of PCL stars underwhelming in the majors mitigates just a little bit the mistake of letting Haniger get away. Kevin Cron appears on this list twice, and his current 178 wRC+ is 3rd highest on the list behind only Dorn and Haniger. So perhaps he will be one of the few older PCL leaders to break through for the Diamondbacks. He’ll have to wait a good deal longer for his turn though. Then again, so far for the month of May Christian Walker is hitting .208 with a .672 OPS and 20 K’s in 58 PA. His OPS+ has dropped to 127. He’s certainly capable of heating up again however, and Jake Lamb will return soon. So barring injury it’s difficult to see Cron getting much of a chance no matter how much he hits in Reno. It’s always possible Mike Hazen could use him as trade bait to shore up the rotation, which he’s indicated he’s keen to do. We shall see.