AAA Versus AAAA

Even the most casual fan understands that in minor league baseball, the AAA level is the stepping stone to the major leagues. This is where those top prospects in each organization prove their worth and make that final jump to “The Show”.

If you play Fantasy Baseball or are a rabid fan of a particular team, experience has shown you that being a success at AAA doesn’t always guarantee a similar outcome in the majors. Last week, a long-time Dodger fan lamented to me about the recent past where the team always seemed to have a minor-league player who made an immediate impact like Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger & Alex Verdugo. He compared this group with 2021 call-ups like Sheldon Neuse, Gavin Lux, Matt Beaty & Zack McKinstry and determined that the “cupboard is bare”.

This brings us to a category of players in every organization that scouts call “Quadruple A” (AAAA) players. These are the guys who very often excel at the AAA level but can’t seem to make that final jump. If a player isn’t considered a prospect after age 25, AAA rosters are filled with these “suspects”. Don’t kid yourself, these aren’t bums. Every single one was a stand-out player at one time but through injuries, lack of opportunity or inability to adjust, they are stuck. Interestingly, the 2021 season has seen a few of them break through like Adolis Garcia of the Rangers (age 28), Patrick Wisdom of the Cubs (age 30) and Tyler Naquin of the Reds (age 30).

Let’s look at some of the tops hitters & pitchers at AAA that are over 25 (stats as of 9/10)…

  • Henry Ramos (ARI, age 29) is hitting .371 and just got his first major league AB last week.
  • Jason Krizan (SFG, age 32) sports a .896 OPS and has played six seasons at AAA without ever being on a major league field. 
  • Jamie Ritchie (ARI, age 28) has hit .299 in three AAA seasons but has never gotten the call.
  • Austin Allen (OAK, age 27) has 20 HR’s and a .321 BA at AAA this year, but in 104 major league AB’s, his BA is .212.
  • Braden Bishop (SFG, age 28) is hitting .315 with 9 HR’s & 9 SB’s at AAA but in 90 big league AB’s, he’s hit .133.
  • Matt Lipka (MIL, age 29) has swiped 26 bases this season in the minors but he’s in his 11th pro season without ever being called up.
  • Aderlin Rodriguez (DET, age 29) has 25 HR’s at AAA Toledo but this is his 12th minor league campaign.
  • Mikie Mahtook (CHW, age 31) has 21 HR’s in 306 AB’s at Charlotte but has only 33 HR’s in 884 major league AB’s.
  • Josh Lindblom (MIL, age 34) appeared in eight games for the Brewers this year with a 9.72 ERA but he has the best ERA of any AAA pitcher this season at 2.81.
  • Raynel Espinal (BOS, age 29) just made his first big league appearance after posting a 10-4 record at AAA.

Of course, this is not unique to the players of today. In the days before the Dodgers & Giants left New York, the most popular ballplayer of the Pacific Coast League was a slugging 1B named Steve Bilko. Playing for the Los Angeles Angels from 1955-57, he hit 37, 55 & 56 HR’s while averaging 142 RBI’s. His major league career was intermittent during the 50’s & 60’s as he posted a lifetime BA of .249 with a total 76 HR’s.

More recently, Mike Hessman set the record in 2015 for lifetime minor league HR’s when he blasted his 433rd round-tripper for AAA Toledo. He was 37 at the time and it was his final season. He only had 223 major league AB’s over the years with 14 HR’s and a .188 BA.

These are the guys who deserve our respect for their fortitude and desire. No Boos…only cheers.

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