With the minor league season finally over, it's time to look back and hand out awards, since that seems to be the thing that everyone does in baseball. Just like we've done with the Player and Pitcher of the Month Awards, I ask for you to vote for one hitter and one pitcher whom you think had the best season this year.
The rules are pretty much the same as far as your end goes. This is not a vote for who the best prospect is. If it were that, I'd probably just post a poll with the name Javier Baez on it and leave it at that. This is a vote for who in the minor leagues had the best season and contributed the most to his team or teams winning. You can take into account anything you want from basic stats like batting average and RBI or you can look at strikeout-to-walk ratios. (I'm still waiting for someone to figure out a minor league equivalent of WAR.) You can give more credit to players at higher levels. I have two requests: The first is that you don't forget defense. You can count defense a lot or hardly at all, but I do want you to keep it in mind. The second is that you take playing time into account. Just remember that it's more impressive to put up numbers over 140 games than 80 games.
The difference comes on my end with who the candidates are. During the season, I nominated one player from each team each month, or one from each team and a wild card before Boise started play. For the Player and Pitcher of the Year Awards, I thought that was too limiting. So I decided that anyone who had a good enough season would be nominated no matter where they played. There are two exceptions. The first is that I thought the player needed to still have rookie eligibility as of right now. This is a minor league award, so I didn't want to give it to someone like Alfredo Amezaga. This also eliminates Anthony Rizzo, although he led all Cubs minor leaguers in home runs with 23 despite playing only half a season in Iowa.
I also struggled with whether or not to include players from Boise and Arizona. I just questioned whether anyone could be impressive enough in 76 games to win an award over someone who had played 140. In the end, I decided that no one who spent the whole season in Arizona really had enough at bats or innings to qualify, but that I'd include some Boise players and let you make the final decision. But if Willie McCovey could win the Rookie of the Year Award after playing only 52 games, Bob Horner 89 and Buster Posey only 108, you could decide if someone's half-season was more valuable than another player's full season.
In the end I picked eight candidates, who I will list after the jump. Tomorrow we'll examine the pitchers and I'll announce both winners on Thursday. Yes, that means you get an extra day to vote in this poll.
Third baseman Josh Vitters: Yes, Vitters has struggled in his first 25 games in the majors this year, but his minor league season in Iowa represented a large leap forward in his development as a hitter. For one, he hit over .300 (.304) for the first time since 2008 in Boise and Peoria. Second, while his 30 walks this year isn't great, they are a career-high.He hit 32 doubles and 17 home runs to give him a career-high slugging percentage of .513. His .356 OBP was just one point off his career high from 2008.
Corner infielder Greg Rohan: Rohan played at three different levels in 2012, starting out in Daytona, followed by a month in Tennessee and a month in Iowa. Between the three levels, he finished second in the Cubs system in home runs behind Rizzo with 21. He led the whole system in doubles with 38 and he was one of only two Cub farmhands with 100 RBI, finishing with 106. His final triple slash line for the three teams combined was .282/.349/.491. Yes, Rohan is an older prospect at 26, but if you can hit, you can hit.
First baseman Justin Bour: If you listened to any of the Smokies radio broadcasts, I'm sure you heard the commercial where a guy with a hillbilly accent praises the ability of the Wild Bour. And to be sure, Justin Bour was the heart of the Smokies offense last season. He was second in the Southern League and first among all Cub players with 110 RBI this season. Playing the entire season in Tennessee, Bour hit .283 with 36 doubles, 17 home runs and 62 walks. That gave him an OBP of .360 and a SLG of .455. The Cubs did try him in left field for three games. Justin is 24 years old and played baseball at George Mason University. His brother Jason played in the Reds and White Sox systems, which probably made for some interesting Thanksgiving table talk.
Second baseman Logan Watkins: One of the reasons that Bour had so many RBI was that he was batting behind Watkins all season, who led the Southern League with 93 runs scored. Watkins has been on the radar since he was drafted out of a Kansas high school in the 21st round in 2008 and the Cubs gave him half a million dollars to keep him from going to Wichita State. Since then, he's been solid if unremarkable. But he took a big step forward this season with a career high in home runs with nine and a career high in walks with 76. He also had a career high in stolen bases with 28 in 35 attempts. Watkins got better as the season went on, which you always like to see, hitting over .300 with an OBP of over .400 and just missing a slugging percentage of .500 in the second half. His triple-slash totals on the year were .281/.383/.422. He's a plus defender at second base and team officials have praised his makeup and his leadership abilities in the clubhouse. About the only thing bad I can say about his season, other than the slow start, is that he didn't hit lefties very well.
Outfielder John Andreoli: The 22 year-old outfielder from UConn was in the shadow of Matt Szczur much of the year, but in many ways he outplayed his more heralded teammate with Daytona. This was Andreoli's first real season in professional baseball (he played ten games last season) and he led the Florida State League and the Cubs system with 55 steals in 75 attempts. He doesn't have any real power, but he's on board with the new mandate in the system to walk more, grabbing a free base 75 times. He hit .289 with a .402 OBP in 121 games.
Shortstop Javier Baez: In Peoria at least, Baez did whatever he wanted to, and generally, he wanted to hit home runs farther than anyone else in the Midwest League had hit them in over a decade. His blasts got nicknamed "Baezbombs" and several of them cleared scoreboards or batting eyes that had never been cleared before. The Cubs had planned to hold Baez in Extended Spring Training until Boise started their season, but in late May they decided he could handle the Midwest League and sent him to Peoria. There, he hit .333 with twelve home runs and twenty stolen bases in 57 games before his promotion to Daytona. He struggled mightily in 23 games in High-A, however, which brought his total season triple-slash line down to .294/.346/.543. He did hit two real Baezbombs on the last day of the season to finish strong. Reports on his defense at shortstop were also positive and several scouts now think he can stick at shortstop rather than have to move to third base. The only real negative on his first season is that he didn't walk much, grabbing a free base 14 times in 80 games.
Shortstop Stephen Bruno: Sixty-seven games in the Northwest League isn't a real big sample, but Stephen Bruno can hit. The Cubs took Bruno in the seventh round of this year's draft out of Virginia. After a slow start, Boise hitting coach Bill Buckner moved Bruno off the plate a bit and after that, hardly anyone could get him out. He hit .333 in July and .404 in August. He walked a lot and he can get the ball into the gaps for doubles. His .361 batting average won the league batting title by twenty points. His final triple-slash line was .361/.442/.496. Bruno is short, he's not real fast and his defense is a bit iffy. But if he hits like that next year, who really cares? He's profiling out as a real utility player as he played every position but pitcher, catcher and first base this past season.
First baseman Dan Vogelbach: The power is real. Vogelbach started the season out in the Arizona League, where the rookie ball pitchers didn't give him much of a challenge the first half of the season, hitting .324 with seven home runs in only 24 games. So the Cubs moved him up to Boise around the mid-season mark and he did just as well, hitting .322 with with ten home runs in 37 games. He was a bit streaky as a hitter, at one point hitting seven home runs in five games and then only hitting one in the next 17. Between Arizona and Boise, Vogelbach finished with a .322/.410/.641 line. On the downside, he is barely able to handle first base defensively and suggestions that he move to left field are frankly laughable.