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Deep, Deep 2009 Sleeper: Adam Witter

Last Saturday, I attended the Connecticut Defenders/New Britain Rock Cats game.  This is Double-A Eastern League baseball so I expect to see several of the players in the majors next season.  The Game Program proclaims 24 of the 40 players on the Twins' 40-man roster played for the Rck Cats.  I admit a perusal of the rosters left me thinking this was one of the worst minor league games I have attended in terms of future major leaguers, and there may not be too many from this year's squad added to that 24 of 40 total..

The two that stood out for me were Rockcats' 2B Luke Hughes and Defenders' catcher Pablo Sandoval.  Each player has broken into the prospect realm with excellent seasons.  The fact Sandoval was hitting clean-up boded well.  I was looking forward to seeing Hughes live as he had not been on my radar before breaking out this season with a 1.000+ OPS.

Admittedly, neither player impressed me.  Hughes attempted to bunt with two outs and a man on first while his team struggled to hit former major leaguer Nate Bump, and Sandoval looked like a softball player trying to hit HRs who gets underneath everything.  Nevermind, he played the last part of the game with his uniform shirt completely untucked.

With the top prospects disappointing, there were two players I had not heard of who made much better impressions.  The first was Rockcats' 3B Danny Valencia and the other was the DH for the Defenders, left-handed hitter Adam Witter.    Valencia ripped a double off the centerfield wall in the 9th, and Witter crushed two HRs - one down the right field line and a bomb to right center between the Friendly's Fribble and the Hoffman Autos signs.  Plus, Witter's swing looked powerful even when he swing and missed.

When I returned home from the ballpark, I checked the various players from both teams to see how Baseball America rated them.  To my surprise, neither Hughes nor Sandoval had meritted a Top 30 ranking in either players' orgnaization.  Danny Valencia was rated #22 in the Twins organization, and Adam Witter listed third on the Giants' depth chart at catcher behind Jackson Williams (#18) and Sandoval (UNR).

I was stunned to see Witter was a catcher.  With his swing and power I didn't figure that was his regular position. I wanted to learn more so I went to First Inning and found more info.  Witter is a 25-year-old in his third season of professional ball who signed as a 5th-year college player before the 2006 draft.  Given five years of college, he is too old to be considered a prospect, but a lefty hitting catcher with that kind of power can find himslef in the majors for a few years.

His game belied his season AVG of .224, so I looked deeper.  He plays his home games at one of the least friendly ballparks for minor leaguer hitters, Dodd stadium in Norwich, CT.  For HR, it was .70 in 2006 and its three-year weighted average for 2003-2005 was .59.  Witters' splits bore out the negative effect of his home park.  At home his slashstat is 191/301/391 with a .195 BABIP despite a 24% line drive rate.  On the road, it is a much better 254/375/500 with a .286 BABIP and 11% line drive rate.

A noticeable positive trend is an increase in his BB% from 10.6% in 2006 to 11.1% last year to 16.3% this season.  If this continues, I wouldn't be surprised to see Witter in San Francisco some time next summer.  While not comparable, I can see Witter surprising the same way current Giants 1B/OF John Bowker has this season after being buried by Dodd Stadium's offense-killing confines.

Here is a link to an interview Witter did at the end of last season.