The question at hand is simple: Which team has the best lineup in all of the Minor Leagues? Jim once again is taking the famous names, going with Kris Bryant and the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. As for me, I'm all about pure quality. Just like I did in tabbing the Reds' Double-A rotation in Pensacola last week, I'm taking the deepest lineup in the Minors: the Stockton Ports.
Going with Stockton, the Oakland Athletics' affiliate in the Class A Advanced California League, is not without risk. The league is known for being extremely hitter-friendly, and critics might decide to take shots at my choice because numbers are inflated there. To them, I say, "Bring it." Top to bottom, there isn't a better lineup at any level, in my book.
And that's without top prospect Addison Russell, who is playing in Double-A. Even so, Stockton's lineup features six members of the A's Top 20 prospects list. Four of the six are in Oakland's top 10.
This isn't just about projection, though given how young this group is, it would be fine if performance hadn't caught up to potential just yet. But Stockton's offense is third in the Minors in total bases and slugging percentage and fourth in OPS.
No. 2 A's prospect Billy McKinney, 19 years old, is the youngest of the group. This is the second straight season Oakland has sent its previous year's first-round Draft pick from the high school ranks straight to Stockton to make his full-season debut. It worked pretty well for Russell, and McKinney, a sweet-swinging outfielder, is making some very good adjustments lately.
Three-quarters of Stockton's infield make up the other three members of the top 10. Shortstop Daniel Robertson, ranked No. 3, is showing an ability to hit for average and power. Like Robertson, No. 5 prospect Matt Olson comes by way of the 2012 Draft. Stockton's first baseman leads the California League in home runs, and he's high up on the overall Minor League leaderboard as well. Renato Nunez, No. 6, is headed to the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, and the third baseman is a few spots behind Olson on the homer list in the Cal League.
Add in catcher Bruce Maxwell (No. 16) and second baseman Chad Pinder (No. 17), and you've got the entire Ports infield in the Top 20.
Looking for improvement is always a good thing, of course, and all six of these prospects appear headed in the right direction. McKinney, the one who has struggled the most, at least according to his overall numbers, hit .292/.314/.458 in June. Robertson hit more homers (five) in June than in any other month, and he posted his highest slugging percentage (.489) in that month as well. Olson has his power stroke going, with 10 June home runs to go along with a .298/.459/.726 line. But no one has been hotter than Nunez, who hit .368/.455/.736 with seven homers last month.
Even the guys in the back half of the Top 20 have stepped it up. Not only has Maxwell thrown out 40 percent of would-be basestealers, but he hit .284/.407/.448 in June. Only Pinder has slowed a bit, but he still put up a .272/.333/.432 line last month.
I'm not even getting into outfielder and leadoff hitter Boog Powell, who recently joined the Ports after making the Midwest League All-Star team. He's hit .357 in his first six games. Ryon Healy hit .353 and slugged .539 in June. Bobby Crocker is the "old man" of the group, at age 24, and even he has hit .273 and slugged .477 in 10 games since the Cal League All-Star break.
So, sure, Bryant and Javier Baez generate a ton of buzz in Iowa. And yes, they are closer to the big leagues. But unless the Cubs have some sort of cloning device I'm unaware of, they can't come close to the depth, in regard to prospects, that Stockton's lineup can boast.