I asked 32 Eastern League managers, coaches and players who they thought was the best player in the league this year. Though the voters favored players who spent the bulk of the season in the league, some players made strong enough impressions in their limited time to still receive recognition. Here are the results:
1. Kyle Drabek, SP New Hampshire (TOR) – Owner of an above-average, knee-buckling curveball, Drabek was selected as the league’s top player by nearly a third of the voters. Facing Eastern League hitters for the second season in a row, the 22-year-old finished third in the league in strikeouts.
“His curveball was very hard and sharp. And you just never knew what to expect,” one player said. “He kept you off balance,” another added.
2. Brandon Laird, 3B Trenton (NYY) – Building upon an impressive 2009 AFL showing, Laird went on a tear through the Eastern League before his August promotion to Triple-A. The 23-year-old hit nine home runs in June and led the league in home runs entering July.
“Everyone goes through slumps, some guys will get frustrated and swing at pitches they shouldn't,” said one Eastern League pitcher. “He was just really patient and looks for his pitch to hit.”
Laird’s glove also got a mention. “His defense improved tremendously as the season went on. He was shaky at the start of the year and improved a lot [before his promotion].”
3. Domonic Brown, RF Reading (PHI) – Brown made the cut despite the fact that he spent less than half of the season in Double-A. He ranked second in the Eastern League in total bases prior to his June 24th promotion to Triple-A – behind Laird.
“I got to see him when he was at Low-A, comparatively he has improved a great deal at the plate,” said one coach. “What he's improved is his consistency to drive mistakes that pitchers make.”
4. Eric Thames, LF/DH New Hampshire (TOR) – Thames tied for the league lead in extra-base hits with 58. He also was hit by more pitches than any Eastern Leaguer (18). A physical specimen, Thames has a power bat that will likely get him to the big leagues.
5. Alex White, RHP Akron (CLE) – After spending the first month-and-a-half of the season in High-A, White arrived in the Eastern League and posted impressive walk and ground-ball rates. His slider and sinking fastball could allow him to reach the big leagues quickly.
Seven players received one vote. Akron Aeros second baseman Jason Kipnis got a vote for his ability to make the adjustment after coming from High-A. Norfolk Tides pitcher Zach Britton received a vote from one hitter who faced him several times this season. “He commanded the fastball. He sank the ball at about 93 mph. And he consistently kept the ball down.” New Hampshire Fisher Cats centerfielder Darin Mastroianni, the league’s stolen base leader with 46, got a vote. Harrisburg Senators left-handed pitcher Tom Milone received a vote for the way he “dominated the league,” according to one player. One hitter found Trenton Thunder righty David Phelps difficult to figure out. “He locates everything works you backward think you have him down does something different.” And Thunder catcher Austin Romine was praised with a vote for his contribution to his pitching staff's good work. “He was a big part of the reason his pitchers were successful.” Lastly, someone voted for Altoona Curve right fielder Miles Durham.
1. Kyle Drabek - 9
2. Brandon Laird - 7
3. Domonic Brown - 4
4. Eric Thames - 3
5. Alex White - 2
HM (one vote each): Zach Britton, Miles Durham, Jason Kipnis, Darin Mastroianni, Tom Milone, David Phelps and Austin Romine