Hitters who were better in the majors than the minors

Mike McGinnis

It's an incomplete list, but it's a list.

There are 185 active players with career OPS over the park-adjusted league average in 500 at-bats or more. Some of these players might surprise you (Denard Span). Others might not (Miguel Cabrera).

When a player gets called up for the first time, there's a temptation to look at the player's career stats in the minors and extrapolate what their entire major-league career is going to look like. You adjust the OPS down 100 points or so, more if they're extra-hacky, give them a peak at 27, and slowly tick down from there. I do it all the time, even if that's not how baseball really works.

Some hitters show up to the majors and hit better than they ever did in the minors. Sometimes it's a player who was always young for his league and making up for lost time. Sometimes it's a player who makes no sense at all. Because I was stupid and didn't realize how much work it would be, I looked up the minor-league stats for those 185 players with a career OPS+ over 100, and made a list of the players who were better in the majors than the minors. Of the 185 players, 51 of them made the cut.

The list, sorted by biggest minors/majors OPS difference:

Player Drafting/signing team Minor-league OPS Major-league OPS Difference Age of first full season in majors
Miguel Cabrera Marlins 782 966 184 20
Matt Holliday Rockies 780 916 136 24
Robinson Cano Yankees 756 859 103 22
Joey Votto Reds 862 964 102 24
Albert Pujols Cardinals 920 1010 90 21
Hanley Ramirez Marlins 788 876 88 22
Josh Hamilton Rays 813 892 79 26
Carlos Beltran Royals 782 857 75 22
Mike Morse White Sox 758 830 72 28
Andrew McCutchen Pirates 785 856 71 22
Adrian Gonzalez Marlins 813 875 62 24
Chase Utley Phillies 814 874 60 25
Carlos Gonzalez Rockies 831 888 57 23
Salvador Perez Royals 726 777 51 22
Todd Helton Rockies 908 958 50 24
Torii Hunter Twins 751 800 49 23
Wilin Rosario Rockies 765 813 48 23
Joe Mauer Twins 833 872 39 22
Jason Giambi A's 885 923 38 25
Angel Pagan Mets 715 752 37 24
Ian Desmond Nationals 714 751 37 23
Carl Crawford Rays 738 775 37 20
David Murphy Red Sox 750 785 35 26
Alfonso Soriano Yankees 791 825 34 25
Alex Rios Blue Jays 736 768 32 23
Pablo Sandoval Giants 795 824 29 21
Derek Jeter Yankees 803 829 26 22
Martin Prado Braves 743 768 25 25
Manny Machado Orioles 776 801 25 20
Denard Span Twins 711 736 25 24
David Wright Mets 866 889 23 21
Jayson Werth Orioles 802 825 23 25
Wilson Ramos Twins 759 781 22 23
Manny Ramirez Indians 976 996 20 22
Jose Reyes Mets 763 783 20 20
Dan Uggla Diamondbacks 789 808 19 26
Carlos Ruiz Phillies 754 773 19 28
David Ortiz Twins 913 932 19 25
Garrett Jones Braves 763 781 18 28
Troy Tulowitzki Rockies 863 881 18 22
Brian McCann Braves 812 829 17 22
Chris Johnson Astros 751 765 14 24
Shin Soo Choo Mariners 838 850 12 25
Edwin Encarnacion Rangers 809 821 12 23
Brian Roberts Orioles 755 763 8 24
Adam LaRoche Braves 810 817 7 24
Mike Napoli Angels 848 853 5 24
Shane Victorino Dodgers 764 769 5 24
Miguel Tejada A's 788 792 4 24
Jose Bautista Pirates 846 849 3 25
Prince Fielder Brewers 921 923 2 22


Cabrera might be a surprise winner, but look at how young he was. He was 19 in Double-A and holding his own. That's a big deal. So Matt Holliday is the winner of the where-the-heck-did-this-come-from award, especially considering that he wasn't a super-young rookie. He was always a tools monster, but it took the majors (and possibly Coors Field) to help him realize his potential.

A note about this list: it's weighted toward the players in their primes. Ian Desmond hasn't been 35, hitting .210, and barely hanging onto a utility job yet. Garrett Jones hasn't had that year where he craters and loses his job yet. So it's not a perfect list. But it's a fun list. To me. Which is what counts.

Ten notes:

1. Cabrera was just a child when he was aggressively moved through the Marlins' system, so don't read too much into those numbers. Still, it's funny to think of Cabrera being anything other than extraordinary with the bat.

2. I thought the list would be filled with players who were rushed to the majors like Cabrera. A 20-year-old with a 750 OPS in Triple-A means a heckuva lot more than a 25-year-old with the same numbers, so it followed that the 20 or 21-year-olds who were rushed would have a stronger presence on this last. Not so. Almost half the group were 24 or older when they stopped playing in the minors for good. There were almost as many 28-year-olds as 20-year-olds.

3. Every position was more or less equally represented, at least when tallying up the positions each player played in the minors. Catchers and shortstops led the way with eight each, but only if you count Pablo Sandoval as a catcher and Mike Morse as a shortstop.

4. I originally got this idea because I wanted to write something else about the Cardinals' hitter factory again, but guys like Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig didn't make the cut. Yadier Molina's career OPS+ isn't even at 100 yet, so he was cut in the first round.

5. The top two teams on the list were the Rockies (not surprising) and Twins (surprising!), with five players each.

6. Teams without a player on the list: Cubs, Tigers, Padres. Though it's not like the Mariners have bragging rights considering their representative is Shin-Soo Choo.

7. Two Rule 5 picks made the list: Dan Uggla and Shane Victorino. Considering that they skipped the upper minors, which could have depressed their career minor-league numbers, it's kind of surprising they made the list.

8. It's almost as if some of these guys, especially the older ones, took a magic pill when they got to the majors. Wouldn't that be something! A magic pill!

9. Fifteen of the players were traded (or even released) before they found success. Probably because they weren't doing much in the minors. If I had to guess.

10. Mostly, I just wanted a list of good hitters who weren't necessarily as good in the minors. There it is. Of all the names up there, Votto and Cano might be the most impressive. They showed flashes in the minors. But nothing that would have led you to believe they'd become super-duper stars.

You woke up this morning not knowing that you needed a table of hitters who did better in the majors than the minors. You will go to sleep not knowing that you needed a table of hitters who did better in the majors than the minors. What's important is that in the middle, there was a table of hitters who did better in the majors than the minors.

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