Three players have hit thirty home runs in the minor leagues this year.
One is Paul Goldschmidt, whose performance was so excellent that he was skipped over Triple-A and rushed straight to the big leagues, where he’s immediately made an impact. The second is Bryan LaHair, who’s done it in a friendly Triple-A environment but nonetheless deserves to get another shot at the majors. And the third is Ian Gac, who…well, who exactly is Ian Gac?
Well, let’s find out.
I’ve actually been familiar with Gac for quite a while, because he’s always put up gaudy HR numbers. He’s hit a whopping 157 big flies in his minor league career, highlighted by a 32-HR outburst in 2008. This year is his fourth straight season of 20+ home runs, and his sixth in a row with at least 16. There’s no question the big righty can hit the ball out of the ballpark.
And yet, developmentally, Gac has been allowed to do little beyond run in place. He was initially promoted to High-A in the middle of that 32-HR 2008, but after hitting 35 homers in 167 games there from 2008-09, Gac wound up out of the Rangers organization and back in Low-A with the White Sox, where he had to spend all of 2010 at age 24. He’s now back in High-A for a third go-round, this time in the tough environs of the Carolina League, which makes his huge homer total all the more impressive.
What makes it less impressive is that Gac turned 26 earlier this week and has yet to play a single game in Double-A.
It’s easy to see why–he’s a big righthanded hitter who doesn’t run well, strikes out a lot, and doesn’t really have a position. He’s limited to first base defensively and doesn’t even play that especially well, and he doesn’t come with the patience that many of the other top sluggers (Goldschmidt, for example) do. For example, his 22 homers in 2009 are much less impressive when juxtaposed with his .295 OBP.
Obviously, from an organizational perspective, such a limited player would have to absolutely crush the ball to get noticed–if Gac can’t find a way to hit at the big league level, no amount of balls sent over Carolina League fences are much use.
That said, Gac has 30 homers and 28 doubles in 115 games in a very tough environment, and he’s improved his average and OBP to solid levels. For the season, he’s hitting .278/.353/.555 with a 125/45 K/BB. He’s been even better after the All-Star Break, hitting .311/.400/.602 with a 40/21 K/BB and 13 homers in 45 games.
What that means is that it’s certainly time for Gac to sink or swim in the upper minors. Given that only two players on Chicago’s Double-A affiliate have OPS figures above .800, there should be room for Gac’s big bat. If his contact issues prevent him from continuing to be near the top of the homer leaderboards, there’s no doubt he won’t merit a big league job, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to see if a player with this sort of track record has it in him.
Or, they could just jump him to the majors–nobody‘s worse than Adam Dunn, right?