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Inbox: Who will lead the Minors in homers?

@JimCallisMLB
February 27, 2020

The theme of this week's Pipeline Inbox is offense. You have questions about the best sluggers and contact hitters in the Minors, as well as a guy who just might be the best pure hitter in the 2020 Draft, and my job is to answer them.

The theme of this week's Pipeline Inbox is offense. You have questions about the best sluggers and contact hitters in the Minors, as well as a guy who just might be the best pure hitter in the 2020 Draft, and my job is to answer them.

Andrew asked this same question in a 2019 Pipeline Inbox. My guesses then were Cardinals third baseman Nolan Gorman (Class A), Rockies outfielder Casey Golden (Class A Advanced), Twins outfielder Alex Kirilloff (Double-A) and Dodgers outfielder D.J. Peters (Triple-A).

Golden actually finished second in Class A Advanced with 23 to Rockies first baseman Luis Castro's 25. I didn't come close to the other classification leaders: D-backs corner infielder Kevin Cron with 38 in Triple-A, Reds first baseman/outfielder Ibandel Isabel with 26 in Double-A, Rangers outfielder Pedro Gonzalez and Pirates first baseman Mason Martin with 23 each in Class A.

Here are my predictions for 2020:

Class A: Andy Pages, OF, Dodgers. His combination of bat speed, strength and an aggressive approach allowed him to lead all Rookie leaguers in doubles (22) and extra-base hits (43) while ranking second in homers (19) last summer.

Class A Advanced: Triston Casas, 1B, Red Sox. He not only has a ton of raw power in his still-growing 6-foot-5 frame, but it's very usable power because he has good feel for hitting, which helped him finish third in the Class A South Atlantic League with 19 homers at age 19 a year ago.

Double-A: Casey Golden, OF, Rockies. I'll double down on Golden, who topped Rookie leaguers (20 in 2017) and Class A hitters (34 in 2018) before his near miss in Class A Advanced last season.

Triple-A: Ibandel Isabel, 1B/OF, Reds. He has topped his level in home runs in each of the last two seasons, including 36 in Class A Advanced in 2018, and he's unlikely to get many at-bats in Cincinnati with Joey Votto around.

For more on this question, check out the video at the top of this Inbox.

Gonzales, a middle infielder at New Mexico State who won the NCAA batting title (.432) and Cape Cod League MVP award in 2019, entered the year ranked No. 4 on MLB Pipeline's Draft Top 100 Prospects list. The three guys ahead of him -- Georgia right-hander Emerson Hancock, Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, Vanderbilt third baseman Austin Martin -- are the favorites to go No. 1 overall to the Tigers, but Gonzales definitely is in the discussion.

Not that early-season college season stats mean a lot, but Gonzales is hitting .515/.667/1.303 through nine games and leading NCAA Division I in homers (seven), runs (18) and RBIs (26). He's trying to enhance his defensive profile by moving from second base to shortstop as a junior, and he could be a more athletic version of Keston Hiura. Detroit probably would have to buy into Gonzales as a shortstop to take him with the first pick, but his bat definitely makes him a consideration.

There's no question that White Sox second baseman Nick Madrigal has the best bat-to-ball skills in the Minors. The fourth overall pick in the 2018 Draft not only had the lowest strikeout rate in 2019 (3.0 percent), but also the best since Willians Astudillo's 2.4 percent in 2015. Madrigal is on the MLB Pipeline Top 100, however, so he's not the answer.

The first name that popped into my head was Indians shortstop Ernie Clement -- in part because a scout once described him to me as a poor man's Madrigal -- and Clement indeed is our man. With excellent hand-eye coordination, a compact right-handed swing and a contract-oriented approach, he ranked third in whiff rate last year (7.6 percent) and second in 2018 (7.4 percent) after leading NCAA Division I in 2017 (2.5 percent). More of a utilityman than a regular, he could make his big league debut this year.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.