Independent-A League Star Blake Gailen
Blake Gailen is one of the best hitters you have almost certainly never heard of. At age 29 this year, he is currently leading the Atlantic League, the best of the Independent-A leagues, with a .412 batting average after 27 games.
Gailen has made a career of the Independent-A Leagues. He’s played in five of them, working his way up from leagues no longer in existence to the Atlantic League.
Gailen led the American Association in batting (.406) in 2011 and the Atlantic League in batting in 2012 (.338). He now has a career minor league slash line of .332/.417/.508.
His exceptional minor league performances have gotten him some looks from major league clubs in the hopes that he might be the next Daniel Nava. Unfortunately, Blake hasn’t made the most of these opportunities.
In 2011, Gailen played 29 games for the Angels’ AA club in Arkansas but hit only .208 with a .688 OPS. Last year, he got into eight games for the Blue Jays’ top farm club, the Buffalo Bisons, and hit .286 with a .740 OPS. Certainly not bad, but certainly not good enough for a player his age.
The way forward for Gailen at this point seems fairly obvious to me. Assuming he finishes the 2014 season healthy and among the top three or four hitters in the Atlantic League, he needs to go to Mexico in 2015. He has essentially no chance of playing in the major leagues at his age, but a good year in Mexico could mean opportunities in the Far East, where he could make big money and be a real star playing in front of big crowds.
The Mexican League has been an avenue for any number of minor league stars to move up to Japan’s NPB and South Korea’s KBO, including Michel Abreu, Leslie Anderson, Jorge Cantu, and Paul Oseguera. [Cantu is a former major league star, but a big year in Mexico allowed him to resurrect his career and get a nearly $1M contract to play in South Korea this year.]
Start studying Spanish now, Blake Gailen, because a big season in Mexico in 2015 could earn you at least ten times the money you’re making now in Asia in 2016 and possibly quite a bit more.