|Long Island Ducks
|New Britain Bees
|Sugar Land Skeeters
|Southern Maryland Blue Crabs
No other way to slice it. By Atlantic League standards, Sugar Land's Constellation Field and Somerset's TD Bank Ballpark are pitchers' parks. They did come from a league featuring stadiums with short porches in York and Lancaster, but for the most part, it is pretty clear why these reputations should carry from indy ball to the Minors. Let's get into the individual reasons:
Abandon all hope those that hit the ball to right field.
The diamond at Constellation Field -- like any properly designed stadium -- faces east. Southeast of the park's spot in Sugar Land is the Gulf of Mexico and the Texas coast. Because of that configuration, many Skeeters games will feature a wind blowing in from the Gulf through right-center and into hitters' faces. As if that wasn't hard enough, the foul line extends 348 feet to the pole in right, only 5 feet shorter than the length of Wrigley Field's extended right field in the Majors. For example, this batter probably wouldn't have been robbed of a homer in most other Major, Minor or indy ballparks.
"I could probably count on two hands the number of home runs I've seen to right field since I've been here in 2018," Sugar Land broadcaster Ryan Posner said in an email this week.
Left field is much closer at 325 feet to the pole and doesn't deal with the wind as much. However, the wall from left to left-center checks in at 10.8 feet tall, adding a degree of difficulty for anyone trying to yank the ball out of the yard in that direction. For another quirk, the walls bubble inward in right- and left-center at 378 and 354 feet from home respectively.
There is some good news coming for Triple-A West batters. Well, moderate good news anyway. As part of their ongoing 2021 renovation plans, the Skeeters are changing the position of their bullpens. Instead of the 'pen running parallel to the deep fence in right, they will now be stacked, almost like steps on a staircase, in right field. The setup will be similar to that of the bullpens at San Diego's Petco Park in center with one bullpen raised about 7 feet higher than the other. The effect will be a moving in of that daunted right-field fence to a much more manageable 323 feet.
However, barring a massive wind-screen installation in the next decade, there still needs to be an accounting for the wind coming from right-center, and that area of Constellation Field could be a graveyard for the home-run hopes of left-handed sluggers, especially compared to the Triple-A West hitters havens in Albuquerque, El Paso and other places.
Dimensions and wind again come into play in New Jersey, and the news doesn't get any better for batters who like to take aim in right.
The measurements at TD Bank Ballpark's corners are fairly ordinary -- 317 in left, 315 in right. Left-center is spacious at 375, extending out to 402 in dead center. And then there's the gap in right-center field. At its deepest, the Patriots' right-center gap extends to 415 feet. That's 5 feet shorter than Fenway Park's famed 420-foot marker, but unlike the Fens', TD Bank Ballpark doesn't come with a triangle. Instead, it's what must feel like acres of grass for hitters, center fielders and right fielders alike.
These two blasts to center from 2001 show just how much sluggers have had to clobber balls to get them out of TD Bank Ballpark:
Unlike Sugar Land, there isn't a perfect geographical explanation for the wind. However, a large open space beyond the outfield walls -- taken up in part by the NJ Transit rail line -- allows wind to flow freely and without obstruction onto the field and toward home plate.
Because of those factors, Somerset batters hit only 29 homers over 69 games at TD Bank Ballpark during the 2019 season. Compare that to the 59 they crushed over the same sample size on the road in the same campaign. Somerset will be closer to average in the new-look Double-A Northeast, but it still will favor pitchers much more than the parks in Reading, Hartford and Erie, for three examples.
Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros: This won't be the first season at Triple-A for MLB.com's No. 41 overall prospect. Whitley made eight appearances for Round Rock in 2019 and was shelled, giving up nine home runs over only 24 1/3 innings. His ERA was 12.21 in that limited look before a move to the injured list with shoulder inflammation. The 6-foot-7 right-hander should head back to the Minors' highest level this April, and it should help that he'll call Sugar Land home. Obviously, Whitley will have bigger issues if he relies on Constellation Field's wind and spaciousness in right to save him, but it could help his confidence to see at least a few balls find gloves that otherwise would have found seats. The Skeeters open with two series on the road but have 12 straight home games against Salt Lake and Round Rock from April 22-May 4.
Jeremy Pena, SS, Astros: One of Houston's top prospects is coming off a strong showing in the Dominican Winter League, where he hit .306/.349/.430 with three homers in 30 games. Power isn't a big part of the shortstop's game, but there were signs the tool is becoming more present. He will have to really tap into it if he's going to play home games in Sugar Land, which should be a consideration after he ended 2019 at Class A Advanced. Luckily, Pena is a right-handed batter, so the wind out of right-center won't affect him as much, but it might be worth keeping a close eye on his home-road splits
Luis Gil, RHP, Yankees: The 22-year-old right-hander is the highest-profile Yankees arm likely to see Somerset in 2021. He already has shown an aptitude for keeping the ball in the yard with only one homer allowed over 96 innings across two Class A leagues two years ago. Possessing an upper-90s fastball will help with that at the lower levels. Having a big yard like TD Bank Ballpark could help as well at Double-A, especially against left-handers. That would help Gil focus on what he needs to improve most -- control.
Riley Greene/ Adley Rutschman/ Triston Casas: All three Top-100 prospects could reach Double-A Northeast in 2021. All three would play on teams (Erie, Bowie, Portland) that have six-game series scheduled in Somerset at some point this summer. Greene and Casas are left-handed batters. Rutschman is a switch-hitter. A trip to see the Patriots might be the perfect time to work on their respective opposite-field approaches.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.