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In homer-happy season, Isotopes bash record 200th

Albuquerque’s Roberto Ramos wallops a long foul ball during the Isotopes’ home win over Las Vegas on Wednesday night. He has 28 homers this year. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

Jarrett Parker knew he missed it.

In Salt Lake City, the Bees left fielder led off the third inning against the visiting Albuquerque Isotopes on July 23. Parker’s upper cut swing on a Tim Melville pitch got under the ball more than the 30-year-old hitter would have liked. Without hesitation, Parker dropped his head and slammed his bat to the ground in frustration as he slowly trotted toward first base.

Meanwhile, the ball — a new style of ball introduced at the Triple-A level for the first time this season — sailed not only toward right field, but landed at least 10 feet beyond the fence for Parker’s 21st homer of the season (he now has 24).

“My everlasting memory of 2019 will be Jarrett Parker (who has hit enough HRs to know the feeling) making contact, slamming his bat down in frustration … and the ball cleared the fence with plenty to spare,” is what Isotopes play-by-play announcer Josh Suchon posted on Twitter of that at bat.

He echoed the sentiment again Wednesday when the Journal asked him about the record-setting home run numbers seen around Triple-A baseball in 2019.

Albuquerque, which fell 3-2 to visiting Las Vegas on Wednesday night in front of an announced Isotopes Park crowd of 9,859, has experienced the power surge as much as anyone.

After Wednesday’s game, the Isotopes had hit a franchise record 200 home runs this season (catcher Drew Butera hit a solo shot in the third inning). The previous record was 197 set in 2008.

The 16-team PCL now has seven teams who have hit at least 200 homers thanks to the new balls, the same homer friendly balls used at the major league level for years.

“You’re talking to a hitter, so I’m never going to hate against a ball that’s going to fly more,” said Isotopes outfielder Brian Mundell before Wednesday’s game.

After talking with Mundell, the Journal asked to speak with an Isotopes pitcher about the new ball.

Any pitcher would do.

Any one of them.

After several minutes in the clubhouse, Isotopes public relations assistant Andrew Cockrum came walking out with a bit of a sheepish smile, having to tell a reporter not a single Isotopes pitcher felt up to talking about the new ball.

And why would they?

The 243 home runs allowed by the Isotopes this season not only leads all of Minor League Baseball, but it is a PCL modern era record (while Sacramento allowed 301 in 1974, it was in Hughes Stadium with a left field wall sitting at less than 250 feet from home plate, making it ineligible for home run records).

While some suggest pitching is bad or players are simply bigger and stronger and swinging for the fences more now than ever as the reason for the record setting pace, that doesn’t explain why it’s only the Triple-A level, where new balls were introduced, that is seeing the record numbers (lower levels of baseball are using the same balls as previous years).

J.J. Cooper, the Executive Editor for Baseball America, has been reporting on the blistering home run pace all season. On Aug. 13, he posted on Twitter the following:

• Triple-A home run rate was 160 percent that of 2018’s rate

• Double-A home run rate was 92 percent of 2018

• High-A home run rate was 95 percent of 2018

• Low-A home run rate was 95 percent of 2018

While the balls probably aren’t changing anytime soon, Mundell, who has 10 homers this season, doesn’t see the trend continuing forever.

“There’s always been a trend of pitchers catching up to hitters, so I think we’re just in the up-trend right now of a hitter-friendly league and also in the major leagues,” Mundell said. “Eventually, we’ll see it even out. Especially now with analytics and pitchers throwing it to spots — hot zones, cold zones — and all the scouting reports, I think when teams get a good grasp of all this, it’s going to even out.”

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