Wichita Wingnuts

Porter's season with Wingnuts was one to remember

Greg Porter is going to play in the major leagues someday. The likelihood of that statement coming true is, at best, remote. But I saw Porter play 55 games for the Wingnuts this season, and he often made it seem as if anything was possible. He suspended disbelief, making it easy to forget he was playing independent league baseball.

Lawrence-Dumont Stadium hadn't seen a season like Porter's 2009 since eight years earlier, when Brandon Berger hit 40 home runs while batting .308 for the Wranglers. We thought Berger was going to play in the major leagues, too, and he did — for an underwhelming 81 games.

Neither Berger nor Porter elevated to "prospect" status during their capture-the-imagination seasons in Wichita. Berger was 26 years old in 2001 and in his sixth season of minor league baseball. Porter turned 29 near the end of the past season and has spent much of his professional career in Double- and Triple-A, never reaching the big leagues.

Porter might profile better as a big leaguer in another sport — football. He played tight end at Texas A&M and was in training camp with the Houston Texans in 2002 before leaving to focus on baseball. He's talked of giving football another shot if his baseball career didn't progress.

Nobody who saw Porter play for the Wingnuts wants to see him quit baseball, though. His accomplishments this season prompted me to do Internet research on whether anyone at baseball's highest level equaled them.

The answer? Barely. Porter had 50 hits in May, batting .481. It wasn't a soft .481, either — it included 18 extra-base hits. No major leaguer had 50 hits in a month in 2009 and a sampling of players with 50 in a month during the entire decade includes Ichiro Suzuki, Albert Pujols and Todd Helton.

Porter's on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) was 1.070, which was topped only by Pujols in the majors last season.

Of course, Porter is no Pujols. He's likely not even comparable to Ryan Roberts, an Arizona Diamondbacks infielder whose 2009 season was statistically defined as exactly average. Roberts probably could have batted .372 in the American Association, too.

Still, there's something about seeing someone dominate like Porter did with your own eyes. You may briefly remember that the opposing pitcher was never good enough to be drafted and that he never competed above Rookie-level ball. But then you forget it because... well, who cares? This Porter guy is amazing.

What I choose to remember about Porter's season isn't the inferior competition, but that it could have been even better. That's difficult to believe when looking at the numbers _ a league-leading 21 home runs (tied with teammate Kelly Hunt) and 86 RBIs in 95 games.

Pitchers eventually figured out they didn't have to pitch to Porter, and that they could take their chances with Hunt or cleanup hitter Dustan Mohr. While Porter led the Wingnuts with 56 walks, he hated taking the free pass. So as the season progressed, he began swinging more on 3-0 counts or early in the count at pitches he would normally let go by.

For leading the American Association in batting average, homers, hits, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and extra-base hits, Porter was named the league's Star of Stars and the Player of the Year in all of independent baseball by Baseball America.

His season, however, didn't grab the attention of major-league organizations, who wanted no part of Porter, letting him toil on the lowest level of professional baseball all summer. They must not have seen him put on a show in batting practice then carry it over to the game. They must not have seen his deceptive speed.

They definitely didn't see the 55 games I did. Seeing them made me positive I was watching a future major league star. All I had to do was use my imagination.

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