RobBrantlyThe Erie SeaWolves (Detroit’s AA affiliate) have only one hitter on their team younger than 24 years of age. That player is 22 year-old catching prospect Rob Brantly*.

*Brantly will turn 23 this season, but since his birthday is after June 1, roughly the halfway point in a season, this year can be said to be his ‘age 22 season’.

I mention age in particular because it should be a significant disadvantaged to Brantly. Only 19 hitters in the Eastern League are in their age 22 season or younger (with only five of them being 21 years old or younger). So, needless to say, Brantly is playing in a league that’s quite advanced for his age (the average player age for both pitchers and hitters in Double-A leagues is just north of 24 years).

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Usually when a player is this much younger than his competition, he receives hearty congratulations if he can produce at even a league average rate in the batter’s box. But age hasn’t been a deterrent for Brantly, who’s 1.035 OPS (in 61 plate appearances) has him ranked fifth in the Eastern League. Only two other players in the top ten are younger than 26, and they’re both 24.

They key to Brantly’s success early this season (and really for his entire young minor league career) is his slugging ability. He’s a contact hitter who only strikes out about 11.5% of the time and draws walks at a rate that is couple of percentage points below league average, but he can really put a hurt on the ball. Nearly half of his hits have gone for extra bases (10 of 21), and his eight doubles has him tied for second in the league (he also has two home runs).

Brantly has a career .302 BABIP, so he’s likely to see some significant reduction in his performance when his BABIP regresses from its current .404 level. But even if we adjust his current numbers to reflect fewer hits on balls in play, his OPS would still likely fall in the .830-.850 range. And there’s nothing too shabby about that. Especially from a catcher who’s significantly younger than his counterparts.

Power-hitting catching prospects are a rarity in baseball (and can be highly valuable), so Brantly could be draw significant trade interest from teams around the league if he continues to pound the ball at the plate. It’s probably still a bit too early to talk about him being blocked by the still very young Alex Avila, but he is at an advanced minor league level and the Tigers seem to already have their catcher of the future. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear his name come up quite a bit come trade deadline time.

Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.