Calm down and take a step back off the ledge. Baseball on TV is back! Well, at least for one week anyway.
MLB Network is broadcasting from the Arizona Fall League (AFL) this week. The reason is to test out the replay system soon to be implemented in the Major Leagues, but who cares. Baseball is back!
The AFL is a six-team developmental league where each MLB team sends seven of its top prospects to the desert for a couple months in autumn. Since its inception in 1992, Mike Piazza, Troy Percival, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Shawn Green, Todd Helton, Roy Halladay, Alfonso Soriano, Nomar Garciaparra, Torii Hunter, Derrek Lee, Brian Giles, Jimmy Rollins, Paul Konerko, Mark Teixeira, Chris Carpenter, Derek Lowe, Ryan Howard, Darin Erstad, Tommy Hanson, Dustin Ackley, Andrew McCutchen, Nolan Arenado, David Wright, Ryan Braun, Evan Longoria, Brandon Webb, Ian Kinsler, Jason Kipnis, Stephen Strasburg, Wil Myers, Billy Hamilton, Mike Zunino, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout have all sowed their oats in the AFL. Back in 1994, Michael Jordan brought some notoriety to the AFL as he played for the Scottsdale Scorpions.
The coaching staffs come from the MLB clubs and are often a means of auditioning for future managerial positions. Dusty Baker, Mike Scioscia, Terry Francona, Ron Washington, Bob Melvin Ken Macha, Tony Pena and Eric Wedge have all cut their teeth at the AFL.
I’ve been attending a week’s worth of AFL games since 2000, developing mancrushes on such luminaries as Gookie Dawkins and Marcus Giles. In fact, I just returned from Arizona where I saw this year’s crop of future All-Stars.
What follows is a review of the players to watch during the remaining games televised on the MLB Network. All the games begin at 9:05 PM ET.
Wednesday, November 6 – Salt River Rafters @ Scottsdale Scorpions
Drew Hutchinson, P, Toronto Blue Jays: He seems older but Hutchinson just turned 23. He had Tommy John Surgery in August 2012 and is using the AFL to get some needed innings as he missed the bulk of the 2013 campaign.
Aaron Sanchez, P, Toronto Blue Jays: The top prospect in the Jays system has an impressive four-pitch arsenal with good control and command. Toronto has had some bad luck developing pitching (lots of injuries) but Sanchez looks like he’ll reverse the trend.
Marcus Stroman, P, Toronto Blue Jays: He doesn’t have the prototypical physique and doesn’t generate the same tilt as taller pitchers, but I never saw him throw anything straight. It bears mentioning that he served a 50-game suspension for Methylhexanamine, a nasal decongestant that is also a banned stimulant.
Stephen Piscotty, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: There is some debate whether Piscotty is a Major League starter or reserve, but he is certainly making a case for a regular spot. Unfortunately, he’s playing for a talent-rich organization and could be blocked.
Kyle Crick, P, San Francisco Giants: Crick is the Giants top pitching prospect in an organization known for developing top pitchers. I didn’t happen to catch him live, but all the reports were extremely positive.
Alen Hanson, 2B/SS, Pittsburgh Pirates: His speed came as advertised but I didn’t see a whole lot with the stick. That said, it was only a couple of games.
Tommy La Stella, 2B, Atlanta Braves: I wish I could tell you more as he was the talk of the town, but I didn’t catch La Stella in person. With the mumblings that Dan Uggla could be on the move, La Stella is an intriguing sleeper.
Angel Villalona, 1B, San Francisco Giants: The oft-troubled slugger is being given another chance to resurrect a once-promising career, but quite honestly unless he can drop some weight, I don’t expect much. Put it this way, Pablo Sandoval would look svelte next to Villalona.
Cory Vaughn, OF New York Mets: I admit I’m not a scout and often form opinions on small samples, but Vaughn impressed me with his approach and opposite field power.
Thursday, November 7 – Scottsdale Scorpions @ Salt River Rafters
Scottsdale and Salt River already covered
Friday, November 8 – Glendale Desert Dogs @ Scottsdale Scorpions
Alex Meyer, P, Minnesota Twins: If he can stay healthy, Meyer is going to finally break the mold of pitch-to-contact starters is the Twin Cities. When I saw him he struggled a bit with his control, especially his change-up (which he appeared to be working on) but all indications are he’ll challenge for a rotation spot this season.
Eddie Rosario, 2B, Minnesota Twins: Rosario stood out for me by how hard he played. It’s a long year for some of these kids and they often look lethargic. In the past, Buster Posey and Mike Trout looked tired and bored at the AFL. Rosario had the look of someone that wants a shot in the spring and I bet he gets it.
Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: The talk is Corey will join his big brother Kyle at the hot corner, but if the couple of games I saw are any indication, Seager can handle shortstop defensively and his bat has more pop than his bro’s. But, he is a little stocky so I can see why he may be moved.
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins: I’ve had two holy schnikies moments at the AFL. The initial was my first ever game when an unknown third baseman with Pujols on the back of his uniform hit a ball in Scottsdale that cleared a row of trees thirty feet beyond the left field fence in Scottsdale. The next came a week ago when Buxton took a 1-2 pitch about 420 feet on a line with one of the sweetest swings I have seen anywhere, not just the AFL. He didn’t really stand out the rest of the time (though he also displayed his speed by beating out a grounder later in the same game) but I saw enough to justify the number-one overall prospect label.
Scottsdale already covered
Saturday, November 9 – Peoria Javelinas @ Salt River Rafters
Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres: Outstanding defender with a rocket arm, Hedges reminds me of a better-fielding Brandon Inge. His bat is suspect and may never be plus, but if you play in a sim league where defense counts, check out Hedges.
Japhet Amador, 1B, Houston Astros: This guy is huge, I called him Amahouse. He’s been tearing up the Mexican League so the Astros took a shot. He didn’t really look that great at the dish but there was some indication he wasn’t really all that into it, which is understandable considering he was dealing with a change in culture, etc.
Delino DeShields, OF, Houston Astros: Like Soler, it was obvious Deshields wasn’t going all out, but he doesn’t have the injury excuse to bail him out. The work is DeShields is going to have to learn his last name is only going to get him so far. That said, if he gets his head on straight, he has the tools.
Stefan Romero, OF, Seattle Mariners: At 25, he’s getting a little old to be considered a prospect, but his pair of homers at the Fall Stars game should get him a look in the spring.
Salt River already covered
Teams not being televised
Mesa Solar Sox
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs: Bryant is lean and lanky and can swing the bat. His glove at the hot corner needs some work.
Addison Russell, SS, Oakland Athletics: Russell is one of a number of promising shortstop prospects (Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez are some others, not to mention Xander Bogaerts whose days in the minors appear over). Many scouts feel Russell is ready though he’s targeted to begin the season in Triple-A.
Albert Almora, OF Chicago Cubs: Injuries limited the Cubs first round pick in 2012 (sixth overall) to only 61 games in Low-A this season and he looked a little rusty, but the scouts were raving about his maturing power and defense.
Billy Goodwin, OF, Washington Nationals: At the 2012 Fall Stars Game (the All-Star game of the AFL) Goodwin stole the show, upstaging Billy Hamilton. Don’t let his diminutive stature fool you. He generates serious bat speed and can go deep with line drives but his strength is his speed.
Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago Cubs: Man, this guy has serious tools. He made a throw that would make Yasiel Puig jealous. Well, he’d be impressed anyway. But, there is a bit of dog in him. I saw him jog down the line twice after hitting routine grounders, one with a runner on first. Granted, he’s hurt so lack of all out hustle under the circumstances is understandable, but I was told even if he was healthy, there’s no guarantee he would have been busting it. But man, this guy has serious tools.
Mookie Betts, 2B, Boston Red Sox: Fun to watch but blocked at second in the bigs.
Garrett Cecchini, 3B, Boston Red Sox: Known for his speed, Cecchini showed some surprising line drive power along with an approach typical of the Red Sox organization.
Brett Nicholas, 1B, Texas Rangers: Exploded at the Fall Stars game hitting a pair of prodigious bombs.
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Affectionately known as Lord Zola, Todd was the 2013 Fantasy Sports Writers Association recipient of the Fantasy Baseball Article of the Year, Web. He's been with Mastersball since its inception in 1997 and presently Todd writes for the ESPN Insider and Baseball HQ. Todd is a frequent guest on SiriusXM and is a regular on HQ Radio. He's a veteran of Tout Wars and LABR as well as a multi-time NFBC champion. Follow Todd on Twitter @ToddZola
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