November 9, 2015
Notes from the Field
This Is Fall And They Are Stars
Outside of the Futures Game and perhaps the occasional loaded league All-Star game, it’s tough to find a better collection of talent in one game than the AFL's Fall Stars game. It’s the very best of the league squaring off against each other, and unlike the Futures Game you’re generally seeing guys who are close to contributing at the big-league level.
Unfortunately, this was the watered-down version of the game, as several injuries and various defections made it the weakest field in my five years covering the event. That’s not to say there wasn’t talent on display Saturday night, as there were several potential regulars and future members of MLB rotations and bullpens featured at Salt River. Here’s a look at a few who stood out.
Sean Manaea, LHP, Oakland Athletics: This was the fourth look at Manaea this fall, and it was another solid showing for the southpaw. He didn’t have great command of his 92-95 mph fastball, but the movement was there, and his slider—while still lacking the type of velocity you typically see—was above average in the high 70s with quality tilt. If there was one hurler who could make a significant impact in 2016 who pitched on Saturday, it was Manaea—though that isn’t saying a ton.
Kyle Freeland, LHP, Colorado Rockies: You know those magic mosaic paintings that if you stare at them long enough you start to see an image? I could never get them to work, and Kyle Freeland may be the left-handed pitching version of the magic mosaic. That’s not to say some of the appeal isn’t obvious; he possesses quality arm strength and a mid-90s fastball and a slider that flashes plus. But the change was—and has been in my viewings—a developmental pitch, and because he slings the ball across he body he’ll need that pitch to get right-handers out. Others in the industry that I respect a great deal are much higher on him, but in my admittedly limited viewings, I’ve seen a guy who profiles best in the bullpen.
Chaz Hebert looked like an interesting potential back-end option, showing an above-average change and solid-average breaking ball with an 88-91 heater….Ray Black throws really, really hard (101 on the gun I was mooching off of on Sunday) and showed a competent slider for the first time, though he only threw it once….Jacob Barnes was a pleasant surprise; locating at 94-96 and mixing in a decent breaking ball…Ralston Cash has a quality hair and mustache combination.
Jurickson Profar, 2B, Texas Rangers: Okay, Profar technically isn’t a prospect by law, but that’s silly: he’s 22 and he was easily the best hitter on the field. He still possesses the smooth, line-drive swing, and his feel for hitting is impressive for any age. The question going forward is just where the heck he’s going to play—there’s no guarantee he’s going to be able to throw the baseball in 2016—but long term this is still a player who has a chance to be a difference maker at the top of someone’s lineup.
Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees: Sanchez crushed a terrible change Freeland left up in the zone for a homer, and also showed his strong throwing arm in posting a 1.85 pop time while throwing out Christian Arroyo. This is not the first time scouts have been tantalized by his talent, only to be let down seemingly countless times, but the player I saw that night was a 60 power, 70 arm backstop, and that’s certainly worth continuing to monitor.
Austin Meadows, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates: There’s just an awful lot to love about this young man, and he crushed a two-run homer over Tigers relief prospect Adam Ravanelle in the sixth inning. I saw a plethora of talented players in my three weeks of covering this year’s league, but I did not see a more complete-looking player than Meadows. I’m higher than the industry, but nuts to the industry, I’m right. This kid is going to be really, really good.
Clint Frazier still has that impressive bat speed, but he looked lost in his three strikeouts; every look I get brings me closer to believing he’s a platoon bat…The same cannot be said about Adam Brett Walker II—I was positive he was a platoon player a long time ago…Chad Pinder may not have the natural athleticism to be an everyday shortstop, but his instincts are very impressive, and he could be a plus-plus defender if he makes the move over to the hot corner, though the bat may not play there.