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October 4, 2006

Future Shock

AFL Preview, Part One

by Kevin Goldstein

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The first Baseball Abstract I purchased was in 1985. One of my favorite pieces in that book was a comparison of the 1984 Detroit Tigers to other great teams of the last 25 years. In the essay, Bill James compared the players on each position to each other, then assigned wins and losses based on where each player ranked. So, when comparing seven teams the best catcher would give his team six wins, the worst would give his team six losses, and the third best would give his team four wins and two losses, etc. It's anything but the most accurate way to compare talent, but it was entertaining and compelling. While it's hardly the system I'd use in any sort of predictive manner, let's pay homage to Bill James and have some fun in a preview where wins and losses aren't so important, but player development is - the Arizona Fall League, which kicks off its 15th season on October 10th.

Catcher:

1. Javelinas: They have Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Braves), and that's good enough for me. Salty was absolutely dreadful in the first half at Double-A Mississippi, but he hit .335 with five home runs in 74 at-bats after returning from the disabled list, and he continued to look like they player we thought he'd be during his stint with Team USA. There's no exciting backup plan here, as Dustin Brown (Red Sox) is a non-prospect who barely got his OPS over 600 this year, while Indians disappointment Javi Herrera is on the taxi squad, meaning he's eligible on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The other five days, I guess he can enjoy Arizona's endless number of strip malls.

2. Rafters: Neil Walker (Pirates) is the stud here. Wrist surgery delayed his start and slowed him until the second half of the season, but he came on strong in the summer months, and finished the year at Double-A. He's primarily here to work on his defense, as everybody seems to be sold on the bat. After that there's a major drop-off--Kevin Richardson (Rangers) had a very good year at Double-A, but is also 26 years old, and Adam Donachie (Royals) is a organizational player, as is taxi-squad guy Ryan Hubele (Orioles).

3. Desert Dogs: Curtis Thigpen (Blue Jays) is a pretty good hitter with patience and gap power, which makes him sound like numerous Blue Jays prospects, but the fact that he catches makes him a little more valuable. Landon Powell (Athletics) has power and patience on his side, but both his age and conditioning problems are working against him. Mike Rabelo (Tigers) is clearly option number three here.

4. Solar Sox: Lou Santangelo (Astros) remains interesting because of his power -depite a .241 average at High-A Salem, he slugged 18 home runs in 357 at-bats. Jake Fox (Cubs) had a breakout year at High-A Daytona, but struggled at Double-A, and when you realize he turned 24 in July, it's not so much of a breakout anymore. A.J. Ellis (Dodgers) knows how to draw walks, and now I'm done saying positive things about him.

5. Scorpions: Vinny Rottino (Brewers) and Jamie D'Antona (Diamondbacks) are both guys who primarily play elsewhere but are trying to increase their value by improving their skills behind the plate. That leaves the only 'real' catcher as Bobby Wilson (Angels), who is solid at best.

6. Saguaros: Jason Jaramillo (Phillies) had a very disappointing year at Double-A, while Colt Morton stopped hitting home runs without reducing his ludicrous strikeout rate. P.J. Pilttere (Yanks) is an organizational depth guy.

First Base:

1. Rafters: Joe Koshansky (Rockies) went from older guy mashing in the Sally League to real prospect by batting .284/.371/.526 with 31 home runs in the Texas League. Brad Eldred (Pirates) has even more raw power, but health concerns and a hole in his swing the size of the Lincoln Tunnel have combined to limit his potential. Dustin Yount (Orioles) is on the taxi squad, but isn't a prospect.

2. Javelinas: It's pretty simple: when Michael Aubrey (Indians) is healthy, he hits-...he's just so rarely healthy. Gaby Sanchez (Marlins) got off to a tremendous start at Low-A Greensboro, batting .317/.447/.603 before the injury bug bit, but he then did little in a very short Florida State League stint, and he's already 23 years old.

3. Desert Dogs: Wes Bankston has long been considered a solid power prospect, and while he hit .282 this year, including a .297 average at Triple-A, he slugged just nine home runs in 362 at-bats. Chip Cannon (Blue Jays) had a big second half, hitting 14 home runs in his final 53 games, but the power was the only attractive part of his final line at Double-A (.248/.335/.476).

4. Saguaros: Eric Duncan is the reigning MVP of the league, but he didn't do much in the regular season this year other than one hot month, finishing at .234/.330/.405 between Double- and Triple-A. Josh Whitesell (Nationals) has a decent swing, a decent approach, and decent power, but mere decency isn't a quality that will get you playing first base in the big leagues.

5. Solar Sox: Michael Abreu may have hit .332/.403/.528 this year, but he's also one of the very few players in the league born in the 1970s. David Winfree (Twins) missed a big chunk of the season while he decided his future in baseball, but he slugged .490 in the Florida State League once he chose.

6. Scorpions: Travis Ishikawa (Giants) may have reached the majors this year, but it was more out of desperation than anything else, as he was a major disappointment at Double-A, batting just .232/.316/403.

Standings After Two Positions:
No Parity Here As Javalinas And Rafters Get Off To Big Starts

TEAM         W   L   PCT   GB
Javalinas    9   1  .900   --
Rafters      9   1  .900   --
Desert Dogs  6   4  .600    3
Solar Sox    3   7  .300    6
Saguaros     2   8  .200    7
Scorpions    1   9  .100    8

Second Base:

1. Javalinas: If Trevor Crowe (Indians) can figure anything out defensively in his conversion from the outfield, he becomes a dangerous prospect who projects as a classic leadoff hitter with a little bit of gap power to keep things interesting. Has anyone else noticed how Michael Garciaparra has gone from total bust to at least a fringe prospect? He finally hit some last year, but nobody believed it, and while he dealt with some injuries this season, he still hit .311/.399/.397 across three levels, with the majority of that time in Triple-A.

2. Scorpions: Arizona's Mark Reynolds was one of the breakout players of the year in the minors, and while he finished the year in left field, he's listed as an infielder, so I guess we'll assume he's playing second, as the other infield positions are pretty much filled. The other option is Reynolds' Double-A teammate, Danny Richar, the kind of guy who does many things well, but nothing exceptionally well.

3. Desert Dogs: Drew Anderson (Reds) is very much in Richar's class, while Oakland's Kevin Melillo is about one step above that, thanks to a little more power and a little better approach at the plate. If he's similar to anyone offensively, it might be the guy whose job he'd like to have, Mark Ellis.

4. Solar Sox: Eric Patterson is generally seen as the Cubs' second baseman of the future, and he finished the season with a hot two weeks at Triple-A, but his .263/.330/.409 line over the majority of the year at Double-A West Tenn shows there is still work to be done. Matt Tolbert (Twins) provides depth and little else.

5. Rafters: Craig Stansberry (Pirates) has a little bit of power and draws some walks, but his batting average (.243) leaves much to be desired. Fernando Cortez (Royals) had a .274 on-base percentage this year. 'Nuff said.

6. Saguaros: They don't really have a second baseman as much as they have three shortstops, so one of them will be sliding over. Unfortunately, the options are Seth Bynum (Nationals, 630 OPS), Juan Ciriaco (Padres, 578), and Brendan Ryan (Cardinals, 609), leaving manager Randy Ready with a difficult decision of who he wants to make three outs every day.

Third Base:

1. Scorpions: Ryan Braun (Brewers) got off to a slow start in the Florida State League, but a .303/.367/.589 line at Double-A put him back among the top offensive prospects in the minors. Matt Brown (Angels) has enough power to be interesting.

2. Solar Sox: A first-round bust with the Tigers, Scott Moore's Cubs renaissance continued with a solid year at Double-A, and he left a strong impression with the big league staff during his brief major league debut. Matt Moses (Twins) entered the year as one of the top hitters in a pitching-heavy organization, but he never got going at Double-A New Britain, finishing at .249/.303/.386.

3. Saguaros: Seen as an on-base guy with marginal power, Chase Headley (Padres) pretty much held serve in his full-season debut, batting .291/.389/.434 at High-A Lake Elsinore.

4. Javelinas: Chad Spann recovered from a rough 2005 to hit .294/.361/.472 at Double-A Portland, though he'll need to refine his approach if he's going to develop. Matt Tuiasosopo had a nightmarish second half at Double-A San Antonio, batting .185/.259/.218 in 62 games. Youth and athleticism is on his side, but that's about it.

5. Desert Dogs: Kody Kirkland (Tigers) set career highs in home runs (22) and RBI (66) at Double-A Erie, but he also hit just .217 with 157 strikeouts in 428 at-bats and just 26 walks.

6. Rafters: Travis Metcalf was outstanding in the California League las year, but as he turned 24 this year, he needed to keep it up in the big jump to Double-A, and that didn't happen (.221/.298/.325). Five years ago, Bryan Bass was the 31st overall pick and seen as one of the better high school infielders in the draft. Now he's a 24-year-old third baseman who has basically never hit anywhere.

Standings After Four Positions:
Javelinas Good, Saguaros Bad, Everything Else In The Middle

TEAM         W   L   PCT   GB
Javalinas   16   4  .800   --
Desert Dogs 10  10  .500    3
Rafters     10  10  .500   --
Scorpions   10  10  .500    8
Solar Sox    9  11  .450    6
Saguaros     5  15  .250    7

Tomorrow: We'll see if anything changes in the standings as I get through shortstops and outfielders.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Triple-A,  A.J. Ellis,  Year Of The Injury

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