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October 5, 2006

Future Shock

AFL Preview, Part Two

by Kevin Goldstein

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In part one of our Arizona Fall League preview, I explained Bill James' methodology of comparing teams in the first Baseball Abstract I purchased in 1985. James compared the players on each position to each other, then assigned wins and losses based on where each player ranked. 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 continue previewing the league 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.

Let's get right to it and pick it up with a refresh of where we are in the standings.

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    6
Rafters     10  10  .500    6
Scorpions   10  10  .500    6
Solar Sox    9  11  .450    7
Saguaros     5  15  .250   11

Shortstop:

1. Rafters: Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies) hit .291/.370/.473 in his pro debut, and that was at Double-A. While he didn't do much with the Rockies in September, he's nonetheless the shortstop of the very near future in Colorado and a potential All-Star.

2. Desert Dogs: Ben Zobrist (Devil Rays) got a lot of attention for his .428 on-base percentage in the minors this year, but after coming over from the Astros in the Aubrey Huff deal, major league pitchers threw him more strikes, and everything fell apart (.224/.260/.311). Ryan Klosterman (Blue Jays) has more power than the average shortstop and has plus speed, but overall he's not a very good hitter.

3. Javelinas: Much more was expected out of Yunel Escobar (Braves) than a .264/.361/.346 line at Double-A. Brian Cleveland (Marlins) is a classic good-glove/no-hit shortstop.

4. Solar Sox: Defensively, nobody in the minors can match Chin-Lung Hu (Dodgers), but will the bat ever be enough? After a .254/.326/.334 line at Double-A, many scouts are still wondering.

5. Scorpions: Kevin Frandsen (Giants) isn't really a shortstop at the big league level, and while he hits for a good average, he offers so little in the way of power or walks that it's hard to see him as an every day player. Andy Gonzalez (White Sox) is the backup, and nothing special.

6. Saguaros: Same story as second base here. Seth Bynum (Nationals), Juan Ciriaco (Padres), and Brendan Ryan (Cardinals) are the options, and none of them are good ones.

Left Field:

1. Desert Dogs: After missing the last six weeks of the season with a hernia, Travis Buck (Athletics) looks to pick up where he left off. In his full-season debut, the majority of which took place at Double-A, he hit .320/.385/.521 with just seven home runs but an impressive 39 doubles in 338 at-bats. Javon Moran (Reds) also suffered through an injury-plagued season, but while he hit .328 and has plus-speed, he has no power and a low walk rate.

2. Javelinas: He mashed last year and few respected it, but Brian Barton (Indians) proved he's for real in 2006, reaching Double-A and hitting .323/.412/.511 overall. A first-round pick in 2001, Josh Burrus (Braves) finally began to hit last year, but pancaked in Double-A this season.

3. Scorpions: Fred Lewis (Giants) hit .276/.375/.453 at Triple-A this year and has a little bit of power, a little bit of speed, and a good approach. David Cook (White Sox) had 16 home runs in the Carolina League this year but is also 25.

4. Saguaros: Moved to left field in deference to Ryan Zimmerman, Kory Casto (Nationals) hit .272/.379/.468 at Double-A with 20 home runs. Signed for a bonus of more than $2 million, Vince Sinisi (Padres) didn't benefit much from a change of scenery after getting traded by Texas. He batted .269/.349/.417 at Double-A Mobile, with the power potential some see simply never manifesting itself.

5. Rafters: Jeff Fiorentino (Orioles) saved his season at Double-A Bowie by batting .376 in August; he scuffled through minor injuries in the first half. While he's been slow to develop, athletic Anthony Webster (Rangers) finally reached Triple-A this year, hit .288/.339/.421 overall and could have a career as a fourth outfielder. Chris Lubanski (Royals) is on the taxi squad, so he'll play twice a week at best.

6. Solar Sox: Anthony Raglani (Dodgers) struggled in his first shot at Double-A, batting just .244 with nine home runs in 336 at-bats. He's not especially toolsy, so the bat will have to carry him, and so far the bat falls well short.

Standings After Six Positions:
Desert Dogs Prevent Javelinas From Pulling Away; Will MLB Step In And Help The Saguaros?

TEAM         W   L   PCT   GB
Javelinas   23   7  .767   --
Desert Dogs 19  11  .633    4
Rafters     16  14  .533    7
Scorpions   14  16  .467    9
Solar Sox   11  19  .367   12
Saguaros     7  23  .233   16

Center field:

1. Solar Sox: Fernando Martinez (Mets) hit .270/.336/.457 this year, splitting time between Low- and High-A. Not impressed yet? How about if I tell you that he turns 18 on Opening Day next week? It was a pretty stunning debut, even if most observers don't think he'll be able to stay in center as he fills out. The backup is Mike Rodriguez (Astros), the definition of fringy.

2. Javelinas: A first round pick in 2005, Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox) reached Double-A in his full-season debut, and hit .303/.382/.425 overall. He's a classic leadoff man who draws countless comparisons to Johnny Damon, but with better hair.

3. Desert Dogs: Buried in one of the deepest systems around when it comes to hitters, Fernando Perez (Devil Rays) quietly had a very good year at High-A Visalia, batting .307/.398/.397 and leading the minor leagues with 123 runs scored.

4. Rafters: Mitch Maier (Royals) moved from a corner to center when the organization did the opposite with Chris Lubanski. He's not very good there defensively, but he's a pretty good hitter, as evidenced by a .306/.357/.473 line at Double-A Wichita. He has doubles power as opposed to home run power, but he has a good knack for contact.

5. Saguaros: Brett Gardner (Yankees) has top-of-the-line speed and understands his role, as he keeps the ball on the ground, draws a fair share of walks, and is an excellent base stealer. But does all of that make up for a .318 slugging at Double-A?

6. Scorpions: After running the Southern League ragged in 2005, Jerry Owens (White Sox) did very little at Triple-A, hitting just .262/.330/.346, and that's with a hot streak at the end of the season. Steve Moss (Brewers) was a big disappointment at Double-A this year, which says a lot as not much was expected from him in the first place.

Right Field:

1. Solar Sox: All that stuff about Hunter Pence of the Astros being too old for his level and having a funny swing? We're done talking like that after a .283/.357/.533 campaign at Double-A Corpus Christi. Bobby Malek (Mets) has seemingly been around forever, and he's a little worse each year.

2. Scorpions: Terry Evans (Angels) had the most surprising season in the minors, batting .309/.377/.565 across three teams, as he was traded by the Cardinals to the Angels at mid-season for Jeff Weaver. Whether or not this is a flash in the pan remains to be seen, but scouts will tell you that he always had athleticism.

3. Saguaros: Nick Stavinoha (Cardinals) just finished his first full season, yet it seems like he's already earned the title of "professional hitter." If he could hit left-handed, he might have been able to carve out an Orlando Merced-like career.As a righty, that will be more difficult.

4. Desert Dogs: Brent Clevlen was the Florida State League MVP in 2005, and while he may have looked big in a pair of oh-so-brief big league stints, the bigger sample size is 109 games at Double-A Erie, where he hit .230/.313/.357. Cody Strait (Reds) hit 17 home runs in the Florida State League and stole 50 bases, so there are some tools there, but also a bit of a hack-tastic approach.

5. Javelinas: Brett Carroll (Marlins) has a little power and that's about it. Michael Wilson (Mariners) is a former football player who at 23 is still learning how to play baseball, but there are some things there to like, including the 21 home runs he hit this year.

5. Rafters: Matt Miller (Rockies) was the South Atlantic MVP last year, but nobody believed in him because of his age and the ballpark at Low Class A Asheville. The power disappeared this year, and so did the batting average once he hit Double-A.

Standings After Eight Positions:
Javelinas Still Good, Saguaros Still Bad, Bunching Up In The Middle

TEAM         W   L   PCT   GB
Javelinas   28  12  .700   --
Desert Dogs 24  16  .600    4
Solar Sox   21  19  .525    7
Rafters     18  22  .450   10
Scorpions   18  22  .450   10
Saguaros    11  29  .375   17

Tomorrow: We'll look at a much better than normal crop of pitchers to finish up the preview.

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

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