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October 6, 2006

Future Shock

Arizona Fall League Preview, Part Three

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, 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.

In part two of our preview we looked at shortstops and outfielders, with the Javelinas clinging to first. Today we start with the pitching staffs.

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

Pitching is a little more difficult to do using Bill James' system in the Tigers chapter of the 1985 Abstract, as the average AFL roster has 20 pitchers on it. James broke pitching up into five categories:

1. Top Righthanded Starter
2. Top Lefthanded Starter
3. Third Starter
4. Fourth Starter
5. Relief Ace
6. Spot Starters and Bullpen

Because we have so many arms here, I'm going to split the sixth group into two categories, extra starters and extra relievers.

Top Righthanded Starter

1. Rafters: After missing more than a year after not signing with the Dodgers, top overall 2006 pick Luke Hochevar (Royals) needs all the innings he can get. He looked very good in his pro debut, and could see the big leagues by mid-2007.

2. Solar Sox: Mike Pelfrey (Mets) has size, command, and a plus-plus fastball, but he'll be primarily working on his secondary pitches in Arizona, so statistics will likely not tell an accurate story.

3. Desert Dogs: Gigantic Jeff Niemann (Devil Rays) missed nearly the entire first half of the season when his recovery from minor shoulder surgery took longer than expected. When he returned, he was outstanding, although his velocity is still not all the way back to what in was in his college days.

4. Javelinas: Expected to possibly help at the big league level this year, Anthony Lerew (Braves), got off to a horrible start at Triple-A, but turned things around when he was sent down to Double-A to work with pitching coach Kent Willis.

5. Saguaros: Gio Gonzalez (Phillies) had a 2.56 ERA in his first ten starts at Double-A Reading, but a 6.10 mark thereafter. He's got good raw stuff, but he's also undersized and has problems throwing strikes.

6. Scorpions: Steven Jackson (Diamondbacks) is much older than Gonzalez, and also the polar opposite on a scouting level. His raw stuff in underwhelming, but he's tall, gets a good downward plane on his pitches, and features plus command.

Top Lefthanded Starter

1. Solar Sox: Scott Elbert (Dodgers) is arguably the best lefthander in the minors, so it's an easy choice. Splitting time between High- and Double-A this year, Elbert allowed just 97 hits in 146 innings while striking out 173, with his 85 walks the only knock against him.

2. Saguaros: While J.A. Happ (Phillies) doesn't have a true out pitch, his ability to throw strikes and confidently throw any of his three offerings at any point in the count makes him a possible back-of-the-rotation starter.

3. Scorpions: A big-budget draft-and-follow four years ago, Manny Parra (Brewers) has been slow to live up to his potential only because he has yet to stay healthy for an entire season.

4. Rafters: It's strange to see a guy who pitched 125 innings in the big leagues in Arizona, but there's John Koronka (Rangers) on the roster. If you saw any of his 23 starts for Texas, you know he's fringy.

5. Javelinas: Adam Bostick (Marlins) is one of those guys with control problems and not enough velocity to make up for it, but maybe they can use him as a pitch-hitter in extra-inning games, as he hit .300/.317/.425 this year in 40 at-bats.

6. Desert Dogs: Tyler Pelland (Reds) had just 18 more strikeouts (107) than walks (89) in 142 innings at Double-A. That's pretty much never a good thing.

Standings After Ten Positions:

Pitching Changes Everything As Solar Sox Make A Run At Things

TEAM         W   L   PCT   GB
Javelinas   31  19  .620   --
Solar Sox   30  20  .600    1
Desert Dogs 27  23  .540    4
Rafters     25  25  .500    6
Scorpions   21  29  .420   10
Saguaros    16  34  .320   15

Third Starter

1. Solar Sox: Philip Humber made a quick recovery from Tommy John surgery, and scouts saw a pitcher whose stuff was all the way back, as he reached Double-A and compiled a 2.83 ERA in 14 starts with 79 strikeouts in 76.1 innings. The Mets might have some rotation problems right now, but they won't for long.

2. Saguaros: Kyle Kendrick (Phillies) has been slow to develop, but still just turned 22. He got off to a great start at Low-A Lakewood this year, but was just average after a promotion to the Florida State League.

3. Desert Dogs: The Florida State League pitcher of the year last season, Jordan Tata (Tigers) opened the season in the big leagues, and was just adequate at Triple-A--he has problems missing bats.

4. Javelinas: David Pauley (Red Sox) is one of many young Boston arms to make an emergency start or two in the big leagues this year. He's short on velocity but has three solid pitches and plus control.

5. Rafters: A second-round pick in 2003, Brian Finch (Orioles) had just 83 strikeouts in 145.2 innings this year at Double-A Bowie as his rate stats plummeted.

6. Scorpions: Despite a 2.26 ERA in the Double-A Eastern League, Pat Misch (Giants) is that classic lefty with fringe velocity but a good breaking ball who gives minor league hitters nightmares, yet makes major league hitters drool.

Fourth Starter

1. Solar Sox: Lefty Troy Patton (Astros) is the team's fourth-best starter? Keep in mind that after the Pelfrey/Elbert/Humber/Patton nightmare, they also have Kevin Slowey (Twins) and Matt Albers (Astros), two guys who would rank above most of the top right-handed pitchers listed above. On a prospect level it's the best rotation in the history of the Arizona Fall League.

2. Desert Dogs: Kyle Yates (Blue Jays) had a 3.75 ERA at Double-A, but some pretty good ratios thanks to an outstanding curveball and the ability to throw it for strikes or bury it in the ground.

3. Saguaros: At what point do we finally give up on former first-round wonder boy Gavin Floyd (Phillies)? If you haven't already, you're probably pretty close. I still bet he has some semblance of a career bouncing around as a fifth starter.

4. Javelinas: Bobby Livingston (Mariners) finally hit a wall at Triple-A, as it doesn't matter how crafty you are or how many strikes you throw when your fastball is in the low-to-mid 80s.

5. Scorpions: A long time ago, Corwin Malone (White Sox) was one of the better lefthanders around. Finally healthy again, he had a decent year at Double-A, but it's too little, too late.

6. Rafters: Josh Shortslef (Pirates) wins by default in a rotation that is pretty much Hochevar and a whole lot of ugly.

Standings After Twelve Positions:
Solar Sox Take Over First On 19-1 Run Led By Historic Staff

TEAM         W   L   PCT   GB
Solar Sox   40  20  .667   --
Javelinas   35  25  .583    5
Desert Dogs 34  26  .567    6
Rafters     26  34  .433   14
Saguaros    23  37  .383   17
Scorpions   22  38  .367   18

Tomorrow, we'll finish things up with a look at extra starters and some crowded bullpens. Then we'll see if we figured anything out.

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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