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October 6, 2009
AFL Preview, Part One
Quick Quiz: Who won the Arizona Fall League title last year? I do this for a living, and even I'll admit that I had to look up the answer. The Phoenix Desert Dogs won the title, and in fact, it was their fifth straight. Even so, the Arizona Fall League obviously isn't about teams, it's about individual players. So, with the league getting ready to ramp up its 18th season next week, let's focus on the players one should be following, going position by position around the diamond, and beginning today with the holy grail of prospects-the up-the-middle players.
After spending the last few weeks of the year twiddling his thumbs on the Giants' bench, Posey finally gets to play some more in preparation for next spring, which he should enter as the overwhelming favorite to win the Opening Day job as the starter. He's going to be a star, and he should be good immediately with the ability to hit for average, draw a decent amount of walks, display gap-plus power, and shut down the running game. After hitting .325/.416/.531 in the minors, he has nothing left to prove.
A draft-and-follow who signed in 2006, Exposito continues a slow and steady move up the prospect charts by hitting at every level, including a .287/.339/.439 line between High- and Double-A. He's a big, strong catcher with solid to average power and a quick bat, but there are still some holes in his game that keep scouts a bit leery when it comes to projecting him as an everyday player in the big leagues. His free-swinging approach creates its share of issues, and while he has the physical tools to be a good defender, he's still rough around the edges and needs to work on his catch-and-throw skills.
There's nothing necessarily wrong with Castro, Houston's first-round pick in last year's draft out of Stanford. The question is what he does especially well. Scouts just can't identify any plus tool other than a smooth, contact-oriented swing that should allow him to consistently hit for average, leaving him as a low secondary skills hitter and an average defender who should be a solid big leaguer, but nothing approaching a star.
Others to Watch:
The only concern at this point is Weeks' inability to stay healthy. He has a leadoff man's approach, surprising power for his size, and speed that's well above-average, but he needs to find more consistency in his game, particularly with his defense, and that's only going to come with repetition, which is only going to come with health. Basically, he's the kind of guy the Arizona Fall League was made for.
While last year's fourth-round pick split time between shortstop and second this year, the right side of the infield is where his future lies, as he just lacks the instincts and arm for shortstop at the big league level. The good news is that he's a fantastic offensive player who hit .293/.398/.454 between Pittsburgh's two A-ball affiliates, including 33 doubles, nearly as many walks (60) as strikeouts (72), and 31 stolen bases in 39 attempts.
After looking like a breakout player in the system last year with a .302/.380/.463 line at High-A Dunedin, Emaus hit a wall in the Eastern League, batting just .253/.336/.376. Of more concern was his effort, as his once highly-praised grinding style became lackluster, with numerous scouts reporting wildly varying running times, leaving a question to how often he was giving his all.
Others to Watch:
Best of the Best: Danny Espinosa, Nationals (Desert Dogs)
This is interesting, in that I thought I'd list Espinosa in the unheralded category, but instead he just might be the best. This year's group has a lot of good players, but no real stud prospect, which also says a lot about that state of the position overall in the minors. That said, Espinosa's full-season debut at High-A Potomac was an absolute revelation, as he hit .264/.375/.460 with 18 home runs, 29 stolen bases, and 74 walks while proving not only that he's capable of staying at shortstop, but projecting as above average for the position.
Unheralded: Zack Cozart, Reds (Saguaros)
A second-round pick in 2007, Cozart's .262/.360/.398 line at Double-A Chattanooga is well short of eye-opening, but he's got an interesting set of skills. One of the better defensive shortstops in the minors, he makes up for a lack of hitting skills with walks and double-digit home-run power, and could end up with a Dick Schofield kind of career.
Rivero has long been one of the highest high-ceiling prospects in the Indians system, but he's yet to produce anything consistently in the minors, including this year's .242/.309/.344 line for Double-A Akron. Making things even worse, his big frame has added a few pounds as his body has matured, and his range is now limited at the position, while his arm has always been erratic. A position switch is likely in his future, so the bat has to pick up in a big way or he could quickly be off the radar.
Others to Watch:
Best of the Best: Ryan Kalish, Red Sox (Solar Sox)
Plenty of players could have occupied this spot since, as with the shortstops, there are plenty of good players here, but few truly great ones. However, Kalish was so good down the stretch for Double-A Portland, batting .302/.384/.561 while showing enough defensive skills to stay up the middle, that some scouts think he could be knocking on the door of the big leagues late next year.
Unheralded: Trayvon Robinson, Dodgers (Javelinas)
Profiled here last week, Robinson required patience by the Dodgers, but his outstanding tools finally began to surface on the stat sheet with 17 home runs and 47 stolen bases as part of a .300/.373/.493 season. Strikeouts are a big issue for him, and his game is still a bit rough around the edges, so this will be a big test.
Disappointing: Lorenzo Cain, Brewers (Javelinas)
Always one of the toolsiest players around, Cain seemed to be on the verge of a breakout coming into the year, but he was waylaid by a series of injuries that limited him to just 60 games, while batting just .218/.294/.330 overall across three levels. A good showing here could help mitigate what up to now has been a bit of a lost season.
Others to Watch:
Coming tomorrow: We see if the players at first, third, left, and right can brighten the corners of the Arizona Fall League.