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November 2, 2012

Prospect Push

Notes from the Arizona Fall League

by Jason Churchill

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The Arizona Fall League has developed into an off-season combine for clubs to evaluate some of the top talents in the minor leagues, including their own. This year's schedule is just beyond the mid-point of the schedule with the circuit's all-star event—the Rising Stars Game—slated for Saturday.

The class of participants in the 21st year of the AFL is deep in talent, and scouts are raving about the results of the eye test, despite what the statistics may suggest. Here are a handful of the most talked about performers in the desert this fall.

Slade Heathcotte, OF -- New York Yankees | .295/.415/.455, 12 BB, 9 SO
Heathcotte appears to have become more focused since the end of 2011 and has continued that in the Arizona Fall League. He's displayed 70 speed, but lacks polish as a base stealer. His throwing arm is fringy after having multiple surgeries to his shoulder, but scouts love the way he plays the game and refer to him as a gamer.

"This is a kid that has overcome a lot, on and off the field," opined one general manager. "That goes a long way when projecting a young player. He can run down fly balls (in center field) and is a really, really good athlete, maybe the best one here."

Rymer Liriano, OF -- San Diego Padres | .300/.364/.460, 3 BB, 11 SO
Liriano projects to hit for more power than he showed in 2012, with scouts suggesting he's merely working through a necessary adjustment period. He has big-time bat speed and already works counts and uses the whole field with power. In Arizona, Liriano's hit tool has impressed scouts.

"He's strong and understands there are a lot of hits the other way," said an American League special assistant. Another scout called Liriano the "one guy I've seen here that could explode into elite status next season. With that power swing he's going to run into a lot of extra-base hits to center and right field. The sky is the limit."

Brian Goodwin, OF -- Washington Nationals | .268/.359/.571, 8 BB, 17 SO
Goodwin, a plus runner, has average power that could develop into the 25-homer range thanks to plus bat speed. His swing path has been altered to fit pro ball and it began to pay off some in 2012. In the AFL, he's been consistent at the plate and looks solid in center field, despite chasing some balls out of the zone.

"He's got a chance to do a little of everything," said one National League scout. "He's still developing but there's a lot to like in his game. He has all five tools and can do damage with each of them." 

Goodwin struggled in Double-A Harrisburg, but torched the Sally League with power, patience and speed and has put both bat and glove on display in Arizona.

Seth Blair, RHP -- St. Louis Cardinals | 16 IP, 10 H, 1 ER, 18 SO, 9 BB
Blair has sat in the low-90s with his fastball but has been up to 96, setting up an average or better slider that can induce swings and misses. He's still having problems with runners on base, which is likely an issue with his delivery from the stretch, suggesting he may be best suited for relief work.

The right-hander made just seven appearances (six of them  starts) in 2012 due to a tumor found in his right middle finger, but he's had problems with his control since signing with the Cardinals and that has continued in Arizona. If he can develop the changeup there's a No. 4 starter on his way to Busch Stadium, but a late-inning bullpen role is likely in Blair's future, and he's done little in the fall league to suggest he's on a different path.

Nick Franklin, 2B/SS -- Seattle Mariners | .341/.438/.585, 7 BB, 8 SO
Franklin has been consistent at the plate in Arizona, hitting for more power than his sleight frame appears capable of, and he's making more contact than in his 64-game stint in Triple-A Tacoma. Defensively, most scouts are seeing a more-than-capable second baseman and a fringe shortstop.

"He's just a baseball player," noted one American League scouting supervisor, "and he's still getting better." Franklin is a determined, confident player that impresses by maximizing his production despite some limitations physically.

"I'd like to see what he could do as a pure left-handed stick," the supervisor added of the switch-hitting Franklin. "He drifts and expands the zone as a righty, but he's very good from the other side. I think he's ready for a shot (in the majors) this spring."

Hanser Alberto, SS -- Texas Rangers | .390/.422/.488, 2BB, 3 SO
Alberto has made tons of contact in the AFL, showing advanced pitch recognition and plate coverage, though he's been reluctant to get to two-strike counts against the more experienced pitchers, something he displayed after his promotion to the Carolina League this past summer. He does struggle with pitches in on his hands and the better breaking balls in the AFL are giving him problems, but he just turned 20 last month and has held his own, to say the least.

The Dominican native is a pure shortstop, with 60-grade speed and arm strength, good instincts in the field and on the bases, and an advanced approach at the plate that has earned him high praise. As he matures physically there may be more than middle-infield power in his bat. He shows good range laterally and has terrific hands, but still needs to clean up the work on routine plays and stay within himself.

"There's a sizable ceiling there," noted a National League club's special assistant to the general manager. "He's a bit raw in some areas, but very polished in others."

13 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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nerck93

Is trading away players really the only profitable thing to do when a club has a surplus of young talent like the Rangers have in their middle infielders? I know that may be an obvious yes I'm just curious if there's another strategy that can be used effectively.

Nov 02, 2012 08:31 AM
rating: 1
 
Mtn Jam

In my opinion it is but it's such a slippery slope. Do you trade one of the middle infielders (including Andrus)? Do you trade two or three of them? There's no right or wrong answer to make at this time as long as the deal makes sense. Teams have to be careful to deal from a surplus while limiting all their eggs from being in one proverbial basket. I remember a podcast where Kevin and Jason talked about the loaded (at the time) Royals farm system. They listed off all these 5 star prospects and then joked, I'm paraphrasing some memory so cut me some slack, "And they'll be lucky to get one major league regular from this list..." Looking back I'm sure the Royals could've made a deal or two that would like absolutely brilliant now but it's impossible to determine that two years ago.

At the same time, I think teams are a little too hesitant to see if there's another way to make surplus' work. All this talk of trading Andrus makes me scratch my head. We don't know what Jurickson Profar will be. We have an idea of what he could be but that's far from fool proof. If the Rangers can get maximum value for Andrus, then they should consider a trade. I just think in this day and age it's so difficult to get maximum value for a player of Andrus' ability.

That's why I applaud the Orioles for being creative and bringing Machado up to play 3B this year. Although, if Machado is their SS of the future, why not put him at SS and put Hardy at 3B?

Sorry for rambling.

Nov 02, 2012 09:41 AM
rating: 1
 
sclem21

Why not put Hardy at 3B? Probably because he was playing gold glove defense at a premium position during a playoff run...

Nov 02, 2012 09:50 AM
rating: 1
 
Mtn Jam

Understood, and that makes perfect sense in 2012. I think they should put Machado back at SS and Hardy at 3B next year though.

Nov 02, 2012 11:23 AM
rating: 0
 
Behemoth

Even if Hardy is a better defender at short?

Nov 02, 2012 14:45 PM
rating: 1
 
Mtn Jam

If it's me, I'd still put Machado there IF the Orioles still believe he's the shortstop of the future. It'll be interesting to see what happens. If I had to guess the O's will leave Machado at third while Hardy is still with the org.

Nov 03, 2012 20:40 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Commins

I don't think the Rangers would have called up Profar if they didn't think he was ready to play in the Show right now. Why not trade a surplus to turn a weakness into a positive? If Arizona offered a package of Justin Upton for Andrus, the Rangers would have to seriously consider it.

Nov 03, 2012 22:37 PM
rating: 1
 
Greg

Hey Jason, how did Grant Green look, overall? Has he found a home at 2B, and what did scouts think of the bat? Thanks.

Nov 02, 2012 11:03 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Commins

I'm also curious about Grant Green.

Nov 03, 2012 22:31 PM
rating: 0
 
Jason A. Churchill

LMM88,

I saw Green during the summer and if I had to draw a conclusion today I'd say Green is a utility player. He's below-average at short, in center and hasn't exactly taken to second base, at least not yet. He can do the least damage there, however, so I assume he will stay there as long he's in the A's system.

I'm sitting next to a scout that just came back from 'Zona Tuesday and his report on Green includes the phrases "waste of athletic ability" and "sore lack of polish on natural skills" but I admit he's generally harsh on players.

Green's value has always been based on his offensive ability relative to his future defensive position being up the middle somewhere. If he can stay at second, he should ultimately play somewhat regularly in the bigs. I'm not sold he can, however. He's significantly closer to Jason Donald or Kelly Johnson than he is Aaron Hill or J.J. Hardy.

Nov 02, 2012 12:32 PM
rating: 0
 
Greg

yeesh, scary. I saw him a lot here in Texas at AA, and I knew he wasn't a SS or a CF. I was just hoping for enough offense to make up for the defense. I was thinking something like Michael Young type of profile, especially with his ability to hit the ball hard to right field.

Nov 02, 2012 18:28 PM
rating: 0
 
Jason A. Churchill

If J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado are each on the O's roster in 2013 -- which is likely -- the better SS glove should play SS.

Nov 02, 2012 17:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Jason A. Churchill

LMM88,

Green still has a chance to be something -- he's more talented athletically than Donald or Johnson, but seems to lack the edge of a Hill or Hardy.

Nov 02, 2012 18:56 PM
rating: 0
 
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Overthinking It: What ... (11/02)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospect Push: Prospec... (10/19)
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