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October 8, 2009

Future Shock

AFL Preview, Part Two

by Kevin Goldstein

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We continue our preview of the Arizona Fall League, which opens play next week, with a look at the players on the corners, infield and outfield alike.

First Base

Best of the Best: Dustin Ackley, Mariners (Scorpions)

The second overall pick in June, Ackley will make his unofficial pro debut in the AFL, and while he's likely to move to the outfield next spring, he'll probably stay at first base for now, as the Mariners don't want to add a position switch to his plate, and the Scorpions' roster is already loaded with outfielders. Ackley should move quickly, and as an outfielder, will be a dynamic threat capable of hitting .300+ with average to plus power, great plate discipline, and enough speed to steal 30 bases or more annually. In other words, he could be a franchise-level talent.

Unheralded: Brandon Waring, Orioles (Desert Dogs)

Acquired from the Reds last off-season as part of the Ramon Hernandez deal, Waring is a pure slugging first baseman with little athleticism and a ton of strikeouts, but he has more raw power than anyone in the Baltimore system, leading the organization with 27 home runs. With only eight games of experience at the upper levels, this will be a big test for his future, as will be a full season of Double-A in 2010.

Disappointing: David Cooper, Blue Jays (Solar Sox)

Toronto's first-round pick in 2008, Cooper entering the year with big expectations after batting .333/.399/.502 across three levels in his pro debut with 29 doubles in 273 at-bats. He just never got anything going at Double-A New Hampshire this year, however, finishing the season at .258/.340/.389. As a player for whom the bat is his only tool, that tool needs to show up.

Others to Watch:

  • Brandon Allen, Diamondbacks (Scorpions): He showed a lot of good things in his pro debut, but also a propensity for striking out, as big-league secondary pitches gave him fits, and he tended to expand his strike zone.
  • Yonder Alonso, Reds (Saguaros): The former first-round pick showed an ability to hit for average and get on base, but just nine home runs in 295 at-bats was a major disappointment, as was a .242 batting average against left-handers without a single home run in 62 at-bats.
  • Ike Davis, Mets (Rafters): Another 2008 first-round pick, he had a fantastic comeback from miserable pro debut. His scouting reports were among the best in the Eastern League, and basically he just needs to keep it up.
  • Freddie Freeman, Braves (Saguaros): Like Alonso, scouts love Freeman's quick bat and big-league approach, but shouldn't a 6-foot-5, 225-pound beast have more than eight home runs in 404 at-bats?
  • Chris Marrero, Nationals (Desert Dogs): This 2006 first-rounder's return from a leg injury was solid but hardly spectacular. It's not like he has any huge statistical holes, it's just that nothing stands out.
  • Chris Parmelee, Twins (Solar Sox): He's never put up good numbers, but has also spent his entire career in pitcher's havens, draws a fair share of walks, and his 16 home runs this year was actually good for the third most in the Florida State League.
  • Brandon Snyder, Orioes (Desert Dogs): A .248/.316/.355 line during the second half at Triple-A almost complete killed any goodwill from his fantastic first half (.343/.421/.597) in the Eastern League. First-base prospects have to completely mash to be good, and Snyder isn't in that category.

Third Base

Best of the Best: Josh Vitters, Cubs (Solar Sox)

The third overall pick in the 2007 draft took the Midwest League by storm, but he did precious little (.238/.260/.344) following a promotion the Florida State League. The mitigating factor is that he was playing through an injury, but at the same time, he's still learning that this isn't high school anymore, where he can hit any pitch in any location. A better approach would allow him to tap into his power even more.

Unheralded: Matt Dominguez, Marlins (Solar Sox)

Dominguez was pushed this year, maybe a bit too strongly, as he was overmatched as a 19-year-old in Double-A over the final month of the season. He remains a high-ceiling prospect with above-average raw power and plate discipline, and his defense at the hot corner ranks with anyone in the minors.

Disappointing: Dayan Viciedo, White Sox (Javelinas)

A Cuban defector signed to an eight-figure deal last winter, some thought Viciedo would compete for the big-league job in spring, but instead he delivered a pedestrian .280/.317/.391 line at Double-A Birmingham. The good news is that he made some significant adjustments in the second half of the season, batting .313/.350/.464 after the all-star break, but at the same time the power remained a disappointment, and he swings at anything within the same area code.

Others to Watch:

  • Josh Bell, Orioles (Desert Dogs): His breakout season became even more of one following a trade to Baltimore in the George Sherrill deal, as he hit .289/.346/.570 with nine homers in 33 games for Double-A Bowie. He might compete for a big-league job as early as this coming spring, and he's the best position-playing prospect in the system by a wide margin.
  • Taylor Green, Brewers (Javelinas): Seen as a breakout candidate of his own coming into the year, Green struggled both at the plate and with his ability to stay healthy, leaving many wondering if he's anything more than a utility player in the end.
  • Mike Moustakas, Royals (Rafters): Hitting .250/.297/.421 for High-A Wilmington fell well below expectations, and while his home park certainly didn't help at all, it can't completely explain away that kind of production; even his defense took a bit of a step backwards.

Corner Outfield

Best of the Best: Jason Heyward, Braves (Scorpions)

One of the many things that makes Heyward so damn good when he's already arguably the best hitting prospect in the game is that sense many have that he's only just starting to tap into his potential, and that there's still plenty to come. While it would be sacrilegious to compare him to a guy like Albert Pujols, he's that type of hitter, in that he's a hitter first, but then also just happens to have tremendous power as well. If the Braves are smart, his tenure with Scottsdale is the end of his minor league career.

Unheralded: Ryan Strieby, Tigers (Javelinas)

In his last 125 minor league games, Strieby has slugged 38 home runs, and that's playing in pitcher-friendly parks. The issue is consistent wrist problems, and the fact that as a first baseman, he has no future in Detroit with Miguel Cabrera signed for six more years. That's why the Tigers are hoping he can figure something out trying left field, but at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, and actually slow for that size, the best they can hope for is an Adam Dunn-esque defender out there.

Disappointing: Andrew Lambo, Dodgers (Javelinas)

Lambo got a lot of hype last year, which seemed appropriate at times, as he went 14-for-36 with three bombs in the last week of the season for Double-A Jacksonville. But Midwest League scouts weren't as impressed while getting far more looks at him, but by any measurement his subsequent .256/.311/.407 line in this year's full dose of Double-A fell far below expectations, and at this point, he needs to make adjustments just to be seen as a potential bench bat.

Others to Watch:

  • Dominic Brown, Phillies (Scorpions): The next Daryl Strawberry? Hardly, but Brown is a special talent who could hit 20-25 home runs a year with 30 stolen bases, a decent batting average, and a good number of walks. There's simply not a weakness in his game.
  • Joe Dunigan, Mariners (Javelinas): He hit 30 home runs in just 118 games for High Desert, but needs to prove he can get it done in a more neutral environment (although the AFL isn't that either). Big, bulky, and primarily a first baseman, even left field is a stretch for him.
  • Jon Gaston, Astros (Saguaros): Slugged .598 for High-A Lancaster, including 31 doubles, 15 triples, and 35 home runs, but everyone hits in Lancaster, and he struck out every 3.2 at-bats. There are so many positives and negatives here, so the jury is understandably still going to be out for a bit.
  • Cole Gillespie, Diamondbacks (Scorpions): A trade to Arizona seemed to reinvigorate his bat, as he hit .304/.418/.514 in 42 games for Triple-A Reno. Now he has to prove it was more than just the ballpark.
  • Chris Heisey, Reds (Saguaros): His OPS fell more than 200 points following a promotion to Triple-A, but he could still have a decade-long career as a bench outfielder/occasional starter/clubhouse presence.
  • Daryl Jones, Cardinals (Rafters): An injury-plagued season sapped him of his power and his speed at Double-A (.279/.360/.378), and without them he's just another guy.
  • Adam Loewen, Blue Jays (Desert Dogs): The former top pitching prospect from the Orioles organization trying to become the next Rick Ankiel, but he hit just .236/.340/.355 at High-A Dunedin this year. Scouts did see some raw power potential in his stroke from the left side, so he'll get a few chances.
  • David Lough, Royals (Rafters): The Royals' breakout player of the year, Lough hit .331/.371/.517 following a promotion to Double-A, and has enough power and speed for a 20/20 type of performance, but his approach needs work... a lot of it.
  • Mitch Moreland, Rangers (Rafters): Almost converted to the mound after being a 17th-round pick in 2007, Moreland is a career .321/.387/.518 hitter in the minor leagues, and scouts are slowly but surely coming around.
  • Thomas Neal, Giants (Scorpions): The Giants organization was always bullish on Neal, and it finally showed up on the stat sheet in the form of a .337/.431/.579 season for High-A San Jose. The key was for him to focus more on contact than power, and just let his natural strength work for him.
  • Mike Stanton, Marlins (Solar Sox): Scouts are happy to write off his .231 batting average at Double-A, as it came with 16 home runs in 299 at-bats, and his power for a teenager borders on historic.
  • Jose Tabata, Pirates (Scorpions): He has a truly excellent bat, as it's quite difficult to find 20-year-olds who can flirt with .300 at the upper levels of the minors, but with just 26 career home runs in 431 pro games, he doesn't profile well in a corner.
  • Nick Weglarz, Indians (Saguaros): A strange player, his value is coming more and more from his high walk rate than anything else, as his power seems to be going backwards, taking his batting average with it.

Up Next: In Part 3, a look at the arms being sent to the AFL.

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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