The Arizona Fall League is a scary place. Heading into Monday's games, the league ERA was 5.60, with batters hitting a composite .280/.364/.450. A combination of hitter-friendly ballparks and poor pitching can do that, but here are thoughts on 10 players with notable numbers, and what they might mean.
Michael Choice, OF, Athletics
Choice has been among the best hitters in the league, going 13-for-35 (.371) with five home runs. With some of the best raw power around, the 2010 first-round pick slugged 30 home runs for High-A Stockton in his full-season debut as part of a .285/.376/.542 season. However, the more important number for many is the one in the strikeout column. While Choice whiffed 134 times this year in 467 at-bats, his swing-and-miss rate declined throughout the season, and with just five strikeouts so far in Arizona, he's continuing to show the ability to make more contact without sacrificing the natural strength in his swing. Choice is lined up to begin the 2012 season at Double-A, and a September callup is very much in the cards should he continue to progress. Choice could finally be the savior a team desperate for power threats has been looking for.
Scooter Gennett, 2B, Brewers
Gennett is one of those little second baseman who can flat-out hit. His .300/.344/.406 line in the Florida State League this year might fall into that good-not-great category, but like Choice, Gennett made adjustments throughout the year, and the results were not only clear to scouts, but to the stat sheet as well. The second baseman had a .333/.356/.480 line during the season's second half. While his overly aggressive approach needs some tempering, Gennett has bat speed, excellent hands, and an intrinsic feel for contact, which he combines with surprising power out of his skinny frame. With multi-hit games in more than half of his starts for Peoria, scouts are raving about his hit tool, and like many players at this level, Double-A will be the big test.
Sean Gilmartin, LHP, Braves
The Braves' first-round pick in June, Gilmartin doesn't have an exciting upside, but his game is more than mature enough for the AFL. A left-hander with excellent command of a classic three-pitch mix, Gilmartin doesn't light up a radar gun (although he has average velocity, so he's not a pure finesse guy), but his changeup is a true out pitch, and his ability to locate gives him a leg up. After getting hit around a bit in his debut for the Saguaros, the southpaw has limited batters to a .196 average in his last three starts, showing a mature game that should allow him to move through the system quickly.
Robbie Grossman, OF, Pirates
Grossman had a bit of a breakout season in 2011, batting .294/.418/.451 for High-A Bradenton and worked 104 walks—the kind of number that always garners attention. Grossman is a difficult prospect to evaluate, as he repeated the level and plays center field when he profiles as more of a corner outfielder in the big leagues. Still, he's put up some of the loudest numbers in Arizona, batting .406/.494/.667 in 16 games with five home runs. The best thing about his game is that there truly are no weaknesses, as beyond the approach, he doesn't have a below-average tool, although none are star level either. Scouts vary wildly on him, and it depends on if you focus on what he can do or what he can't. His floor is certainly higher than most, but it's his ceiling that confuses when trying to rank him as a prospect.
Juan Lagares, OF, Mets
Lagares quietly had a breakout season for the Mets in 2011, splitting time between High- and Double-A and hitting a combined .349/.383/.500. A 22-year-old Dominican who began his career as a shortstop, Lagares never found a defensive home in the infield, and his time chasing fly balls has only proved that he's stuck in a corner for the long term. What he can do is hit, but it doesn't come with much else; Lagares has below-average power and isn't a big fan of working the count. He's 11-for-28 in Arizona, and he'll need to keep hitting to improve his prospect stock. The hit tools trumps all, but there has to be at least something to go with it.
Junior Lake, SS, Cubs
Few players in Arizona are generating more questions than Lake. The shortstop is hitting .355 in 15 games with four home runs and 11 stolen bases. The tools have always been there; Lake has above-average raw power, average-at-best speed, and one of the best arms you'll find. While he made progress in his second go-around in the Florida State League this year, his second half of the season in Double-A still presented plenty of questions about his ability to hit the breaking ball and whether his physical growth will keep him from playing up the middle. Teams have inquired about Lake in the past, wanting to convert him to the mound, and in the minds of many, this AFL showing is just delaying that opportunity.
Wil Myers, OF, Royals
Big things were expected for Myers in 2010, as he was moving from behind the plate to focus solely on his offense. Instead, injuries and a lingering infection affected him throughout the year, and his .254/.353/.393 showing for Double-A Northern Arkansas doesn’t seem like it can be completely explained away by maladies. The good news is that Myers is still six weeks short of his 21st birthday, so there's still plenty of time for adjustments, and he's been nothing short of remarkable for Surprise, going 16-for-43 with 14 walks for a cool .526 on-base percentage. Scouts who didn't see Myers during the regular season are raving about him the way scouts did in 2010, so maybe it was just the injuries. Regardless, he still has plenty of time.
Matt Purke, LHP, Nationals
Purke was a lightning rod of a subject in the days leading up to the 2011 draft. Entering the spring as a potential first overall pick, Purke never looked right during the season, often struggling to get out of the mid- to upper 80s with his fastball. Purke even had a visit to Dr. James Andrews, who diagnosed him with bursitis, but no permanent damage. Purke’s performance, injury risk, and no reduction in bonus demands dropped him to the third round, where the aggressive Nationals scooped him up and finally got him to sign at the deadline for $2.75 million. Making his first start for the Scorpions on Friday, Purke faced eight batters and retired one while also walking one, hitting another, and giving up two doubles, a triple, and a home run. While he's been getting into the low-90s with his fastball, his command is all but nonexistent, his slider is flat, and his changeup isn’t deceptive. Rustiness and still not being 100 percent certainly are factors here, but at the same time, Purke doesn't seem any less risky of a player than he was in May.
Forrest Snow, RHP, Mariners
No reliever has made more noise in Arizona than Snow, as much for has great name as his out-of-nowhere status. A 36th-round pick last year as a local product out of the University of Washington, the 6-foot-6 righty has a pro body, but it comes with pedestrian stuff and control issues. Some mechanical tuning has turned Snow into a very real candidate for the 2012 major-league bullpen, as he went from Low- to Triple-A this year while striking out 127 in 143
Joey Terdoslavich, 1B, Braves
Terdoslavich created some buzz among Braves fans during the regular season when he hit .286/.341/.526 for High-A Lynchburg with 52 doubles and 20 home runs. That buzz has picked up after 10 games for the Saguaros; he has gone 18-for-39 (.462) with a home run. Unfortunately, Terdoslavich falls under the doom of most first-base prospects; simply being good isn't enough. Yes, he can hit, but he doesn't have the kind of power normally associated with the position, he doesn't walk much, and as good as his season was in the Carolina League, he's actually a year older than Freddie Freeman. You need to be almost perfect to be a good first-base prospect, and Terdoslavich is far from that.