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."