AFL Prospects: Astros, Mariners, Padres, Phillies, Royals

The preliminary rosters were recently announced for the impending Arizona Fall League. If you’re not familiar with the AFL, all you really need to know is that it’s an off-season league that offers addition innings/at-bats to prospects from around baseball. Some of the names you’ll know quite well. Others, well, you’ll probably never hear from again. And, frankly, a lot of players fall under that latter grouping.
Because there is such a wide range of talent in the league — as well as for a smattering of other reasons — any numbers produced in the league should be taken with a grain of salt. Oh, and each organization is responsible for providing a specific number of prospects to play in the league.

We’ve already looked at:
Glendale (Dodgers, Marlins, Reds, Twins, White Sox)
Mesa (Angels, Athletics, Cubs, Nationals, Tigers)

Peoria Javelinas: Astros, Mariners, Padres, Phillies, Royals

The Roster Decision: Angel Baez, RHP, Royals: A 22-year-old Dominican native, Baez will have to be added to the 40-man roster by the November deadline to avoid being eligible in the upcoming Rule 5 draft. His presence in the AFL suggests Kansas City may be conflicted on whether or not to protect him with a 40-man roster spot at this point. The AFL will provide the organization with an extra opportunity to see him play, which is important considering the fact he has yet to pitch a full season in five years. Baez made just 13 appearances (10 starts) in 2013 thanks to a broken hand but he throws a mid-to-high-90s fastball, as well as a slider and changeup. A starter for much of his career, he’s likely best suited to the ‘pen due to the effort in his delivery.

The Sleeping Beauty: Nolan Fontana, SS, Astros: Prior to the 2013 season, a front office contact suggested Fontana could have a breakout year. That prediction looked like pure gold when the middle infielder posted a 1.078 OPS in April but his production fell off markedly after that month. The hitter’s strength is his ability to get on base but that was aided not by his batting average (.259) but his patience (102 walks in 104 games). Unfortunately, he was too passive at times and struck out 100 times — a number much too high for someone with a .140 isolated power. If he can find a happy medium in his approach at the plate, Fontana could develop into a second-division starter in the middle infield or into a valuable bench player.

Ripping Off the Band-Aid: Danny Hultzen. LHP, Mariners: It’s been a painful season both figuratively for the organization and literally for the young southpaw. Hultzen, 23. managed to appear in just seven games on the year, including two at the Triple-A level since the month of April. A shoulder injury — which has not required surgery to this point — has plagued him throughout the year and casts a troubling shadow over his future. That area of the body is far more difficult to repair than the elbow. The 2013 season has to be even more frustrating for Hultzen, who has had to watch fellow prospects Mike Zunino, Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, and Brad Miller all make their MLB debuts.

What Are You Doing Here: Austin Hedges, C, Padres: I’m not a huge fan of sending top catching prospects to the AFL. Freak injuries can happen at a moments notice and backstops, in particular, have very demanding jobs. It’s a true challenge for them to get through a 140-game schedule in the minors without significant battle scars. I get it. The Padres want Hedges to get as much time to work on his bat as possible — especially after he hit below .220 after moving up to Double-A late in the season. It’s a fine idea if he’s going to see a lot of time DH-ing, but if he’s behind the dish on a regular basis, I’m not a fan of the idea. Hedges turned 21 in mid-August and is about a year away from reaching the Majors on the strength of his defense and on-field leadership.

The Cool Backstory: Japhet Amador, 1B, Astros: List at 6-4, 315 pounds, Amador makes Prince Fielder look like Weight Watchers’ star pupil. The burly slugger was one of two players that the Astros acquired from the Mexican League late in the 2013 season. Prior to his acquisition, Amador showed outstanding raw right-handed power with 36 home runs in 104 games but he failed to produce an extra base hit (or walk) in his first eight Triple-A games in Houston’s system. To reach the Majors, the first baseman may need to improve his conditioning this offseason and a trip to the AFL should help the Astros get a better handle on if/when Amador might be able to help the big league club. We’re in uncharted waters here — for a couple reasons — so this will be a fun storyline to follow in 2014.

I Remember You: Kelly Dugan, OF, Phillies: Philadelphia lacked a first round draft pick in 2009 so Dugan — a California high schooler — was the organization’s first selection in the second round (75th overall). The outfielder languished in the low minors for four seasons but something clicked in 2013 and he performed well in both High-A and Double-A. He also began to tap into his raw left-handed power on a more consistent basis. Despite the improvements, Dugan is still too aggressive for his own good (five walks in 204 at-bats at Double-A) and he’ll have to make further adjustments to continue his development.

Don’t Forget About: Delino DeShields Jr., OF, Astros: Fellow outfield prospect George Springer has stolen the spotlight in 2013 and DeShields respectable season has mostly gone unnoticed. The Georgia native recently turned 21 but he spent much of the season as a 20 year old at High-A ball. He hit more than .300 and produced an on-base percentage of more than .400 — an important number for someone whose best tool is his plus speed. DeShields has stolen 151 bases over the past two seasons but his success rate dipped noticeably in 2013. After spending the past three seasons at second base with mixed results, the young prospect will move back to his natural position in center field.




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect and rookie analysis. He also operates AstrosBall.com and can be reached via email at: marchulet@astrosball.com, or follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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