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.
The Roster Decision: Tyler Ybarra, LHP, Blue Jays: The Blue Jays have a couple roster questions facing them this fall in preparation of December’s Rule 5 draft. Ybarra had some potential coming out of a Kansas high school but he battled injuries and personal issues. As a result, the reliever has yet to advance past A-ball and he pitched a career high 55.1 innings in 2013.
His numbers look solid at first blush but his batting-average-allowed of .152 (against both handed hitters) was the lowest mark in all of High-A baseball (all three leagues, minimum 50 innings pitched). It’s the sixth lowest number in all of the minor leagues. Ybarra’s strikeout rate of 10.57 K/9 shows that he can miss a lot of bats. On the downside, his walk rate of 5.37 BB/9 tells us his control is not up to the sniff test just yet. He’s not perfect but it’s also not easy to find (more or less) free left-handers that can hit the low 90s with their fastball.
Outfielder Kenny Wilson is another Toronto player that could be attractive to teams sifting through the Rule 5 eligible players — assuming he’s not protected. He has plus speed, can play an excellent centre fielder, and has started to hit better since undergoing shoulder surgery. He’d be an easy player to carry as a fourth or fifth outfielder.
The Sleeping Beauty: Ryan Brett, 2B, Rays: Brett was one of the handful of Rays prospects that received suspensions late in 2012 after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. Despite missing the beginning of the 2013 season, he blew through High-A ball with a .340 batting average, 22 steals and an .886 OPS before reading Double-A at the age of 21.
Brett doesn’t wow with any one tool and, at 5-9, he’s not going to catch your attention by slugging the ball over the outfield wall on a consistent basis, but he’s the type of gritty baseball player who’ll do anything asked of him to win… You know, the type of player that the Rays are made of. If the club doesn’t pick up the option on incumbent second baseman Ben Zobrist‘s contract, or asks him to move to another position, Brett could eventually help fill the void at the keystone.
The Cool Backstory: Jake Barrett, RHP, Diamondbacks: Barrett was Toronto’s third round draft pick but failed to sign after being taken during the ill-fated 2009 draft. That selection process also saw the club fail to come to terms with its supplemental first round pick (James Paxton) and its second round selection (the late Jake Eliopoulos). Barrett headed off to college and spent three seasons at Arizona State University.
It was there that he moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen and started to truly blossom. Once again, he went in the third round of the 2012 draft, this time to the Diamondbacks and this time he signed the pro contract. He split the 2013 season between High-A and Double-A, allowing just 12 walks and 39 hits in 52 innings. His ERA sat at 1.21. Barrett should be ready to join the Diamondbacks’ patchwork bullpen at some point in 2014.
We often hear about the horrible aftermaths of the decisions high school players make when they turn down a pro contract to instead play college ball. Barrett is an example of the gamble paying off quite well.
Ripping Off the Band-Aid: Tyler Anderson, LHP, Rockies: With the 20th overall selection of the 2011 amateur draft, the Colorado Rockies selected (and later signed) Anderson, a southpaw starter out of the University of Oregon. Eighteen college players were selected in the first round that year and, to date, five of those have made the Majors and all but three of them have advanced past A-ball. Minnesota’s Levi Michael, an infielder, produced a .670 OPS in High-A ball. Milwaukee’s Jed Bradley, a pitcher, allowed 81 hits in 78.1 innings before hitting the disabled list.
The Colorado Rockies prospect is in the same boat and has spent the last two seasons in A-ball. Anderson’s lack of upward movement can be blamed on two things: an ultra conservative approach that had him pitch an entire 2012 season in Low-A ball despite coming out of a top college program, and injuries. He made just 13 starts in 2013 after going down in late May. He pitched well upon his return in August starts. With some strong pitching in the system in the form of Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray, Anderson’s modest ceiling of a No. 4 starter doesn’t as disappointing.
What Are You Doing Here: Dean Kiekhefer, LHP, Cardinals: Who? As a 36th round draft pick out of the University of Louisville (whose mascot also happens to be a Cardinal), the odds are stacked against this southpaw reliever ever reaching the Majors. The simple fact that he’s even earned an Arizona Fall League assignment is down right impressive.
The 24-year-old spent the majority of the year in High-A ball and, clearly, was old for the league. In general, he produced pedestrian numbers — including 48 hits allowed and just 28 strikeouts in 44 innings — but he did produce a strong ground-ball rate. The thing about the Cardinals, though, is that they can seemingly turn any pitcher into a prospect. Well, at the very least, they’re an organization that seems capable of squeezing every ounce of talent out of their pitchers. So don’t count out Kiekhefer.