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 (Astros, Mariners, Padres, Phillies, Royals)
Salt River (Blue Jays, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Rays, Rockies)
The Stud Muffin: Kyle Crick, RHP, Giants: Crick’s 2013 season was impressive on so many levels. Just 20, he struck out 95 batters in 68.2 innings and posted an ERA of just 1.57 — in the California League. He also allowed just one home run despite his fly-ball ways. On the down side, the fire-baller walked 36 batters and clearly needs to improve his control. Crick has the ceiling of a No. 1 or 2 starter if he realizes his full potential. The big league staff isn’t nearly as formidable as it once was so the organization is no doubt eager to see this Texan show his injury woes are behind him.
The Sleeping Beauty: Adalberto Mejia, LHP, Giants: Mejia might be on the cusp of shedding the sleeper label and bursting into true top prospect category. He’s the most recent example of the Giants’ ability to continually churn out pitching prospects. The 20-year-old southpaw navigated the potent California League with aplomb — including equally impressive numbers at home and on the road. The big concern with the Dominican native, though, is that he has yet to complete a full season as a starter and made just 17 starts — failing to top the 100-inning mark — in 2013.
The left-handed Mejia has some giddy-up on his heater and can work in the low 90s. His slider is impressive at times and his changeup is definitely more than a show-me pitch. He has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter, if he can build up his stamina. The organization has some very impressive arms in the minors with Crick, Mejia, Edwin Escobar, Clayton Blackburn, Martin Agosta, Chris Stratton, Joan Gregorio, and more…
Ripping Off the Band-Aid: Tyler Austin, OF, Yankees: Austin had a season that ranged from so-so to disappointing to terrible, depending on who you speak with and what games they saw. No matter how you slice it, though, it was a disappointing season for a prospect who was steadily ascending prospect rankings prior to the year.
In fairness, Austin battled injuries all season long and played only two games after July 12. When healthy, he shows solid gap power and good base runnings instincts. Both of those attributes rarely showed themselves in 2013. His OPS dropped from an eye-catching .960 in 2012 to .717 in 2013. The Yankees system is far from flushed with prospects right now so the organization really needs to get Austin back on track, hopefully beginning with a strong showing in the AFL.
The Roster Decision: Cory Vaughn, OF, Mets: Vaughn has been skirting around top prospects lists ever since he was selected in the fourth round of the 2010 amateur draft. Now four years into his pro career, the outfielder is in limbo as the organization decides whether or not to protect him on the 40-man roster in advance of this winter’s Rule 5 draft. He ended the regular season on a sour note when he stuck out in 16 of his 36 final at-bats.
Vaughn, 24, slugged 23 home runs in 2012 but injuries took a bite out of his ’13 season and he hit just 25 extra hits — including 10 homers — in 92 games. He’s not just a one-dimensional hitter, though. He’s a solid base runner for a big man (6-3, 225 pounds) and nabbed 16 bases in 17 tries, after he swiped 21 bases in 25 tries a year ago. Unfortunately, he swings and misses like a slow-footed slugger. A healthy showing in the AFL could really help Vaughn’s value but the truth of the matter is that his profile isn’t usually heavily sought after in the annual Rule 5 draft.
The Cool Backstory: Gift Ngoepe, SS, Pirates: Born in South Africa and signed out of an academy in Europe, Ngoepe has come a long way in a short period of time. The infielder opened 2013 in Double-A but washed out with a .560 OPS in 72 games and was sent back to A-ball. So why is he deserving of an AFL roster spot? Ngoepe is a very talented defender at a premium position. He has a strong arm, good actions and plus range. His other better-than-average tool would be his solid foot speed, although he’s still improving his base running.
Ngoepe, 23, probably won’t ever develop enough bat to earn a full-time gig — although it might help if he were to give up switch hitting — but his defense can be game changing. As a result, he could carve out a decent career as a big league backup infielder or, at the very least, an up-and-down injury fill-in.
Don’t Underestimate: Shae Simmons, RHP, Braves: Simmons reminds me a bit of 10-year veteran reliever Jason Frasor. Undersized (listed as 5-9) and a right-hander, the Braves prospect never the less manages to pump his fastball into the low 90s and can even tickle the mid 90s. Unlike Frasor, though, he has yet to truly hone a second pitch to complement his bread-and-butter offering.
Simmons, 22, has had no issues with minor league hitters and he played at both High-A and Double-A in 2013. He spent the majority of the year in A-ball, held hitters to a .169 batting average and stuck out 66 batters in 42.1 innings of work. Despite his short stature, the right-handed reliever does a nice job of creating a downward plane on his offerings and he has yet to allow a home run in his two-year career spanning 53.1 innings. Aside from durability concerns, the biggest issue with small pitchers is the lack of plane, but Simmons — and his above-average ground-ball-out rate — seems to have that figured out.