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.
Glendale Desert Dogs: Dodgers, Marlins, Reds, Twins, White Sox
The Roster Decision: Brent Keys, OF, Marlins — Rated as having the best strike zone judgement in the Florida State League during Baseball America’s recent minor league ‘best tools’ series, Keys just continues to get on base any way possible. After a slow start to his pro career, which saw him spend three seasons in short-season ball, the former 19th round draft pick has hit more than .335 in each of his past two seasons. He also posted an on-base percentage of .394 in 2012 and should finished above .400 in 2013. Keys, 22, does’t have a huge ceiling but he’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft in November and he’s a left-handed hitter with a little untapped potential that could serve as a valuable 25th man He can play all three outfield spots but the Marlins’ 40-man roster already hosts 11 outfielders.
Ripping Off the Band-Aid: Alex Meyer, RHP, Twins — A shoulder injury held Meyer to fewer than 20 starts in 2013, his first season since coming over to the Twins from the Nationals. Had the injury not popped up, he could have earned a late season promotion to the Majors — he was that good in Double-A. The 6-9 right-hander showed the enviable ability to strikeout a ton of batters while also inducing above-average ground-ball rates. He’ll look to recoup some lost innings after finishing the season with fewer than 80 during the regular season.
The Stud Muffin: Byron Buxton, OF, Twins — I’m a little surprised Buxton, who is arguably the best prospect in baseball, will head off to the fall league for extra work after splitting his first full season between two A-ball levels. He’s never played 120 games in one season in his life so to tack on another month’s worth of games could really wear him down (and tired players are at a higher risk of injury). I would imagine this signals the fact that Minnesota wants the outfielder to open 2014 in Double-A and hopes this will prepare him for the jump.
The Sleeping Beauty: Micah Johnson, 2B, White Sox — This Indiana University alum has had a breakout season in the Sox system while playing at two A-ball levels. The 22-year-old second baseman has hit .315 with an .838 OPS and 83 steals. Johnson, though, is still somewhat raw, both on the base paths and in the field. He has been caught attempting to steal 26 times. He’s also made 29 errors at the keystone and a move to the outfield could certainly be on the horizon. That would by no means be a nail in Johnson’s coffin — the outfield depth in the Sox system is flaccid, with higher ranked outfield prospects Trayce Thompson, Jared Mitchell, and Keenyn Walker all ranging from disappointments to washouts.
The Recent Draft Pick: Michael Lorenzen, RHP, Reds — Cincinnati is proving that you don’t need a high pick to have an impact draft. The club’s first two picks — Phillip Ervin (27th overall) and Michael Lorenzen (38th) — have enjoyed strong starts to their pro careers and the latter player will head off to the AFL after seeing time at four different levels. A two-way star at Cal State Fullerton, he’ll hang up his outfield cleats and focus his attention on the mound where he features two potentially-plus pitches in a blazing fastball and promising curveball. He has a chance to be a high-leverage reliever for the Reds as soon as 2014 but the club may be tempted to see if he can develop a reliable third pitch and try his hand at starting.
Badly in Need of a Rebound: Derek Dietrich, IF, Marlins — Second base has been a black hole for the Marlins in 2013. Three players have seen time there and not one member of the trio has managed to top an 85 wRC+. The holder of the highest mark, Dietrich, posted a 24% strikeout rate and a .272 on-base percentage in 57 games, which earned him a trip back to Triple-A. However, he isn’t without skill and was once a highly-respected college player so Dietrich will hopefully get back on track with some extra work in the fall.
The Cool Backstory: Charlie Leesman, LHP, White Sox — A six-year pro, Leesman put in an outstanding 2012 season at Triple-A and finished the year with a 2.47 ERA. The southpaw would have no doubt earned a solid look in spring training 2013 but then tragedy struck last September during a playoff game. Leesman blew out the ACL in his knee while fielding his position and underwent surgery with months of rehab. He was dropped from the club’s 40-man roster and claimed off waivers by the Rangers in April. However, Leesman exercised his right to refuse the assignment and became a free agent. He ultimately resigned with Chicago. After returning to the mound in May, the 26-year-old Leesman earned a spot start for the White Sox in August and allowed one run in five innings.
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