Arizona Fall League Breakdown: Phoenix Desert Dogs

Tentative rosters for the Arizona Fall League were released on Aug. 29. The fall developmental league is designed to help prospects received extra seasoning and coaching at the conclusion of the minor league season. Each organization contributes players to the six-team league. The league typically shifts in favor of the hitters because teams are generally reluctant to assign top arms to the league – unless they’re attempting to make up for lost innings due to injuries.

We’ve already broken down two AFL clubs:
Mesa Solar Sox
Peoria Javelinas

The Phoenix Desert Dogs club consists of players from five organizations – Oakland, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Tampa Bay and Miami. Below are some interesting names set to appear on the roster. Full rosters can be found here.

The Desert Dogs

Kyle Heckathorn, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers: The 47th overall pick of the 2009 amateur draft, Heckathorn was moved to the bullpen in 2012 and produced solid results. The tall pitcher gets a good downward plane on his pitches and gets an above-average number of ground-ball outs. He doesn’t overpower with the fastball as much as he should and the move to the ‘pen will allow him to focus on his heater-changeup combo; his slider is not overly consistent. With a strong AFL and a little polish at triple-A in 2013 Heckathorn could reach the Majors in the latter half of the campaign.

Brett Hunter, RHP, Oakland Athletics: Hunter has had an up-and-down career… all the way back to his time at Pepperdine University. The 2012 season was also the first year that the right-handed hurler was healthy and he appeared in 42 games. Hunter, 25, can reach the mid-to-upper 90s with his heater but control has always been an issue. He’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft and a strong start to the fall could help him find his way onto the A’s 40-man roster.

Jimmy Nelson, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers: Nelson, 23, has become one of the Brewers’ best pitching prospects after less than three years in the system. He pitched in both high-A and double-A in 2012. At 6’6” Nelson gets on top of the ball well and produces plus ground-ball rates, as well as solid strikeout numbers. He finished up the year with 10 starts with Huntsville (AA) but his control needs more work before he’s ready for The Show.

James Simmons, RHP, Oakland Athletics: The Athletics made Simmons the 26th overall pick of the amateur draft in 2007 and he made 22 starts in triple-A in 2009 before missing almost two years due to injury. He returned in 2012 but pitched out of the bullpen. Simmons needs to find a way to limit the number of fly balls he allows but he has a shot at finally reaching the Majors as a middle reliever. After the repairs done to his shoulder in 2010, though, simply reaching The Show would be an accomplishment.

Jacob Realmuto, C, Miami Marlins: Realmuto didn’t start catching full time until he turned pro but he’s making strides behind the plate and trimmed his passed balls from 25 to nine between 2011 and ’12. His offense, though, took a step back this year as wRC+ dipped from 118 to 91. Realmuto, 21, will spend the AFL, as well as 2013, trying to balance his improvements behind the plate with more consistent offense.

Tim Beckham, IF, Tampa Bay Rays: Just 22, the first overall selection of the 2008 draft may be facing a make or break year in 2013 and he could get a head start with a strong AFL. The infielder has lost defensive value and faces a future move to third base, which will put even more pressure on his bat. Speaking of hitting, Beckham has never been more than average and his power output dipped even further in 2012. If he can keep his nose clean in 2013, his best hope for a big league career could come from the bench.

Grant Green, IF/OF, Oakland Athletics: Another former first rounder with tempered expectations, Green has focused on improving his versatility and has done a nice job of embracing his future role. He’ll head back to the AFL for the second straight year in an effort to convince the A’s to add him to the 40-man roster by the deadline in November. Although headed for a future utility role in the Majors, Green’s decent offensive skills could help him be a regular contributor in the mold of former Athletic Tony Phillips.

Christian Yelich, 1B/OF, Miami Marlins: An injury held Yelich back in the month of April but he exploded as soon as he got onto the field and is a candidate to become the best hitting prospect in the minors in 2013. Still 20 years old, he has a pure left-handed swing that has produced .300 averages throughout his pro career but his usable, in-game power has yet to develop – a mild concern considering he will likely play a corner outfield spot or first base for the majority of his big league career.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

4 Responses to “Arizona Fall League Breakdown: Phoenix Desert Dogs”

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  1. Matty Brown says:

    How Beckham has fallen

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  2. BrocNessMonster says:

    (In the Yelich paragraph) Corner infield or first base?

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  3. Bill Nye says:

    Yelich is going to be a star! You should do a post on the Marlins with a would have could have should have approach.

    1B – Logan Morrison
    2B – Dan Uggla
    SS – Hanley
    3B – Miguel Cabrera
    OFs – Stanton, Bonafacio, Yelich
    P – Johnson, Sanchez, Nolasco, Buehrle, Willis
    Closer- Leo Nunez!

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