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Prospect Chatter: AFL Slumpers

Last time, we looked at a group of prospects whose strong performances in the Arizona Fall League may have helped their cause for a chance to contribute in fantasy next season. Now that the AFL has come to an end, we’ll do just the opposite by pointing out some youngsters who didn’t exactly make their case* for getting the call in 2013.

*Because why not read too much into itty bitty sample sizes like 85 at-bats or 22 innings in the AFL?

Hitters and Pitchers are listed in rough order of potential fantasy impact next season.

Nick Castellanos, Tigers OF/3B
Key AFL Stat: League-high 31 strikeouts
Castellanos is atop this list almost entirely because of his upside. Which is another way of saying, there’s a very good chance he won’t make it to Detroit until the second half of 2013, if at all, but if he does, Castellanos will have earned it. He mashed in High-A (.405/.461/.553) but fell off after a promotion to Double-A (.678 OPS) — albeit as a 20-year-old who was also transitioning from third base to outfield to better fit into the Tigers lineup down the line. There’s still a lot to like here, especially in keeper leagues, but Castellanos’ whiff-tastic AFL — not to mention, Detroit’s signing of Torii Hunter — should maybe tell the Tigers it’s time to pump the brakes a bit.

Austin Romine, Yankees C
Key AFL Stat: .628 OPS
In prospect parlance, Romine, 23, has been around for quite a while. He almost definitely would have been the Yankees backup catcher at some point this past season, except he missed much of the year with a back problem, so he was using the AFL to make up for some lost time. Even With Russell Martin‘s return up in the air, it’s unlikely the Yanks would go with Romine as their top backstop — the Yanks like their catchers to hit, especially for power — but it’s time to find out what he can do on a regular basis in the majors. A potentially useful second catcher in AL-only formats that require two starters.

L.J. Hoes, Orioles OF
Key AFL Stat: .610 OPS
The former infielder was converted to outfield full-time in 2012, so there’s more of an emphasis on how his bat holds up at a position that requires more oomph. The 22-year-old does have a nice eye and average speed, but he’s never reached double-digits in homers, so he’s looking like a passable fourth outfielder at this point. The O’s recently acquired Trayvon Robinson from the Mariners, so Hoes’ chances of being on the Opening Day roster just went from slim to slimmer. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t work his way onto the 25-man with a good showing at Triple-A, but he should only be considered as a reserve in deep AL-onlies.

Matt Davidson, D-backs 3B
Key AFL Stat: 18 strikeouts in 40 at-bats
In addition to all the Ks, Davidson also hit just .200. The 21-year-old has big raw power, and he hit a career-best 23 homers in Double-A this year after knocking 20 in 2011. That makes him a legit third base prospect, but there’s enough swing-and-miss to hold him back if he doesn’t get it under control soon. He’s ready for Triple-A, there’s not much blocking him in the desert (sorry, Chris Johnson) and this week, the D-backs dealt fellow third base prospect Ryan Wheeler — who’s more of a fringe second-division starter — in part because Davidson is seen as the hot cornerman of the future. But that future is probably still another full year off. Decent keeper option in NL play.

Hak-Ju Lee, Rays SS
Key AFL Stat: 3-for-8 on stolen base attempts
Lee, 22, is one of the better shortstop prospects in baseball, but his game is tied mostly to his strong defense (irrelevant for fantasy purposes) and above-average speed (30+ SB the past three seasons). The fact that he didn’t show well on the basepaths in Arizona isn’t a huge concern, but fantasy owners will need him to be better once he gets to The Show. Lee makes contact and can take a walk, so he could be a solid batting average (and BABIP) guy, but the stick is slappy, as evidenced by his one extra-base hit in the AFL (a triple). He could start 2013 in Triple-A, and with little ahead of him on the Rays depth chart, this will be a key year for his development and career path.

Jarred Cosart, Astros SP
Key AFL Stat: 6.50 ERA
The 22-year-old righty has always had better stuff than stats, a trend that continued in the AFL. His crossfire delivery has raised questions of whether he’d be better suited for the bullpen, where his mid-90s heat could play up, but the Astros are doing the smart thing by keeping him pitching every five days until he proves he can’t handle it. Houston’s five-man is a mess, but Cosart needs more time at Triple-A after getting just a taste (27.2 IPs) in 2012. With the franchise’s move from the NL to the AL, Cosart’s keeper value does take a bit of a hit. He’s very likely to debut next season, as colleague Marc Hulet points out in his Houston Astros Top 15 Prospects post, but when he does, he’s more of a Watch List type than a must-add, even in AL leagues, partly because the Astros are going to be pretty brutal again.

James Paxton, Mariners SP
Key AFL Stat: 2.5 innings per start (over five starts)
Paxton is similar to Cosart in a few ways. He’s a little older (24) and throws from the left side, but like Cosart, Paxton has dynamite stuff, so-so stats (4.6 BB/9, 1.41 WHIP at Double-A in 2012) and a very real chance to end up as a reliever. All of which makes him both endlessly intriguing and extremely difficult to value in keeper formats. After all, the line between a potential high-strikeout starter in a great pitcher’s park and a bullpen arm that might not be a closer (as a lefty) is a very thin one in Paxton’s case — and yet that’s a huge difference in fantasy. The AFL innings total (12.2) is probably just the M’s being cautious with a precious commodity, but it’s worth mentioning and monitoring.

Vic Black, Pirates RP
Key AFL Stat: 2.63 WHIP
Black throws very, very hard and has worked himself into the future picture when it comes to the ninth inning in Pittsburgh. But, man, was his AFL ugly: 17 hits, 11 walks and 14 ERs in 10.2 IPs. It’s quite possible the 24-year-old right-hander, who missed most of 2010 with various arm ailments, was just spent after pitching a career-high 60 innings at Double-A (1.65 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 12.8 K/9, 13 SVs). With Joel Hanrahan a candidate to be traded between now and next July, Black could help his cause for a big league debut — and help everyone forget this awful November — with a big first half at the minors’ highest level.