The Best Pitchers of the 2006 Arizona Fall League

The Arizona Fall League concluded on Saturday, and I would like to highlight some of the more impressive pitching performances over the past six weeks. The AFL is certainly a hitter’s league, primarily because most organizations want to limit the innings pitched by their best young pitchers. Still, notable pitching prospects do end up in Arizona for one reason or another. For example, both Huston Street (2004) and Jered Weaver (2005) pitched in Arizona before breaking out in the major leagues.

While the following list does not necessarily consist of the best pitching prospects in Arizona, I do think these are the best performances by young pitchers. For the purpose of this article, I only looked at pitchers who were under 25 years of age and had pitched at least 15 innings in the Arizona Fall League. I have included league-adjusted FIP ERA as a measure of fielding-independent effectiveness in Arizona.

Ryan Edell
LHP |Cleveland Indians | 23 years old

           IP  SO  BB  HR   ERA FipERA
2006 AFL   16   9   5   0  3.78   3.97

Edell was a late addition to the Arizona Fall League, replacing the Indians’ Jake Dittler. The 2005 draftee missed most of the 2006 season with a strained left elbow, but he was effective when healthy.

Bobby Livingston
LHP | Seattle Mariners | 24 years old

           IP  SO  BB  HR   ERA FipERA
2006 AFL   20  17   3   2 10.45  4.20

Livingston’s AFL performance is a nice demonstration of the usefulness of component statistics in evaluating small samples of performance. His 10.45 ERA looks ugly, but it’s also inflated by a couple outings in which he surrendered a handful of singles and was followed by poor relief pitching performances. Livingston relies on his excellent command of a high-80s fastball, and his inability to get batters out at the plate (only 4.5 strikeouts per 9 innings) in Tacoma was a reason for concern. In Arizona, however, he continued to throw strikes and posted reasonable strikeout numbers. Livingston is redundant with Travis Blackley and won’t ever be more than a back-of-rotation starter or middle relief arm, but his AFL performance wasn’t as bad as it look on the surface, and he could contribute to the Mariners in the near future.

Jon Meloan
RHP | LA Dodgers | 22 years old

           IP  SO  BB  HR   ERA FipERA
2006 AFL   18  21   8   1  1.96   3.89

Meloan got a late start to the 2006 season and pitches out of the bullpen exclusively, so the Arizona Fall League was an ideal environment to build up his stamina. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, but his velocity drops when he pitches on short rest. If he stays healthy and continues to strengthen his durability, Meloan could appear in some high-leverage situations with the Dodgers sometime in 2007. He is probably the least well-known minor leaguer who has a good chance of making an impact in the major leagues as soon as next year.

A.J. Murray
LHP | Texas Rangers | 24 years old

           IP  SO  BB  HR   ERA FipERA
2006 AFL   18  17   6   0  5.30   3.29

If you haven’t heard of A.J. Murray before today, it’s probably because he hasn’t pitched much during the past three years. After a strong season in the Texas League in 2003, Murray has struggled with shoulder injuries. Murray had one terrible eight-run outing in the AFL, but also had several solid outings for the Grand Canyon Rafters. He also started and pitched well in the AFL championship game before a pair of errors led to three unearned runs.

Troy Patton
LHP | Houston Astros | 21 years old

           IP  SO  BB  HR   ERA FipERA
2006 AFL   15  17   8   0  4.80   3.49

Patton is the youngest pitchers on this list and arguably the best overall pitching prospect. He looks positioned to join the Triple-A Round Rock staff before his 22nd birthday and should contend for a role in the Astros rotation in 2008 if he can stay healthy. He struck out more than a batter per inning in Arizona, even though everyone knew changeups were coming because, well, that’s what he was there to work on.

Errol Simonitsch
LHP | Minnesota Twins | 24 years old

           IP  SO  BB  HR   ERA FipERA
2006 AFL   23  18   7   1  3.91   4.06

The Twins organization is stocked with intriguing young arms, so Simonitsch is rarely mentioned in conversations about Minnesota’s future. Perhaps it’s time to pay attention, however. The big southpaw struck out 12 batters while only walking three in his final 15 innings pitched of the season. Simonitsch has shown flashes of excellence before, such as the first two months of the 2006 season. He doesn’t have the stuff to be a dominating pitcher at the highest levels of competition, but if Errol can show some consistency at Rochester next year, he will start earning comparisons to useful soft-tossing lefties such as Jamie Moyer and former Twins prospect Mark Redman.

Kevin Slowey
RHP | Minnesota Twins | 22 years old

           IP  SO  BB  HR   ERA FipERA
2006 AFL   19  12   2   0  2.37   3.20

Slowey concluded a strong 2006 season with more of the same in Arizona. He rocketed through the Twins system with one of the minor leagues’ best strikeout-to-walk ratios, and his approach worked well against advanced hitters in Arizona. The Twins hope he can be another Brad Radke, and now the only question is if his average stuff and deceptive delivery will work at the highest level of competition.

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Virgil Vasquez
RHP | Detroit Tigers | 24 years old

           IP  SO  BB  HR   ERA FipERA
2006 AFL   23  18   7   1  3.91   4.06

Vasquez earned the win during the AFL championship game on Saturday, a fitting end to a remarkable Arizona Fall League campaign. Vasquez surrendered eight runs in his first AFL outing before tossing 24 consecutive scoreless innings. Vasquez has underwhelming stuff, but his command is good and he demonstrated an ability to pitch deep into ballgames at Erie. If the Detroit Tigers need an extra starter at some point in 2007, don’t be surprised to see Vasquez earn a promotion.

Kyle Yates
RHP | Toronto Blue Jays | 23 years old

           IP  SO  BB  HR   ERA FipERA
2006 AFL   24  25   6   1  1.13   3.36

Kyle Yates was terrible in the Spring of 2006. The Blue Jays demoted him to the Florida State League and when he returned to Double-A New Hampshire, his results were strong both as a starter and out of the bullpen. Yates maintained a high strikeout-to-walk ratio and was among the most effective pitchers in Arizona. His above-average breaking ball and outstanding control could earn him a role in the Blue Jays bullpen as soon as 2007.

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