AFL Preview: Phoenix Desert Dogs

The Arizona Fall League rosters were announced by Major League Baseball last week. The league allows up-and-coming prospects (usually from high-A and double-A levels, as well as recent high draft picks) to continue honing their skills away from the fall instructional leagues held by each organization. Play will begin in early October and run until late November with the six teams – each one made up of five organizations’ players – continually facing each other.

Over the next week, we’ll take a look at some of the more interesting names on each team. The rosters that were recently released are preliminary rosters and some players will be added, while others could be removed. Today, we’re kicking things off with the Phoenix Desert Dogs, a team that has won the AFL championship title for each of the past five seasons. The club is still waiting for the Toronto and Oakland organizations to assign multiple pitchers to the club.

The Phoenix Desert Dogs (Click HERE for the entire roster)
Oakland, Toronto, Baltimore, Washington, Tampa Bay

Brandon Erbe | RHP | Baltimore
Lost behind the big three of Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Jake Arrieta in Baltimore, Erbe has the raw stuff to match up with them. Still only 21 years of age, Erbe battled through injuries this year and missed two month of the ’09 season. Even so, he has allowed just 38 hits in 60 innings of work in double-A.

Heath Rollins | RHP | Tampa Bay
Another pitcher who gets lost amongst the “big names,” Rollins has put up some solid pro numbers. He slipped a bit this year in double-A and has been too hittable: 147 hits in 134 innings of work. The right-hander has also lost 2.7 K/9 off of his strikeout rate, although he’s maintained a solid walk rate at 2.23 BB/9. He looks like a middle reliever.

Stephen Strasburg | RHP | Washington
The man everyone wants to see will be making his pro debut with the desert dogs and you can pretty much guarantee that there will be a lot of eyes on his first start. Despite his inexperience, Strasburg could dominate the league… but he’ll also be under a lot of pressure.

Drew Storen | RHP | Washington
The Nationals’ other first-round pick in 2009, Storen has already made 26 appearances in pro ball. Hopefully he won’t see too many innings in the league as he’s already thrown 77.1 innings (college+minors), which is a higher workload than he’s ever had in any other season. His control has been off a bit in eight double-A appearances but Storen is almost MLB ready.

J.P. Arencibia | C | Toronto
Arencibia ended the 2008 season as one of the Jays’ brightest young stars, but things have gone horribly for him in 2009 despite playing in a park (and league) that favors hitters immensely. At fault is Arencibia’s terrible walk rate and hack-tastic approach (2.6 BB% in ’08, 5.3 BB% in ’09), as well as his unwillingness to change. On the plus side, he’s made himself into a very good defensive player, which was a knock against him coming out of college.

Derek Norris | C | Washington
While Arencibia’s star is down, Norris’ is way up. Only 20, he’s shown a nice well-rounded approach with a solid average (.288), good power (23 homers in 423 at-bats, .229 ISO) and a walk rate of 16.1 BB%. The strikeouts are there too (26.8 K%) but the power is a fair trade off. The sky is the limit for Norris, although he may be tired for the AFL after hitting just .169 in August, which is by far his worst month of the year.

Josh Bell | 3B | Baltimore
Acquired earlier this season from the Dodgers, Bell has had a breakout season and could be manning the hot corner for Baltimore everyday by mid-2010. He has a solid understanding of the strike zone, as well as raw power (.250 ISO). Defensively, he has a strong arm, but a slow first step.

Jemile Weeks | 2B | Oakland
Rickie Weeks‘ brother is looking to make a name for himself. The second baseman missed the beginning of the year with an injury but he caught on fire as soon as he was able to take the field. His numbers have been down significantly since a promotion to double-A, but it only spans 72 at-bats. Weeks has yet to utilize his plus speed, but he’s shown more power than expected.

Grant Desme | OF | Oakland
Speaking of power, Desme has made the most of his opportunity to play this year after injuries limited him to just two games in 2008. The former second round draft pick has really opened some eyes by hitting 31 homers and stealing 40 bases between low-A and high-A. The 23-year-old outfielder also swings and misses a lot (30 K%).

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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The Nationals have the most impressive AFL group. They have their top prospects going: Strasburg, Norris, Marrero, Storen, and Espinosa. That group could go down as one of the best ever for an AFL.