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AFL Prospects: Angels, Athletics, Cubs, Nationals, Tigers

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.

We’ve already looked at the Glendale Desert Dogs, home to prospects from the White Sox, Twins, Reds, Dodgers, and Marlins systems.

Mesa Solar Sox: Angels, Athletics, Cubs, Nationals, Tigers

The Roster Decision: Dallas Beeler, RHP, Cubs: The Cubs system is loaded with high-ceiling offensive prospects. However, the pitching ranks are extremely thin. That helps make Beeler, 24, all the more interesting as a player. As a fourth-year pro who was drafted out of the college ranks, the right-hander must be added to the 40-man roster this fall or he’ll be exposed to the Rule 5 draft.

Injuries have been his downfall to date. He underwent Tommy John surgery in college and suffered a torn ligament in his finger this past May. When healthy, his four-pitch repertoire includes a low-90s fastball, promising curveball, recently-added splitter and changeup. He is more of a pitch-to-contact guy who induces above-average ground-ball rates than a true power pitcher so strikeouts aren’t really his thing. Beeler has a strong frame and should be capable of providing a bunch of innings as a No. 4 starter… if he can avoid the disabled list.

Ripping Off the Band-Aid: Arodys Vizcaino, RHP, Cubs: When the Mets’ Matt Harvey went down with a torn elbow ligament there was a lot of talk about trying to avoid or delay Tommy John surgery through rehabbing the injury. Vizcaino’s previous employer, the Braves, took him down that road in mid-2010 when he suffered a partial tear of his ligament.

He finally underwent the surgery in March 2012 and was later traded to the Cubs while rehabbing the injury. Vizcaino then had another less serious elbow surgery in late May of 2013, which once again caused him to miss a full season. He hasn’t pitched since the end of the 2011 season. Hindsight is 20-20 but, had he undergone the surgery when the originally injury occurred, he might have had two full seasons of big league experience (2012-13) under his belt by now.

The Stud Muffin: Addison Russell, SS, Athletics: Just 19, Russell has been on the fast track since hitting .415 in his first taste of pro action after going 11th overall in the 2012 draft. He ended that season as an 18-year-old in the full-season Midwest League (16 games) and then opened 2013 in High-A ball as one of the youngest players. Despite the aggressive assignment, he posted an .885 OPS with 56 extra base hits and 21 steals in 107 games. Going a step further, the organization moved Russell up two levels to Triple-A to finish this season.

With a strong showing in the AFL, the Florida native could have an outside shot of breaking camp with the big league club in 2014 — pushing current shortstop Jed Lowrie to another position. More than likely, though, he’ll need at least two to three more months of seasoning in the minors.

The Recent Draft Pick: Corey Knebel, RHP, Tigers: Knebel falls into the typical drafting tendencies of the Tigers, an organization that tends to spend high draft picks on hard-throwing relievers. One of the better college relievers available in the draft, the right-hander enjoyed immediate success in pro ball with a 0.90 ERA in 30 low-A games.

In 30 innings, his combination of power and deception helped him absolutely overpower his opponents with just 14 hits allowed and 40 strikeouts. He also showed above-average control. Knebel could reach Detroit at some point in 2014 if he sticks in the bullpen but the Tigers may be tempted to give him a chance to start. He has a low-to-mid-90s fastball, potentially-plus curveball and a nascent changeup.

Badly in Need of a Rebound: Cam Bedrosian, RHP, Angels: The son of former all-star closer Steve Bedrosian, Cam entered pro ball as a promising starting pitcher prospect after being selected 29th overall in the 2010 draft. After just five appearances, though, he blew out his elbow and undewent Tommy John surgery, missing all of 2011. Shifted to the ‘pen in 2013, Bedrosian saw his stuff play up and it allowed him to focus on a two-pitch mix (fastball-slider). His command still has a ways to go before he’ll realize his full potential but he’s someone to keep an eye on during what could be a make-or-break season in 2014.

The Cool Backstory: Adrian Nieto, C, Nationals: Nieto, 23, has enjoyed a breakout year in his sixth professional season. The Cuba native has battled both personal demons — including a 50-game suspension — and injuries in his career but the 2013 season saw him produce an .821 OPS in 110 games as he matured as both a player and a person. He also possesses additional value derived from his ability to hit from both sides of the plate. Behind the dish, Nieto threw out 33% of base runners but could still stand to improve his receiving. With the lack of catching depth in the Nationals system, the young catcher’s development could really help the system — even if he ends up as a backup or occasional injury fill-in.

I Remember You: Kyle Lobstein, LHP, Tigers: The 47th overall selection out of an Arizona high school in the 2008 draft, Lobstein was considered a highly-projectable southpaw prospect. Unfortunately, his stuff never took that anticipated step forward and he’s a now soft-tossing lefty despite his 6-3, 200 pound frame. Originally a member of the pitching-rich Rays organization, Lobstein made his way to the Tigers system during last year’s Rule 5 draft and the club later traded for his rights, which allowed him to be sent to the minors.

With improved command/control, an understanding of how to pitch, a plus changeup and deception, Lobstein could develop into a back-end starter of long reliever for the Tigers (despite his fringy fastball) — an organization in desperate need of upper-level pitching depth. He was once lumped into the same group of pitching as David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore prior to his disappearing act, so it’s nice to see him re-emerge and have success at both Double-A and Triple-A in 2013.