AFL Preview: Salt River Rafters

After reading about Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Peoria, you probably think you’ve got these previews figured out. Not so fast. Salt River provided me with a dilemma, and because I’m making the rules up to these previews as I go, I responded by offering you, the readers, a twist.

* Full rosters can be found by clicking on the hyperlink for the team.

Salt River Rafters (Diamondbacks, White Sox, Rockies, Blue Jays, Nationals)

Standout Pitcher: None

Standout Hitter: Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals, 22 years old

Standout Hitter 2: Matt Davidson, 3B, Diamondbacks, 21 years old

Bonus: Trayce Thompson, OF, White Sox, 21 years old

That’s right, none of the pitchers intrigued me much, so I’m not going to talk about any of them. That said, I’m going to stick with the three prospect format, which means three hitters. The first being, Anthony Rendon. Rendon had a disappointing professional debut, and it had little to do with his play on the field, but his lack of time on it. The biggest knock on Rendon coming out of Rice was his injury history, and he was bit by the injury bug again in just his second professional game. He suffered a small fracture in his left ankle, and was shelved for a few months. He returned to the diamond in July. Rendon took hacks at four levels of the minors, Rookie Level (while rehabbing), Low-A, High-A, and he finished the year in Double-A. Just over half his plate appearances, 82, came while playing for Double-A Harrisburg. He hit an uninspiring .162/.305/.368 in Double-A, but given his long layoff, it doesn’t mean a lot. The important thing is that he stays healthy, and that he gets at-bats. He’ll have a chance to do that in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). When he was drafted, many notable prospect outlets lauded his approach, and some deemed it near big league ready. With Ryan Zimmerman getting a long term contract extension with the Nationals, it remains to be seen where the organization will develop Rendon in the field. Hopefully the AFL will help answer that question.

 

The Rafters have another intriguing third base prospect on their team, and Matt Davidson should stick there. He’s not considered an asset in the field, but he’s no longer considered the liability he once was either. Davidson hit a career best 23 home runs with Double-A Reno, while also improving his walk and strikeout rates. Not bad for a 21 year old playing at the highest level of his professional career. He was quite streaky this year, and had a considerably better line prior to the All-Star Break than after it. Still, he should be in line for a look in the bigs in 2013 if he doesn’t fall on his face in Triple-A, and a big showing in the AFL might get him an extended look in Spring Training. Chris Johnson played well after the team acquired him, and he’s under team control next season, so he’ll almost certainly get the first crack at holding down the starting job at the hot corner. His track record suggests he was playing above his head, and it’s not hard to envision him fumbling the job to Davidson during the season should the team’s long term option at the position take advantage of the friendly confines of the Pacific Coast League.

 

Davidson isn’t the only Rafters player that set a new career high in home runs in 2012, Trayce Thompson did as well, hitting 25 across three levels (he actually didn’t hit any in Triple-A, but played at that level). Thompson’s power has never come into question. Instead, his propensity for striking out leaves some wondering if he’ll make enough contact to take advantage of his pop, or if he’ll fizzle out in the minors as a hitter than can get exploited by better pitching. Thompson’s stellar play in his first taste of High-A earned him 20 games in the upper minors, 14 in Double-A and six in Triple-A. He’ll get a chance to receive some more plate appearances against advanced pitching in the AFL. If he is able to make contact, the home run friendly environment could lead to some gaudy stats. In today’s Monday Morning Ten Pack over at Baseball Prospectus, Mark Anderson indicates that Thompson could find himself nestled in between Alex Rios and Dayan Viciedo in the White Sox outfield during the summer this coming season. Initial struggles wouldn’t be shocking, but power is always at a premium in fantasy baseball, making Thompson a prospect worth owning in dynasty formats.