AFL Preview: Scottsdale Scorpions

Next up in the Arizona Fall League preview series is the Scottsdale Scorpions. This squad won’t be confused with last year’s that featured Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, but there are some interesting prospects worth keeping tabs on.

 

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

 

Scottsdale Scorpions (Indians, Angels, Yankees, Pirates, Giants)

 

Standout Pitcher: Dellin Betances, SP/RP, Yankees, 24 years old

Standout Hitter: Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Angels, 20 years old

Bonus: Ronny Rodriguez, SS, Indians, 20 years old

In terms of train wreck seasons, Dellin Betances’s could rival just about anyone’s. The size and stuff Betances possesses has provided daydream material to onlookers for years. However, his 6-foot-8 and 255 pound frame isn’t totally a blessing. He has routinely struggled with repeating his delivery, and his control has oscillated between bad and atrocious. He hit a new low this year with his control, leading to a career worst 6.8 BB/9 in 131.1 innings pitched. Betances opened the year in Triple-A with thoughts he may be able to help the Yankees before season’s end, instead he awarded free passes at an alarming 8.3 BB/9 rate, and was sent down to Double-A Trenton. His walk rate improved (4.8 BB/9), but he was incredibly hittable yielding 11.6 H/9. Stats don’t tell the whole story in prospect development (more on that to come), but Betances’s are quite damning. His inability to curb his walk rate to an even passable rate should be enough to dash hopes of him becoming a front line starter. That doesn’t mean he can’t have value, as his curveball is a filthy weapon when it’s on, and his fastball can reach the mid-to-upper-90s. That pairing could be good enough to earn him a high leverage role in a bullpen. However, he won’t even get to the bigs and stick if he can’t iron out the mechanical issues that plagued him this year. Betances was promoted to the majors in September, was placed on the 60-day disabled list with shoulder tendinitis in order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Andy Pettitte, but he’s still expected to be healthy enough to pitch in the AFL.

While Betances looks to rebound from a disastrous season, Kaleb Cowart hopes to put a bow on a promising one. Cowart was a two-way standout as an amateur, pitching and playing third base in high school. In his 2012 Baseball America Prospect Handbook write-up, Matt Eddy notes that most teams preferred Cowart as a pitcher. Cowart wanted to be developed as a hitter, though, and the Angels opted to select him with the 18th pick in the 2010 amateur draft and develop him as he wished. He saw game action in only seven games his draft year, and got off to a blazing start returning to the Rookie Level Pioneer League in 2011. He blistered the ball to the tune of a .488/.531/.585 slash in 49 plate appearances in June. Cowart slowed down considerably after that seeing his slash drop in July and August. In spite of the slow finish, Cowart started the year up a level at Low-A, where he was excellent. He received 290 plate appearances with Salem, hitting .293/.348/.479 with 28 extra base hits, including nine home runs, and a stellar 22-to-44 walk-to-strikeout rate. That play warranted a promotion, and Cowart moved up to High-A Inland Empire. He performed admirably in 316 plate appearances there, and while his batting average dropped to .259, his on-base percentage went up to .366 thanks to his walk rate ballooning from 7.6 percent in Low-A to 14.3 percent in High-A. His power dropped a bit, but not as much as his 53 point disparity in slugging would suggest, as his isolated power (slugging minus batting average) dropped just 19 points. Scouting reports on Cowart are as promising as the numbers, if not more promising. Hudson Belinsky, writer at Halo’s Daily (part of ESPN’s SweetSpot Network) and Baseball Prospectus, wrote a great article, Prospect Profile: Kaleb Cowart, for the latter at the end of September. The 6-foot-3 switch-hitting third baseman is slender at 195 pounds, and Belinsky notes that as he fills out, he has plus power potential from both sides of the plate. Eddy noted in the 2012 Baseball America Prospect Handbook that Cowart’s right-handed (his natural hand) swing is cleaner, and Belinsky writes that evaluators still prefer him from that side. Interestingly enough, he actually hits for more power as lefty. This underscores the importance of not blindly following statistics, and recognizing that scouting reports are far more important. Cowart’s ability to hit for power should play well in the hitter friendly AFL, and if he isn’t overwhelmed by his first exposure to the upper minor pitchers littered across opponent’s rosters, he could turn some heads.

Indians shortstop prospect Ronny Rodriguez awards me one more opportunity to reiterate in this piece that stats can be deceiving in evaluating a prospect. A .264/.300/.452 line in High-A might not seem like much, but put in proper context, Rodriguez’s performance at the plate was pretty darn good. Rodriguez was only 20 years old this season, and pushed after struggling in his stateside debut in Low-A the previous year so that the organization could start 2011 draftee Francisco Lindor in a full-season league. As Kevin Goldstein noted in his June 18 Future Shock: Monday Morning Ten Pack, it’s a rarity finding prospects that have a chance to stick at shortstop and swing the bat with some authority. He also mentioned that Rodriguez’s approach needs work, and his 19-to-88 walk-to-strikeout rate supports that notion. His poor approach could lead to struggles against more advanced pitching in the AFL, but the league provides him a taste of what he’ll see in Double-A. I don’t need to tell fantasy gamers how scarce the shortstop position is, and Rodriguez potential makes him a somewhat under the radar prospect worth following.