AFL Update: October 17

The Arizona Fall League got under way just over a week ago, and there is on-field and off-field news to report. The AFL isn't the only league in which prospects are participating, as there are a number of prospects competing in Carribean winter leagues as well. Let's see how some of these players are fairing.

 

  • Yasiel Puig (Dodgers) underwent surgery to clean out an infected elbow, and Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reports he's unlikely to play in the AFL at all at this point. Tough blow to Puig, as he would have had a chance to get playing time against upper minor league caliber pitching, and showcase his plus power in a hitter friendly environment.

  • Nick Castellanos (Tigers), who is playing in the outfield in the AFL, is hot at the dish. He's hitting .400/.464/.640 with one home run and three doubles through 25 at-bats. Castellanos started his transition from third base to outfield during the minor league season, playing in 51 games in right field for Double-A Erie. If he makes a relatively smooth transition to the outfield, his bat could get him to Detroit early in the 2013 season.

  • Nick Franklin (Mariners) is second in the AFL in batting average, hitting .500 with two doubles and one home run in 16 at-bats. Most importantly, he has just two strikeouts. Franklin struck out 106 times in 535 plate appearances across two minor league levels, not an alarming rate (19.8 percent strikeout rate). However, there was a stark difference in strikeout rates between Double-A, 15.9 percent, and Triple-A, 25.5 percent.

  • There is a three way tie for third in home runs in the AFL with two, between a trio of interesting prospects, Javier Baez (Cubs), Jonathan Singleton (Astros), and Brian Goodwin (Nationals). Baez has yet to walk, and has struck out eight times in 25 at-bats, but the power (he also has hit two doubles), is pretty impressive for a 19 year old facing the most advanced pitching he's seen in his young professional career. Singleton has a relatively clear path to the bigs, and he's seizing the opportunity to strut his stuff, slashing .292/.370/.667 in 24 at-bats. Goodwin's season was a tale of two levels. He was excellent in High-A, hitting .324/.438/.524 in 266 plate appearances with more walks (43) than strikeouts (39), before struggling in Double-A, hitting .223/.306/.373 in 186 plate appearances. He had a staggering rise in strikeouts, with 50 in Double-A. That's 11 more strikeouts in 80 fewer plate appearances. Thus far, he has six strikeouts in 24 plate appearances.

  • Catcher Mike Zunino (Mariners) is continuing his excellent professional debut, slashing .304/.333/.696 in 23 at-bats with two doubles, two triples, and one home run. Expect the buzz to reach a fever pitch in Spring Training next year, and for good reason.

  • Rymer Liriano's (Padres) minor league season was a mixed bag of good and bad. He's putting together a well rounded AFL campaign, hitting .375/.400/.583 with two doubles, one home run, and three stolen bases (zero caught stealing) in 24 at-bats. His well rounded skill set makes him a top notch dynasty league fantasy option.

  • Johnny Hellweg (Brewers) has pitched in three games, all in relief. He has yet to allow an earned run in four innings pitched, with two walks, two strikeouts, and a save. If the Brewers intend on developing Hellweg as a reliever, he could be on the fast track to the big league team. According to The Brewer Nation, the organization still views Hellweg as a starting pitcher.

  • Reports on relief pitching prospect Aaron Barrett (Nationals) are hard to come by. Barrett had some sparkling numbers pitching in Low-A and High-A this past season. He totaled 51.2 innings, walking 14 batters, and striking out a whopping 73 (12.7 K/9). He finished with a 2.09 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. He's off to a good start in the AFL. Barrett has made three appearances (four innings), walking zero batters, and striking out four. He has yet to allow an earned run, but has given up two unearned runs and given up six hits. Bryan Kerr, of MASN, wrote about the 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher on Monday. Kerr got some excellent quotes from Potomac pitching coach Chris Michalak, who had glowing reviews of Barrett's fastball. Barrett has pitched in high leverage innings in the minors, but until more reports about his secondary pitches surface, it is tough to peg Barrett's ceiling, and what his fantasy value could be.

  • Two of the top pitching prospects in the AFL, Jarred Cosart (Astros) and James Paxton (Mariners), squared off on Monday. Baseball America intern Peter Wardell was at the game, and tweeted about Cosart's stuff, as well as Paxton's. For those that didn't click the link, he reported that Cosart's fastball sat in the 94-98 mph range, his change-up had great velocity separation at 81-82 mph, and his curveball featured good shape. As usual, though, Cosart failed to miss bats in spite of his plus stuff. He has pitched 7.1 innings in the AFL and struck out just three batters. Meanwhile, according to Wardell, southpaw Paxton sat at 90-94 mph with his fastball, with a “steep breaking,” curveball and a swing-and-miss change-up that was in the low-80s. Paxton's numbers are stellar in two starts (six innings). He has allowed only one earned run on four hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts. Missing bats hasn't been a problem for Paxton, as a pro, but his control has been erratic. As I pointed out in the Peoria AFL preview, Paxton's control was much better post All-Star Break. If he can maintain the control gains, he should reach the majors in 2013.

  • The most impressive pitching statistics in the AFL belong to Kyle Gibson (Twins). Gibson has pitched 10 innings, in two starts, allowing one earned run on 10 hits and zero walks, with 16 strikeouts. Gibson's 2011 season ended we he underwent Tommy John surgery. He's continuing to battle back, and build up his innings, after pitching 28.1 innings in the minors this year. 1500 ESPN Twin Cities reports that Gibson was throwing his fastball between 93-95 mph in his most recent start, and backing it with solid offspeed offerings. They also noted that all of Gibson's non-strikeout outs came via the groundball. This isn't shocking, as Gibson is no stranger to inducing groundballs. Minor League Central has his groundball rate at 52.3 percent over the past two seasons. Gibson's control has always been good, but he has proven to be a bit hittable throughout his career, allowing roughly a hit per-inning. From what I've read in the past, it would be unwise to chalk up his hittability to plain old bad luck. Gibson's play is encouraging, and given the fact he has pitched in Triple-A each of the past two seasons, it doesn't seem like a leap to suggest he should reach the majors this upcoming season.

  • Oscar Taveras (Cardinals) looks to continue his assault on baseballs in the Dominican Winter League. He has just eight at-bats thus far, hitting a single and double in them. He's in the conversation for best hitting prospect in baseball, and he'll almost certainly be patrolling the outfield in Busch Stadium sometime in 2013.

  • Aaron Hicks (Twins) is off to a scorching start in the Venezuelan Winter League. The tool shed outfielder is hitting .412/.444/.529 with two doubles and two stolen bases in 17 at-bats. He's coming off his most impressive season as a pro, and the ceiling is very high for Hicks.

  • As well as Hicks is hitting, he isn't putting up the most impressive stat line of the prospects playing in the Venezuelan Winter League, that distinction belongs to Evan Gattis (Braves). Gattis is crushing the ball. In 19 at-bats, he has smashed four doubles and one home run, and is slashing .316/.348/.684. His power hasn't come with the usual requisite gaudy strikeout totals, as he has struck out only two times. Gattis's missed substantial time during the minor league season due to injury, but looks to continue his unlikely march to the majors. For those unaware, Gattis is a 26 year old prospect that is in just his third year of professional ball, and has an unusual story. He committed to play baseball at Texas A&M, but never played a game there. He took four years off from baseball, spent time in drug rehab, and ultimately played at Texas-Permian Basin. The Braves nabbed him in the 23rd round, and he has battered baseballs for the better part of his pro career. It should be noted that he has also been old for every level, and because of his unusual path, he doesn't have a good comparison of a player who has reached the majors and found success. All the Braves can do is continue to challenge him and see how he responds. He was drafted as a catching prospect, but he began to see significant time in the outfield this year to speed up his ascent to the big leagues. The retirement of Chipper Jones could result in Martin Prado shifting from left field back to the hot corner. If that's the case, the path becomes much clearer for Gattis to get to the show. I repeat, his case is unique, so it's all a guessing game at this point, but Gattis's bat is worth speculating on in dynasty leagues.