AFL Update: October 26

Now just over two weeks into the Arizona Fall League (AFL) season, the cream of the prospect crop is rising to the top of the statistical leader board, right? Well, not exactly. Jason Parks, of Baseball Prospectus, looked at some of the hitting leaders that he's received questions about. As he points out, the environment is conducive to hitting the ball well, and not all “prospects,” are created equal. With that in mind, I'm not going to be highlighting the fringe prospects of the AFL, and will instead, continue to point out how the blue chippers are performing.

 

  • Billy Hamilton (Reds) continues his transition from shortstop to center field, but little in the way of free information is available in regards to how looks. Mark Sheldon, in an article at the Reds official website, points out that Hamilton worked with former Major League outfielders Eric Davis and Darren Bragg in the team's organization's instructional league prior to the AFL. He also points out that Hamilton has all the tools to be an outstanding defensive outfielder, including blazing speed and a strong arm. Repetition would seem to be the most important thing for Hamilton turning his raw tools into useful defensive skills. The faster he takes to his defensive transition, the faster the time table to the big leagues, where fantasy gamers can enjoy all of Hamilton's stolen base goodness. Not surprisingly, Hamilton is tied for the league lead in stolen bases with six, and has been caught stealing just one time. The rest of his stat line isn't particularly pretty, but it's not alarmingly bad either.

  • Javier Baez (Cubs) is tied for the league lead in home runs with four, and more importantly, his strikeout rate has toned down quite since the last update. Baez struck out eight times in his first 25 at-bats and failed to walk. He has since walked twice, and struck out just two times in his last 25 at-bats. I had this exchange about Baez with Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter. Not shocking, but he essentially mentioned Baez is showing his youth. If you aren't following him, I'd strongly suggest it, as he's providing great AFL analysis. Free information from a former pro scout for the Astros and Mariners is too good to pass up, don't be a fool.

  • Nick Franklin (Mariners) continues to put bat to ball, he has only six strikeouts in 34 at-bats, and the result is a strong .324/.395/.559 slash with a couple of taters. Middle infielders with offensive skills are gold in fantasy baseball, and Franklin has a chance to be an above average offensive contributor there.

  • Brian Goodwin (Nationals) is still smoking the ball, hitting .333/.409/.667 in 39 at-bats, and has drilled a home run and added a pair of doubles in his last five games. Three strikeouts on October 18 have inflated his strikeout total since the initial AFL look in last week, as he has six in his last 17 at-bats in that time frame. This illustrates the fluctuations in performance in a small period of time, and serves as a reminder not to overreact to miniscule samples. That said, Goodwin's strikeout rate warrants monitoring, as I pointed out previously, his strikeout rate sky rocketed after moving up from High-A to Double-A this year. The tools are there for him to be an across the board fantasy contributor from the outfield in fantasy games. He isn't in the same class of recent Nationals prospects such as Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, but few are. Goodwin was in the 2012 Nationals 5×5 Prospect Rankings, and it's a safe bet to assume he'll be back there when we begin rolling those out for 2013.

  • Fun AFL stat, in 36 at-bats, shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius (Reds) has zero strikeouts. His offensive skill set isn't sexy, but he's near big league ready, and is waiting behind Zack Cozart if he falters or suffers an injury.

  • Jonathan Schoop (Orioles) didn't light the world on fire as a 20 year old in Double-A this season, but he didn't embarrass himself either. He finished the season stronger than he started it, and he's following that up with a solid start in the AFL. Schoop has three extra base hits, one of which is a home run, in 27 at-bats, and is hitting .333/.500/.556 with seven walks and seven strikeouts overall. He spent time at second base (88 games) and shortstop (39 games) this year, and has also played third base in the minors in the past. Schoop has played second base, shortstop and third base in the AFL, and his defensive home remains up in the air. The clearest path in the near future would be second base, but at 21 years old, there is no rush if he needs another full year of minor league seasoning. His fantasy value would be aided by sticking in the middle infield, but there are enough positive future offensive projections circulating around reputable prospect outlets that he'd remain fantasy relevant at the hot corner.

  • Kyle Gibson (Twins) continues to cruise, leading the league in strikeouts with 19 in 13 innings pitched. He has allowed one run, two walks, and 13 hits, and is sporting a dental floss thin 0.69 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. Peter Wardell, a Baseball America Intern covering the AFL, wrote about Gibson in an excellent Hot Sheet piece last Friday. Gibson's fastball is sitting in the low-to-mid-90s, his change-up has good velocity separation in the mid-80s, and Wardell gushes about his slider, calling it a “legitimate put-away,” pitch. Pitching at Target Field in the future enhances his fantasy value, and he should be back on fantasy gamers radars.

  • The Giants are playing in the World Series, meanwhile, one of their top prospects, Heath Hembree (Giants), is pitching well in the AFL. He has made five appearances, allowing one run on five hits and a walk with eight strikeouts. At his best, Hembree looks like a future closer. At his worst, his struggles with control prevent him from pitching effectively. Hembree's fantasy value is tied to him recording saves, and with Sergio Romo pitching well in the closer role, and Brian Wilson rehabbing with an eye on returning by Opening Day next season, there doesn't appear to be an immediate opening. Things can change in a hurry in bullpens, though, so keep tabs on Hembree.

  • Oscar Taveras (Cardinals) is doing what he does, demolishing baseballs. He has hit two home runs in the last week playing in the Dominican Winter League, and is up to a sizzling .364/.417/.727 slash in 22 at-bats. The outfield prospect is on the short list of most desirable fantasy prospects to own in dynasty and keeper leagues.

  • Evan Gattis (Braves) is still raking in the Venezuelan Winter League. In the last week, he has added two more home runs and a pair of doubles to his totals. All that power isn't coming with the usual requisite high strikeout total, as he has just six in 45 at-bats.

  • Wilmer Flores (Mets) had arguably his best offensive season as a pro this year, when you factor in his level of competition (he split the year between High-A and Double-A). Unfortunately, his defense doesn't profile to a premium position, putting further pressure on the bat. As good as his season was, the bat lacks the type of projection to profile well in a less demanding defensive position. Regardless, Flores is continuing his “breakout,” season with a solid showing in the Venezuelan Winter League thus far. He has tallied 43 at-bats, hitting three doubles, one home run and triple slashing .326/.408/.465 with a respectable 5-to-7 walk-to-strikeout ratio. If something changes in his future projection, either more favorable reports of his defense on the left side of the infield, or a boost in his offensive projection, he'd be a lot more interesting. In the mean time, he's a fringy fantasy prospect.