Monday, October 14, 2013
Who looked best in Arizona Fall League
By Keith Law
Kris Bryant, Chicago's first-round draft choice in 2013, has been impressive so far.
I miss living in Arizona for many reasons, but one is the loss of easy access to the Arizona Fall League. This year, I just had a four-day, eight-game trip to scout the many prospects in that circuit. I did get to see every team's BP and two-thirds of the league's pitchers, so while it wasn't as much as I would have liked, it was enough to form some quick impressions and start some fresh evaluations.
Today I give you notes on the players who, in one way or another, stood out to me in a positive light, in most cases raising my opinions of those players. Two stipulations here:
1. I didn't see everybody, so the omission of any player isn't an indictment of his performance
2. The Fall League is a great place to scout, but sometimes players are tired or rusty from the layoff since the end of the minor league season, so the looks aren't always ideal.
Various Chicago Cubs prospects: Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, and Jorge Soler all look great right now, with Soler visibly bigger and stronger than he was when I saw him in the Arizona Rookie League last year. I missed Almora's four-hit performance Wednesday, but saw him get two hits Thursday, including a hard-hit triple to the left-center gap off Blue Jays reliever John Stilson (who hit 96 mph, but was getting squared up left and right). Bryant homered twice after a three-hit performance on Opening Day, squaring up 97 like it was 87 and showing huge, raw power in BP. Soler looked the most improved of the three, but that's also a function of how advanced the other guys were coming into the fall. Bryant, by the way, played third base twice and DH'd once in the games I saw.
Addison Russell, SS, Oakland: I saw Russell draw a nine-pitch walk and a six-pitch walk, smoke a double over the right-fielder's head on a right-hander's fastball, hit a hard liner to right off a 99 mph fastball from Alex Meyer, and play some great defense. This includes one play to his right on a ball half of major league shortstops wouldn't have gotten, after which he uncorked a perfect throw to nail the runner. Russell was the second-youngest player on any AFL Opening Day Roster, after Almora, but he didn't look his age in his approach or in his actions, and he still gives every indication that he'll be a shortstop in the long run.
Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto: Stroman did Stroman things, as usual, working from 94-96 in his first outing and 93-94 in his second, showing a plus slider and an above-average cutter. He flashed a changeup, but that pitch is his least effective, and I think the lack of plane on his fastball is going to make the quality and breadth of his off-speed stuff even more important than it would be for a 6-2 right-hander who could generate more downhill plane. This year's success of Sonny Gray, another diminutive right-hander, may give the Blue Jays more confidence that Stroman can remain a starter, although Gray has been better at generating ground balls in pro ball than Stroman has so far.
Andrew Heaney, LHP, Miami: Heaney showed a solid-average fastball at 90-92 with two plus-secondary pitches, a 79-81 slider with sharp tilt, and a 78-81 mph changeup with good arm speed and downward fade. He commanded all three pitches, even the slider, when aiming at a right-handed hitter's back foot, and he isn't that far from reaching the majors and having his owner refer to him as “the left-hander.”
Mookie Betts, 2B, Boston: I mentioned Betts in my post last week as one of a few players who stood out in the first two days of Fall League play, and got some questions from readers after I posted a Vine clip of his BP. Betts does move his hands a lot before starting his swing, but it's just a trigger and happens so early that it's not a real concern for me. Once he loads, he's mostly direct to the ball with good hip rotation and loft in his finish that explains the 15 homers this year, and could mean 20 or so down the road. He's a plus runner who showed plenty of range to his right when I saw him, and even his outs were hard-hit. Others I mentioned in last week's update who would also fit in this column are St. Louis outfielder James Ramsey (more power than I previously thought he had) and Baltimore southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez (more polished than when I saw him in June/July).
Tony Wolters, C, Cleveland: I don't have much new to offer on Wolters' bat, but in the one game where I saw him catch, he looked good behind the plate -- not “good for a guy who's only been catching for a year-plus,” but actually good, receiving fine and throwing well (accurate rather than strong). It won't take much offense to make him an everyday catcher if this is really where his defense sits after one full season at the position.
Tyler Matzek, LHP, Colorado: I was a huge Matzek fan in his 2009 draft year, but delivery changes and a general loss of command (likely related) have led to a disappointing pro career to date, with reduced velocity at one point and poor command throughout. The good news here is that Matzek still looks like a future big leaguer, but perhaps not the one I'd hoped he'd be. He's got a plus fastball at 92-94 and plus slider at 83-84, hard with the depth of a curveball, which at the very least would make him a lefty-specialist type out of the pen. He flashed a few straight changeups and was struggling to get the pitch down; that pitch will be the separator for him, as he walked more right-handed batters this year in Double-A than he struck out, and if he finds a viable changeup, he's a potential impact reliever and might still have a chance to start.
Kyle Parker, 1B/OF, Colorado: Parker had a mediocre first half in Double-A, but a much stronger second half, and it looks like playing full-time has helped him speed up his development as a hitter. Parker's swing is pretty simple, with a modest load and a very short path to the ball; there's not a ton of loft in his follow-through, but the overall path reminds me a little of Paul Goldschmidt's, where the power comes from hard contact and plenty of extension after it. He showed good opposite-field power in BP, and with a bomb on Opening Night at Salt River, the kind of right-handed power that's hard to find right now at any level. The one negative was that he struggled with pitchers who could change speeds on him, although that may also improve with more reps. I was skeptical at this time last year that Parker could be the Rockies' long-term first baseman, but that looks much more likely now.
Yorman Rodriguez, OF, Cincinnati: Rodriguez had a modest breakout year in the Reds' system, playing well enough in Bakersfield to earn a promotion to Double-A, although most of his production in the Cal League was off left-handers. In Arizona, he at least showed that he's advanced beyond “tools goof” status, with better at-bats than I'd seen in the past, but similar results, chasing fastballs up and sliders down and away after he'd managed to work the count for a few pitches. He's an above-average runner with a 60 arm and good bat speed, so the elements are there for him to develop into a solid regular – but these incremental changes in approach can't be the last.
Jake Barrett, RHP, Arizona: The former ASU closer was 94-97 with a power slider at 86-88 that, when he finished it, was nearly unhittable. He's a max-effort guy who's had lots of elbow trouble in the past, so it's in Arizona's interest to move him to the majors as quickly as possible, but at least the two pitches are major league ready right now.
Kenny Giles, RHP, Philadelphia: Giles sat at 97, ranging from 95 to 99, in one inning of work; although his fastball has no life, it's hard and gets in on hitters very quickly. He threw a few sliders at 86-87, one bad, then one tight and short to hit the inside corner and strike out a right-handed batter. He's not huge, and his brief minor league history is one of below-average command and control (plus two oblique strains this year), but many successful big-league relievers looked like this and gained that missing grade of accuracy to become impact guys in the 8th or 9th innings.