Wednesday, October 16, 2013
10 disappointing AFL players
By Keith Law
On Monday, I wrote about players I saw last week in the Arizona Fall League who made positive impressions on me, some of whom caused me to improve my own evaluations of those players over where they were before my trip.
Today I'll look at the other side, 10 players who didn't meet my expectations, and in some cases who'll slide down my prospect rankings as a result. I've also appended notes on other players of interest who didn't fit squarely in either category.
Aaron Sanchez | RHP | Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays' top prospect had an up-and-down year around minor injuries and a failed experiment with a sinker, but Toronto could at least look at his premium stuff and feel confident that he was advancing toward a spot near the top of their major league rotation. Unfortunately, Sanchez's delivery has gone backward in the past year, with a shorter-than-ever stride and a very upright release that causes his fastball to stay up and hurts his command of all pitches.
An upright torso at release is also correlated with higher risk of arm injuries, so it's something the Jays and Sanchez need to try to correct. Sanchez's stuff remains ace quality -- 92-96 mph on the four-seamer, a plus curveball at 76-79, a hard changeup from 85-89 -- but he has to let his athleticism and looseness on the mound show up in the delivery.
Taylor Lindsey | 2B | Los Angeles Angels
Lindsey has outstanding feel for hitting, with consistently high contact rates thanks to quick hands and a direct path to the ball, but other aspects of his game were lacking in Arizona last week.
At the plate, he's gone from a very short stride to no stride at all, so his swing is all hands and arms and he's cutting off any chance to hit for power. At second base he showed below-average hands and range in either direction, and he's a fringy runner even at full speed. He's just 21 years old and his stats to date are solid for a player his age, but I see a lot of untapped potential here, especially on offense.
Alen Hanson | IF | Pittsburgh Pirates
Hanson looked great in BP, with plus bat speed and average to slightly above-average power from both sides of the plate. But once the games started, the plan to get him out was simple and easy for pitchers to execute: fastballs up, sliders down.
He punched out five times in the 10 plate appearances I saw, and it wasn't fluky given how lost he looked. He was actually fine at shortstop, which has long been the concern with him, but he couldn't have looked worse at the plate.
Stephen Piscotty | OF | St. Louis Cardinals
Like Hanson, Piscotty sported a 50 percent strikeout rate in the first week of play, all with me in the stands, wishing a pox on the Stanford coaching staff for what they did to his swing. (I left and he went 4-for-4 on Monday, so maybe he just found me intimidating.)
Piscotty shows pull and opposite-field power in BP, but once the games started, he looked discombobulated at the plate -- trying to go the other way with fastballs in, trying to pull everything on the outer half, swinging and missing when he wasn't rolling over. As I said above, these are brief impressions based on the first week of play, so I'm not suggesting everyone in the Piscotty Appreciation Society should run for the exits. It's just not what I wanted to see.
Tommy La Stella | 2B | Atlanta Braves
It's not so much that anything was wrong with La Stella but that you're banking on one tool here, the hit tool. He's a fringy defender at best and a below-average runner, and I don't foresee much power with a no-load swing and a flat finish.
He can hit, though -- his hand-eye coordination is very good, and the swing is simple and hard, like a quick hack at the ball that could produce line drives and hard ground balls, but few hits likely to leave the park. That might be enough for Atlanta fans sick of the Dan Uggla Show -- just two more years, folks! -- but it's more average regular than star.
Mitch Haniger | OF | Milwaukee Brewers
Another one in the "fine, but not great" category, Haniger disappointed with his lack of visible speed or athleticism. I consistently got run times that put him at grade 40 or worse (that is comfortably below average), and twice caught him losing his focus, including one potential infield single that he lost because he was watching the fielder rather than running to the bag.
Haniger, a supplemental first-round pick in 2012 who lost most of last summer to a knee injury, already lost some luster with an underwhelming half-season in high Class A this year, and this doesn't help.
Andrew Chafin | LHP| Arizona Diamondbacks
Chafin regularly hit 95 as a starter (every seventh day) at Kent State, but the stuff has backed up, and he was 88-91 with a maybe-average changeup last week in Arizona.
A supplemental first-round pick in 2011, Chafin seems certain to end up in the pen between his current velocity and low strikeout rates in the regular season.
Keyvius Sampson | RHP | San Diego Padres
Another guy who left his fastball at home before heading to Arizona, Sampson was 89-91, from a higher slot than in the past but without an average secondary pitch.
With no life on the fastball due to the raised arm slot, he's fly ball-prone, and I don't see how he'll miss bats in the majors unless he gets back into the mid-90s or finds a better breaking ball.
Kyle Crick | RHP | San Francisco Giants
It's still power stuff, 92-95 mph with at least an average slider, but when you walk the first three guys you face in your first AFL outing of the year, no one is going to walk away thinking "We gotta trade for that guy."
He settled down a little in the second inning, throwing more strikes but not locating effectively. I know a lot of scouts who believe Crick has to be a reliever because there's enough effort in his delivery to preclude him having average command. If this was all I'd ever seen from Crick I'd be hard-pressed to disagree.
John Barbato | RHP | San Diego Padres
When I saw Barbato he walked four in two-thirds of an inning of work, so the Javelinas had to go to their bullpen in the first inning instead of the third or fourth. His performance in relief this year was adequate, but he struggled when the Pads shifted him to high Class A Lake Elsinore's rotation in late July.
They might want to just return him to the pen, where his 92-94 fastball and mid-80s slider could make him an interesting middle or setup man, rather than trying to start a guy who can't throw enough strikes for it.
Other assorted notes
• Several readers asked about Matt Purke, the Washington Nationals' bonus baby who was so overused at TCU that he blew out in his sophomore year and needed surgery after signing. Purke was 89-92 with two-seam life on it, showing below-average command especially to his arm side.
He had good arm speed on the straight changeup and spun a few tight curveballs at around 77 mph, although it lost its shape up toward 79-80. His slot remains low and it's not a great delivery, so while I could see him as a back-end starter with three pitches, the lack of command and injury history make him a probable reliever for me.
• The Detroit Tigers' Corey Knebel threw an inning, and I have no idea how that delivery was worth a supplemental first-round pick. He's 91-94 with a plus slider, but there's some head violence at release, and Knebel is awkward and unathletic -- to say nothing of his questionable makeup.
• The Chicago Cubs' Cuban pitcher Armando Rivero didn't make his pro debut until late June and spent the year in relief, which might be all he is if the 90-92 mph fastball and average 75-80 mph slider are all he has. He's 25 years old but had a lengthy layoff before signing this spring, so I wouldn't be floored if he showed a little more stuff next spring.
• The Baltimore Orioles' Jonathan Schoop is off to a slow start, 0-for-12 with two walks and two strikeouts, after a miserable season that saw him miss more than two months due to a stress fracture in his back.
I still liked what I saw from Schoop's swing, as he remains very balanced with lots of potential power thanks to how he uses his lower half. He showed a 55-60 grade arm and soft enough hands for second or third base. Despite all of the setbacks this year, I still think he's a possible impact guy down the road, but he might need to repeat Triple-A, a level for which he was young and inexperienced in 2013, before that happens.