Scherzer, Hughes gear up for next year at AFL

October, 16, 2008
AFL stands for Arizona Fall League, but it might as well stand for Arizona Funky Delivery League this season, as teams have sent an assortment of shall we say, unorthodox, pitchers to the desert.

Call it the Brad Ziegler effect.

I've seen everything from lefty sidearmers to right-handed submariners who top out at 77 mph, to players that switch from over-the-top to sidearm in the same at-bat, and everything in between. It's been interesting to watch, to say the least.

Max ScherzerJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesMax Scherzer turned heads last season in both the rotation and the bullpen, but he's going to be a full-time starter from now on.
• The D-backs and Max Scherzer came to the decision that he is exclusively a starter from this point forward, so he is getting three full starts and about 20 innings of work here instead of heading to winter ball in Venezuela. Scherzer will be no worse than the No. 5 starter coming out of spring training, and perhaps the No. 4 depending on the team's other offseason moves. His fastball and slider have been their usual selves thus far, with the heater clocking between 93-96 mph and touching 97, and his slider registering at 85-88 with its late bite. His changeup remains a hit-or-miss pitch, as it lacks consistency. It has the sink and fade he's looking for most times, but he is still having problems with command and location.

There is still another scout or two out there who thinks Arizona should just make him the closer and be done with it, but even with an inconsistent change, his other two pitches are good enough that he can be a top-50 fantasy starter next season if he stays healthy. As I've said before, I'm not overly concerned with the head jerk at the end of the delivery as far as affecting his command, because it comes after the release of the ball and not during.

• The real question with Phil Hughes is not whether we take a chance on him next season, because his talent and potential opportunity with a good team demand attention. The question is do we take him ahead of pitchers such as Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Brandon Morrow, Clay Buchholz or other young pitchers seeking to establish themselves as big league starters?

"He's not an ace for me, more of a three/four guy," another scout told me as we were discussing Hughes after his second start at the AFL. Based on what I saw, I had to concur; however, considering he made just 14 starts this season due to injury and is still just 22, I can give him a little benefit of the doubt. He's been hitting 88-91 mph on the gun, touching 92 once, with good sink. His low-70s curve remains an out pitch, as it's a plus offering with nice depth. However, he's tucked his slider into his back pocket, and he's not using his below-average change much down here, probably because he can get by with just fastball/curve and is working more on command and control. Hughes has touched 95-96 in the past with his four-seamer, and it's possible there is some more velocity down the road, but I'm not counting on it. Given the durability questions that have overshadowed his career thus far, I could make a case for drafting any of the other pitchers I listed above before taking a chance on Hughes for next season. However, I will wait to make that judgment after seeing his progress for the rest of the AFL and how he looks in spring training. I remember Ricky Nolasco sitting at 87-90 and looking absolutely awful to start the Fall League last year as he was coming back from injury, but that turned out well.

• Brett Wallace had a stellar pro debut after being drafted by the Cardinals in the first round this past June, hitting .327 in 41 games at high Class A before being promoted to Double-A for 13 games, where he hit .367. The questions before the draft were about his "bad body," a thick lower half that many thought would render the 6-foot-1, 245-pounder unable to man third base at the big league level. On the other hand, there were few questions about his bat. He has excellent pitch recognition and strike zone judgment, and can hit with authority to all fields. He should hit for both average and power at the big league level thanks to his ability to get his bat on the ball and the natural lift in his stroke.

He's slightly below average defensively, but his bat should be enough to compensate for it. He has soft hands, an average arm and can make the routine plays on balls hit at him. He can make plays on the run, but his range from left to right is extremely limited and is a liability. Given the total package, it should be acceptable enough.

Troy Glaus exercised a player option in his contract for 2009, so he will be around for one more year. It would shock me if Wallace were not the starting third baseman on Opening Day 2010, and perhaps as early as some point next season if Glaus gets hurt. But it's possible he could eventually be moved to left field, as first base is occupied by Albert Pujols. His bat should play anywhere, as he has the capability to challenge .300 while hitting 25 homers.

Next update: Sleeper pitchers starting to emerge



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