MLB’s Arizona Fall League opens today… a venue in which prospects get a chance for extra work against better competition. All thirty major league teams participate by contributing players to one of six teams, with games running from now through mid-November.
First off, here are the teams:
- Scottsdale Scorpions
- Glendale Desert Dogs
- Peoria Javelinas
- Mesa Solar Sox
- Salt River Rafters
- Surprise Saguaros
The Scorpions are comprised of players supplied by the Braves, both New York teams, the Giants, and Pittsburgh. Coaching staff includes Russ Morman (managing) with John Moses and (29-year-old) Luis Rivera as hitting coaches, and Stan Kyles the pitching coach.
Let’s take a quick look at the Braves’ players involved: pitchers first
- John Cornely – 24 year old RH relief pitcher for the Lynchburg Hillcats (High A Carolina League). Joined the organization in 2011 from Wofford as a 15th round draft pick. Ridiculous strikeout rates (12-15 per 9 innings). Control had been a problem early on, though a little better once getting to Lynchburg (70K/24BB). A little too hittable (3.38 ERA, 9 homers allowed in 50 innings; 6 to LHB). Saved 11 games; 4-1 record in 2013. He did not appear on our 2013 prospects list, his performance thus far puts him close, though his age and advancement level hurt him a bit.
- Juan Jaime - 26 year old AA RH flamethrower from the Mississippi Braves. I could say a lot of the things about Juan that I did for Cornely: lots of strikeouts with control issues… except more so on both. Personally, I had high hopes for Juan – he was pitching very well to start the year, though was hurt for part of it and struggled during the second half – finishing with a 4.07 ERA, 70K and 28 BB in 42 innings. I had mentioned him as a possible internal bullpen candidate when Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters went down early in the year. Juan had been a National through 2009; he was injured and cut loose from that organization. The Braves picked up starting in 2012. Despite his age, he’s roughly 25th on our prospects list; if his control could come around, he could move up quickly, but for now he’s taking advantage of his speed against weaker (less plate-disciplined) competition.
- Shae Simmons – We have Shae ranked 17th on our prospects chart, as this RH 23-year-old has the same kind of strikeout stuff of the relievers above with better results overall. Late in the year, Shae was prompted two levels up to AA Mississippi, thanks to a 1.49 ERA with 14K/9 and 24 saves at Rome. He had a couple of rough AA outings, but seemed to be settling back in as the year ended. For the year, he still had a sub-2.00 ERA, a ton of strikeouts, and decent control – save for those rough outings. It will be interesting to see how he competes against this better slate of players this fall. He was a steal for Atlanta: 22nd round pick out of Southeast Missouri State just last year (2012).
Aaron Northcraft – the only starting pitcher the Braves are sending, Northcraft (yes, another righty) in 23, drafted out of high school by Atlanta (10th round) in 2009. He has moved up the ranks slowly, but that train has picked up some steam in the past couple of years. Our 18th-ranked prospect, Northcraft spent 2013 at AA Mississippi, posting an ERA in the 3’s for the third year in a row. His control is average (3.3 BB/9), and he’s striking out about 8 batters per 9. The concerns I have for him involve getting out of trouble: his LOB% is too low for usual standards (below 70%). That suggests a noticeable difference between performance from the windup vs. the stretch. If he can get that figured out, then that could be his breakthrough moment.
The Position Players
- Tommy La Stella – This could be interesting. Tommy will be 25 years old in January… LHB (throws right). Of all the AFL players this year, he is the highest-rated prospect: we have him at #9. If he does well in this league, then Frank Wren and Co. might be persuaded to work a little harder in an effort to move Dan Uggla in December. At the least, La Stella probably has a ticket punched for Gwinnett next April. Still wish they’d promoted him instead of Phil Gosselin… or getting Elliot Johnson, for that matter.
Let me just list La Stella’s minor league batting averages: .328, .231 (5 games), .302, .550 (okay, 7 games), .343. He didn’t qualify for the batting title in the Southern League, but if he had, he would have won it by 37 points. He’s not real ‘rangey’ at second base, but fundamentally sound (7 errors in 81 games). But the (other) stats that jump out at me are these: .422 OBP, 37 walks against just 34 K. And that was a bad year for him: in 2012, he struck out only half that often!
- Kyle Kubitza – a 2011 3rd round pick from Texas State, third baseman Kubitza is our 19th ranked prospect. He just finished up at Lynchburg, hitting .260 in 132 games with 12 homers. His other stats are … interesting: a 15% walk rate with a 25% K rate. That got him a .380 OBP overall, but this isn’t typically the kind of offensive profile that you’ll see out of the third baseman… particularly one drafted that high. So I’m not entirely sure where/how things will go with Kyle – you have to applaud the plate discipline, but that may prove harder to translate upwards as he moves forward. We’ll see how things go for him in AFL competition.
- Elmer Reyes - There are a couple of guys in the organization to watch with the surname ‘Reyes’. Elmer played 123 games at SS for Lynchburg this year – with a reasonable 17 errors. He hit .285 with 30 doubles, 4 triples, and 5 homers among 125 hits. Strikeouts? Manageable at 15%. Walks? A bit low (4%). He started slowly, but Reyes’ hitting has been improving since signing on with the Braves in 2010. A good campaign this fall could get him to Mississippi next year as a 23-year-old.
Robby Hefflinger – with Robby, I keep thinking “Dave Kingman.” Kingman played from 1971-1986 and pounded out 442 major league homers… while batting .236 and striking out 24% of the time (at a time when strikeouts weren’t particularly cool). Hefflinger – a mid-20’s ranked prospect – was drafted by Atlanta as a JuCo player from Georgia in the 7th round of 2008. He 23 and big: 6-5/225 (Kingman, by the way, went listed as 6-6/210). Robby had his best hitting year at Lynchburg this year: .286, 21 homers, and winner of the home run derby at the High-A All-Star game… all in 74 games. That earned him a promotion to AA… where he hit for half that average (.170) and under half the HR rate (6 in 53 games). Oh, and he K’s at a Kingman-esque rate as well. His minor league patterns suggests that it takes a while for him to adjust — the same was true for Freddie Freeman, though his adjustment period took about 6-8 weeks, while Robby’s takes… closer to a year. Okay, well, there aren’t a lot of Freddie Freeman‘s around.
Other Notables on the Scorpions Roster
- Alen Hanson. 3rd ranked Pirates prospect*; shortstop. 20 years old – played mostly for their High-A Bradenton (FL) affiliate this year, and hit about like Reyes did. He was promoted to AA for the last several weeks and hit .255.
- Jameson Taillon – 2nd ranked Pirates’ prospect (RHP). AA for most of the year; 37 innings of AAA. Sub-4 ERA at both 2013 stops. Raw stats are actually similar to Northcraft’s.
- Mason Williams – 3rd ranked Yankees prospect/OF.
- Tyler Austin – 2nd ranked Yankees prospect/OF.
- Jeurys Familia – RHP, Mets 6th ranked prospect.
- Kyle Crick – #1 prospect, RHP for the Giants. High-A, command is a problem.
* – these rankings derived from John Sickels over at minorleagueball.com
AFL Teams play roughly 33 games over the next month, with a championship playoff afterwards.