BA intern Peter Wardell is spending the fall in the Arizona Fall League, where he will take a weekly look at which players are hot. The first AFL hot sheet takes a look at the top performers up to this point of the fall season. Statistics reflect performance through Thursday October 18. Hot Sheets from here on out will look at weekly performances.
1. Kyle Gibson, rhp, Peoria Javelinas (Twins)
Statistics: 2-0, 0.90, 10 IP, 2 GS, 10 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 16 K
Entering the 2009 draft, Gibson was considered a potential top 10 selection before suffering a stress fracture in his pitching arm in late May. Concerns about the injury led him to slide to the Twins with the 22nd overall pick. As expected, the Missouri righthander climbed the organization ladder quickly, reaching Triple-A Rochester in his first full pro season. Gibson returned to Rochester in 2011 and continued to find success, priming for a potential late-season promotion before a muscle strain and ligament tear in his elbow ended his season. He had Tommy John surgery in July 2011.
After 12 months away, Gibson, 24, returned to action on July 10, logging 28 innings over the course of the summer across Rookie-ball, high Class A and Triple-A. The Twins assigned Gibson to the Arizona Fall League to continue building upon his workload and for a chance to evaluate him heading into the 2013 season.
Through two starts, Gibson has been nothing short of impressive. After striking out eight over five innings on October 11, he followed it up with another eight-strikeout performance Tuesday versus Mesa, scattering one run on 10 hits between the two games. The 6-foot-6, 210-pounder has displayed pinpoint command of a 92-94 mph fastball with good armside run, a mid-80’s changeup and a legitimate put-away slider at 83-84 mph.
“He looked like he was beyond the level of this league—and not because of the pitchability but because the stuff was so good,” said one National League evaluator in attendance. “It was top of the rotation stuff. He was moving the ball back and forth, in and out. He’s ready. Now it’s just a matter of him staying healthy.”
2. Nick Castellanos, of, Mesa Solar Sox (Tigers)
Statistics: .345/.406/.552 (10-for-29), 7 R, 3 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 9 K, 2-for-2 SB
Building upon his impressive 2012 campaign in which he posted a .320/.365/.451 between High-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie, Castellanos has gotten off to a hot start in the AFL as well, ranking near the top of the league in hits (10) and doubles (3). The 20-year-old has recorded multi-hit games in five of seven contests, displaying natural hitting ability and feel for the barrel. This summer, both Florida State League and Eastern League managers named him the league’s Best Batting Prospect.
3. Matt Skole, 1b, Salt River Rafters (Nationals)
Statistics: .500/.625/.778 (9-for-18), 2 R, 2 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 6 BB, 5 K, 1-for-1 SB
After leading the South Atlantic League in on-base percentage (.486), slugging (.574) and home runs (27), Skole has continued to rake in the AFL, leading the league in batting average (.500) and slugging percentage (.778). In each of his five games to date, Skole has registered at least one hit and one walk, continuing to show why Sally League managers rated him with the best strike-zone discipline this summer.
At the plate, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Skole displays a patient approach with good barrel ability and power to all fields, however his swing can be a bit uphill at times. A third baseman for much of the summer, Skole has played exclusively at first base this fall, the position where he will likely end up long-term.
4. James Paxton, lhp, Peoria Javelinas (Mariners)
Statistics: 1-0, 1.50, 6 IP, 2 GS, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 10 K
Similar to Gibson, Paxton was assigned to the Arizona Fall League after sitting out six weeks this summer with tendinitis in his right knee. He excelled in his return to Double-A Jackson in early July, going 6-1, 2.40 post-injury before dominating in a pair of postseason victories. Through two AFL starts, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound lefthander has been solid, striking out 10 over six frames, the highest strikeout-rate among starters, while averaging one baserunner per inning.
This fall, Paxton has sat 90-93 with his fastball, touching 95 mph with good downhill plane. He mixes in a mid-70’s curveball that flashes plus at times and a developing 83-85 mph circle-changeup that shows good deception and draws swings and misses. Some scouts have their concerns however.
“It’s a starter vs. reliever thing for me,” said one National League scout in attendance on Monday. “He’s a lefthander with good stuff but he can also be a little stiff. I’m concerned about his repeatability but without question, he’s definitely got a shot.”
5. Andre Rienzo, rhp, Salt River Rafters (White Sox)
Statistics: 0-0, 0.00, 7 IP, 2 GS, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 10 K
Whereas Gibson and Paxton’s seasons were cut short by injury, Rienzo was forced out for 50 games in mid-April after a failed test for performance-enhancing drugs. After serving his suspension, Rienzo was promoted to Double-A Birmingham where he excelled, going 4-3, 3.27 with 72 strikeouts over 71.2 innings. So far this fall, Rienzo has been even more dominant, striking out five over three innings in his debut and five more last night, all in order, over four innings. The slender 6-foot-3, 160-pound righthander boasts a 92-94 mph fastball, mixing in a sharp cut-slider and late breaking curveball. His changeup remains a work-in-progress and will help determine whether he can stick as a starter.
Last winter, the White Sox opted to not add the 24-year-old Brazilian to the 40-man roster, leaving him susceptible to the Rule 5 draft. However, with the strides he has made in the last 12 months that will likely not be the case this time around.
RULE 5 WATCH
In addition to giving recent draftees, injured and suspended players an opportunity to log innings and at bats, the Arizona Fall League also gives organizations a chance to evaluate players with regards to filling out 40-man rosters.
According to the collective bargaining agreement, players must be added to the 40-man roster by November 20, 2012 four years after they signed, if they signed at age 19 or older (most college players) or after 5 years, if they signed at age 18 or younger (most high school and Latin American players).
Those that are not added will be subject to the Rule 5 draft, held on Dec. 6 this year. Selected players must remain on the team’s 25-man roster for the entire duration of the following season or they are returned to the previous team.
“A lot of our pro scouts and special assistants will be handed lists of players—those that are on the cusp, those that won’t be protected,” explained a National League executive.
This year, 76 players in the Arizona Fall League will be Rule 5 Draft-eligible unless “protected” or added to their 40-man rosters. Each week, we will preview one of these players.
First though, six AFL players stand out as likely additions due to prospect status within their organization:
1. Jarred Cosart, rhp, Astros
2. Hak-Ju Lee, ss, Rays
3. Kyle Gibson, rhp, Twins
4. Grant Green, if/of, Athletics
5. Travis Witherspoon, of, Angels
6. Chris McGuiness, 1b, Rangers