Arizona Fall League Top 20 Prospects With Scouting Reports
See also: AFL Top 20 Prospects Chat
Early on in the Arizona Fall League's 16th season, scouts and front-office personnel considered the state of the circuit's pitching to have taken a step backward from 2006.
That wasn't exactly how things ended up however.
Last year, the league boasted such names as Royals righthander Luke Hochevar, Mets righthanders Philip Humber and Mike Pelfrey, as well as Devil Rays righthander Jeff Niemann. But none of those arms pitched enough innings to qualify, though Matt Albers (Astros), Kevin Slowey (Twins), Troy Patton (Astros) and Jonathan Meloan (Dodgers) made the Top 20.
This year, the pitching was at least equally as deep, and arguably boasted higher-quality arms overall.
But the bats continue to rule this league where the infields play extremely fast and balls fly out of every ballpark. That said, team averages were down in 2007, hinting that the pitching had improved over last season.
In 2006, the lowest team batting average was .264. This year, three clubs—the Peoria Saguaros, Mesa and Phoenix—all finished below that benchmark.
"It's the same every year," one front-office executive from an American League club said. "You hear how the talent level is down or this and that and it's the same every year. It's the same thing with the draft. The reality is these are the guys—these are the next crop of big leaguers. And there are some pretty good ones out here regardless of what you want to say about the talent level. The talent level is fine."
While Team USA and Team China each played six games against AFL clubs as a warm-up for the World Cup in Taiwan, none of those players, with the exception of Devil Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, are eligible for this list. Longoria played 12 games for Scottsdale before joining the U.S. national team.
1. Cameron Maybin, of, Peoria Saguaros (Tigers)
Bothered by a left shoulder strain that hampered him since midseason and kept him out of the Futures Game in July, Maybin only played sparingly in the AFL before being shut down, but still had enough at-bats to qualify. A five-tool player, Maybin possesses more game-changing ability than anyone in the league in 2007. Drawing comparisons to Ken Griffey Jr., Maybin is the new version of center fielder with a long, lean body, plus speed and will hit for power to all fields and high average as well.
2. Evan Longoria, 3b, Scottsdale (Devil Rays)
Longoria played just 12 games in the AFL before moving on to play for Team USA in the World Cup, but his impact was felt immediately in the Scottsdale lineup, despite the club losing its first nine games. After going 0-for-3 in his AFL debut, Longoria homered in his next three consecutive games and finished with a .682 slugging percentage in 44 at-bats. An above-average defender with plus arm strength, Longoria will likely make his major league debut as the Rays' everyday third baseman in 2008.
3. Travis Snider, of, Scottsdale (Blue Jays)
There was no better pure hitter in the AFL than Snider, who was also one of the youngest players in the league. The 19-year-old lefthanded hitter faced lefties on a more consistent basis than he had in his full-season debut at low Class A Lansing in 2007, and wound up hitting .304/.407/.590 against them. A patient hitter with outstanding plate discipline, Snider has plus power to all fields. Though he's a below-average runner, he does show savvy on the bases. Snider is also below average in the outfield, where he split time between the two corners in Arizona, playing left field extensively for the first time in his career.
4. Matt LaPorta, of, Mesa (Brewers)
After signing for $2 million as the seventh overall pick in June, LaPorta was outstanding in his pro debut, finishing up at low Class A West Virginia where he belted 10 home runs in just 23 games for the Power. Most of the pop LaPorta exhibited was of the pull variety, and Surprise hitting coach Sandy Guerrero worked extensively to get the 22-year-old to use the whole field more consistently. LaPorta's BP sessions were primarily focused on right field, and he began to carry over opposite-field power into games in the AFL. A first baseman in college, LaPorta played left field in the AFL, where he should eventually grade out as at least average.
5. Adam Miller, rhp, Surprise (Indians)
After battling finger and elbow woes over the course of the regular season at Triple-A Buffalo, Miller went to instructional league to face more live hitters before reporting to the AFL in mid-October. Though his velocity hadn't returned to the 93-95 mph Miller showed when he's fully healthy, his secondary pitches showed exceptional life. His 84-87 mph slider has devastating late movement and he added a two-seamer last year to combat against lefthanded hitters. His two-seam fastball has splitter-like action, diving down in the zone, producing weak contact. Miller also made strides with his changeup, which at least an average pitch right now.
6. Andrew McCutchen, of, Phoenix (Pirates)
McCutchen had one of the most fascinating years of any top prospect in the minors— he struggled to find consistency at Double-A Altoona during the regular season and then wowed scouts with his tools and athleticism in the AFL, even though the numbers remained just average. A 70 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, McCutchen profiles as a leadoff hitter who gets on base and wreaks havoc. Facing righthanders caused McCutchen fits in 2007, and he hit just .182 against them in the Fall League. Still, the Pirates feel he will make the adjustment to soft breaking balls away. A plus defender with closing speed in the middle of the diamond, McCutchen is still the Pirates' center fielder of the future.
7. Reid Brignac, ss, Scottsdale (Devil Rays)
Another prospect who battled consistency issues throughout the regular season, Brignac also didn't exactly set the AFL on fire. Brignac was worn down, and it showed in his approach at the plate. The 21-year-old wasn't driving balls even during BP, and he wound up slugging just .245. One of the better athletes in the AFL, Brignac has outstanding actions at shortstop with above-average arm strength. And he has much better juice in his bat with the ability to use the whole field than his AFL numbers indicate.
8. Jordan Schafer, of, Peoria Javelinas (Braves)
Schafer improved his stock in 2007 more than any other player on this list, leading the minors in hits and ranking as the top prospect in the high Class A Carolina League. He continued to rise in the AFL, where he showed the ability to hit for a high average with some pop, as well as his gamer mentality. Schafer had to be carted off the field during his first week in Arizona after crashing into the wall. He missed just one game and wound up among the league leaders in batting. A plus defender in center field, Schafer also has above-average arm strength. He's a well above-average runner.
9. Dexter Fowler, of, Peoria Javelinas (Rockies)
Fowler went to the AFL to make up for lost time. The 21-year-old missed half the season at high Class A Modesto when he shattered his right hand in three pieces after crashing into the center field wall at San Jose. The injury affected Fowler's entire wrist, and sapped all his power during his return to action for the Javelinas. Fowler was still battling through rehabbing the injury in Arizona, and had several flare-ups over the course of the season. When healthy, Fowler is a five-tool player who compares to a young Devon White.
10. Taylor Teagarden, c, Surprise (Rangers)
Always a plus defender behind the plate, questions arose about Teagarden's long term future at catcher after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2005. Teagarden missed a small chunk of time during the regular season due to elbow soreness, but finished the season in Double-A and caught full-time in the AFL. Teagarden possesses exceptional skills behind the plate, with soft hands, quick feet and a strong, accurate arm. He gets good backspin and carry with natural loft in his swing, showing plus raw power to all fields.
11. Matt Antonelli, 2b, Peoria Saguaros (Padres)
After a huge year during which the 2006 first-rounder started at high Class A Lake Elsinore and finished by hitting .294/.395/.476 at Double-A San Antonio, Antonelli headed west to the AFL. A patient hitter with good pitch recognition, Antonelli is a contact hitter with power. He uses the whole field effectively, allowing balls to get deep in the zone and spraying line drives. An above-average runner, Antonelli has soft hands and average range at second base. Though he didn't perform especially well in Arizona, Antonelli was worn down after playing 131 games—over twice what he played during his pro debut.
12. Anthony Swarzak, rhp, Phoenix (Twins)
Unlike a lot of players in the AFL to get more experience after missing time due to injury, Swarzak headed to Arizona after sitting out 50 games for testing positive for a drug of abuse. The 2004 second-rounder had made just two starts at Double-A New Britain at the time of his suspension, but when he returned, Swarzak dealt his way through the Eastern League. The 22-year-old picked up where he left off in the AFL, going 1-1, 2.05 in 20 innings. Swarzak's fastball sat in the 92-94 mph range, touching 95. His curveball has tremendous depth and grades out as above-average. He struggled to locate his changeup at times, resulting in a lot of fly ball outs.
13. Jeff Clement, c, Peoria Javelinas (Mariners)
Since Clement was drafted third overall in 2005, he played just 49 games below the Triple-A level. Only 35 of those starts came at catcher, and his first full pro season was interrupted when he needed operations to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and to remove bone chips from his left elbow. Defensive questions surrounded Clement when he came out of college, and they haven't gone away. He threw out 26 percent of runners in 2006, and followed that performance up by throwing out 27 percent this past season at Triple-A Tacoma. While his game-calling skills are a strong suit, Clement is a mechanical receiver, and his footwork and blocking skills are below-average. But it's hard to ignore the bat, which features light tower power to all fields. Still, according to several scouts, Clement isn't going to start—at least at catcher—in the big leagues anytime soon.
14. Jake Arrieta, rhp, Phoenix (Orioles)
A 2007 fifth-round pick, Arrieta signed late and made his pro debut in the AFL for Phoenix. Though his velocity was down and he struggled to maintain his mechanics at times in his last season as an amateur, Arrieta had no such problems in the desert. His fastball was consistently in the low 90s with late life, and his slider showed good bite. Arrieta has a slight recoil in his delivery that doesn't allow him to get the most out of his stuff. But once he gets the weight transfer down in his mechanics, he could move quickly and scouts see the delivery issues as easily correctable. He's athletic and when he gets downhill, he proved to be dominant.
15. Eugenio Velez, 2b/of, Scottsdale (Giants)
Velez was an unkown commodity as a 24-year-old who had a career year in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2006, a year after he was plucked from Toronto in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Signed by the Blue Jays as a shortstop in 2001, Velez moved to second base full time in 2005, added center field to his resume this past season and made his major league debut in September. More than a slap-and-dash speedster, Velez has a line-drive stroke that produces gap power. A minor fracture in right wrist during the AFL's final week shut him down until spring training, when he'll likely figure in the mix for at least a utility role on the big league club.
16. Joe Savery, lhp, Peoria Saguaros (Phillies)
Like a lot of Rice pitchers, Savery comes with some medical baggage. The 2007 first-rounder had minor surgery last year to shave down a bone growth in the back of his shoulder that was causing some fraying in his labrum. That didn't affect his reputation too badly, as the Dodgers were ready to take him if the Phillies didn't in the first round. In the AFL, Savery showed much better stuff than his pro debut. He clearly benefited from the short break between instructional league and the Fall League, finishing 1-1, 0.64 in 14 innings. Savery's fastball velocity was 87-92, but still struggled to command it at times. His secondary pitches—a slurvy breaking ball and changeup—still need more polish, and his 5-11 strikeout-walk ratio is indicative of that.
17. Max Scherzer, rhp, Scottsdale (Diamondbacks)
After signing a four-year major league contract worth $4.3 million in May, the 2006 first-rounder's pro debut had its ups and downs. But Scherzer might have found his ultimate role in Arizona, pitching in short spurts out of the bullpen for Scottsdale. Scherzer's fastball was consistently in the upper 90s, touching 99 mph several times, while his slider showed increased depth and bite than it did at his final stop of the regular season in Double-A Mobile. Scherzer also flashed the makings of a plus changeup at times, but was primarily focused on a two-pitch mix in a relief role. The Diamondbacks still want to keep Scherzer as a starter for now, and he'll likely return to Mobile to begin 2008 in the rotation.
18. Sean Gallagher, rhp, Surprise (Cubs)
Gallagher's fastball velocity jumped from the upper 80s in 2005 to 90-94 mph in 2006, and he carried that improved momentum into last season, jumping from Double-A to the big leagues after just eight Triple-A starts. In addition to his fastball, Gallagher features a plus curveball and ever-improving changeup. He pounds the zone with three pitches. He went through his first six appearances unscathed in the AFL, before finally giving up an earned run after 10 straight scoreless innings. Gallagher will have to watch the weight on his stocky frame, but he's able to maintain a consistent down angle on his pitches through easily repeatable mechanics.
19. John Mayberry, of, Surprise (Rangers)
The biggest talk among scouts in the AFL was how much Mayberry's body had changed since he was an amateur, though the only real difference in his tall, wiry frame was that he ran better and showed improved defensive tools than he did when he was at Stanford. Offensively, power has never been a problem for Mayberry. After hitting 32 home runs over his first two seasons, Mayberry was just one of seven players in the minors to hit at least 30 bombs in 2007. It's his ability to recognize pitches and lay off soft breaking balls away where Mayberry still struggles, and he might not ever hit for a high average. "He was a mule when he was at Stanford," said one pro scout from an American League club. "It looks like he lost 30 pounds. He can run pretty well for a big man and he's got that right field profile. His body just looks so much more lean, so much more chiseled."
20. David Huff, lhp, Surprise (Indians)
A supplemental first-rounder in 2006, Huff was impressive early during the regular season at high Class A Kinston before being shut down at the end of May with elbow soreness. The Tribe sent him to Arizona to get more work in against more advanced hitters and the 23-year-old didn't disappoint. Though he endured two bad outings which helped balloon his ERA over 6.00, scouts were impressed with his ability to command the zone with four pitches and he struck out 15 in 16 innings of work. Huff's fastball sits anywhere from 87-91 mph, but creates good deception. His changeup is arguably his best pitch and showed the ability to locate to both sides of the plate. Huff's slider is just average, and his curveball needs more work. He'll get under it at times as he rushes through his delivery with his lower half. He'll likely begin the 2008 season in the Double-A Akron rotation.