Arizona Fall League Top 20 Prospects
Scouting reports on the standouts from the AFL
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Sizing up the prospect pool in the Arizona Fall League in 2008 was more like standing in front of a well-stocked specialty meat shop—with so many good choices, it was difficult not to salivate. Once again, the AFL's 17th season featured outstanding talent, with switch-hitting catcher Matt Wieters of the Orioles headlining a crop of hitters. The pitching shined, too, as Tommy Hanson forced the Braves to safeguard him from trade talks and righthander Brian Matusz, one of four 2008 first-round picks in the AFL, elbowed his way near the top of his list as he made his much-anticipated pro debut.
Big leaguers Clay Buchholz, Phil Hughes and Max Scherzer pitched very well but did not qualify for this list, allowing for some under-the-radar players such as the Twins' Jeff Manship and AFL batting champ Eric Young Jr. to earn consideration.
1. Matt Wieters, c
Surprise Rafters (Orioles)
BA's 2008 Minor Player of the Year did not disappoint as the switch-hitting, 6-foot-5, 230-pound catcher got off to a hot start with four hits in his second AFL game, and went hitless just four times. He also showed outstanding durability as Wieters continued to hunker down behind the plate, catching a majority of Surprise's games after catching and getting occasional breathers as a DH through his first full season.
One scout, noticing his body language, wondered if the Orioles' 2007 first-rounder was bored by the competition and if he knew the AFL was a mere whistle stop on the way to the majors. In his first pro season since singing out of Georgia Tech, Wieters had hit .355/.454/.600 with 27 home runs, 22 doubles and 91 RBIs combined at high Class A Frederick and Double-A Bowie as he showed he could be a potential star for the Orioles.
2. Tommy Hanson
Mesa Solar Sox (Braves)
Hanson tore through 2008, first ransacking the high Class A Carolina League and dominating at Double-A Mississippi. "He's on a mission," Mesa manager Rocket Wheeler said, and that was an understatement. Hanson showed nasty stuff, especially with his breaking pitches (both a curveball and slider). There's effort in the delivery, but there is no questioning the life of his fastball, still clocked up to 94 mph despite reaching 166 innings this year. Hanson led the AFL in wins (5), ERA (0.63) and strikeouts (49), with the righthander striking out 10 over five innings a start.
It culminated a big season for the former draft-and-follow as Braves general manager Frank Wren personally flew in to tell Hanson that he would not be offered in trade talks. This after he was 11-5, 2.41 with 163 strikeouts in 138 innings combined at high Class A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi.
3. Brian Matusz
Surprise Rafters (Orioles)
Matusz hit Arizona for his first taste of pro ball after signing for a $3.2 million bonus just ahead of the Aug. 15 deadline and then only working with the Orioles' short-season Aberdeen club. One scout thinks he already is big league ready, as Matusz showed an advanced knowledge of how and when to change speeds. He certainly got off to a great start in throwing three scoreless and hitless innings in his debut.
His fastball sat at 90-92 mph, but he ate up hitters with both a big, roundhouse curve and short little slider to go with his plus changeup. He finished with 31 strikeouts and seven walks in almost 27 innings and should hop on the fast track to Baltimore. Even better, the former San Diego standout worked with future batterymate Matt Wieters.
4. Logan Morrison, 1b
Mesa Solar Sox (Marlins)
Morrison, a 22nd-round pick in 2005 out of Maple Woods CC in suburban Kansas City, challenged for the AFL batting title and was leading the circuit late before finishing third. He hit .404/.444/.667 and tied for second with 29 RBIs. With Mike Jacobs traded this offseason, he could soon challenge for the big league job in Florida, even though he spent all of 2008 at high Class A Jupiter, where he cracked 13 homers and drove in 74. The lefthanded hitter continued his momentum into the AFL as Morrison proved to be big-time run producer with very good power.
Scouts worry about a wrap in the start of his swing that could delay his timing, but he's strong enough to punish mistakes. Overall, he showed a good approach and uses the whole field. He had at least three hits in six of his first 21 games.
5. Carlos Triunfel, ss/2b
Peoria Javelinas (Mariners)
Triunfel, not due to celebrate his 19th birthday until next Feb. 27, was the youngest player in the AFL but clearly showed he could handle high expectations. He showed a great feel for playing third base, a new position the Mariners introduced to him in a crash course in instructional league just ahead of the AFL season. His reactions were encouraging on balls in the infield grass and hard shots to his left.
Even better, Triunfel, suspended by the Mariners in May at high Class A High Desert over maturity issues, appeared to take mental notes of the way older players handled themselves. He held his own offensively, batting .298 and flashing power. He also continued to work at second base. Scouts questioned his age—he's got the young face but a man's body—and wonder about his power should he end up at third base down the road.
6. Bud Norris, rhp
Scottsdale Scorpions (Astros)
Norris was sort of lost in the shuffle early this season at Double-A Corpus Christi as the righthander missed two months due to an elbow strain in mid-May. But he's been outstanding since returning despite an extremely limited pitch count, and opened eyes again in the AFL as scouts project him as a set-up man, even as closer. He'll have to throw more strikes in the future to close, but the 23-year-old showed off his power arm in the AFL with his fastball touching 98 mph.
Listed at 6-foot, 195 pounds, Norris doesn't have great downward plane but compensates with both fastball velocity and hard slider. In the regular-season, he was tinkering with a changeup, a pitch that could keep him in the rotation.
7. Gordon Beckham, ss
Peoria Saguaros (White Sox)
Beckham was one of four 2008 first-round draft picks playing in the Arizona Fall League. He signed just ahead of the Aug. 15 deadline for $2.6 million, which allowed him just enough time to put in 58 at-bats at low Class A Kannapolis before having a standout month in the AFL. The White Sox's 2008 first-round pick and former Georgia Bulldog finished seventh in batting (.394/.468/.652) as the righthanded hitter showed good contact and confidence in his overall game. Scouts wonder if he'll have to lower his right elbow in his batting stance should advanced pitchers attack him high and in on the hands. But he still got around on pitches, getting 10 extra-base hits. He also split time at second and short.
8. J.P. Arencibia, c
Phoenix Desert Dogs (Blue Jays)
One scout said Arencibia has one major weakness—a lack of patience that translates into low walk totals. Otherwise he's the full package, with an impressive ability to throw guys out from his knees. Arencibia's athletic, 6-foot-1, 210-pound build helps provide the punch as he attacks at the plate but he tried to curb his aggressiveness in the AFL by taking more pitches. He also showed improvement in calling games and blocking balls. He entered the fall having batted .298/.322/.527 combined at high Class A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire, matching Wieters's season in home runs and nearly reaching him in RBIs (105).
9. Justin Smoak, 1b
Peoria Javelinas (Rangers)
One of four 2008 first-round picks to play in the AFL this year, Smoak entered the fall with just 56 at-bats at low Class A Clinton and was a taxi squad guy for Surprise. Compared to a Mark Teixeira at South Carolina and signed for $3.5 million this summer, the switch-hitter showed a good swing from both sides and at times the power that made him a first-rounder. Even better, he earned praise for pitch recognition, on his his hallmarks in hs college days. Scouts also were impressed with how comfortably he played first base, where Smoak showed soft hands and didn't become flustered on the quick plays around the bag.
10. Brett Wallace, 3b
Peoria Saguaros (Cardinals)
Call it a whirlwind season for Wallace, who helped Arizona State nearly reach the College World Series and then became the June draft's 13th overall selection, signing relatively quickly for $1.73 million and reaching Double-A Springfield in late August. Finishing in the AFL was not a problem, either.
Doubts remain about whether he will stay at third because of his large build, but there were no questions about his bat as it played as advertised in the AFL. He showed a short stroke with nice balance in his approach, allowing Wallace to drive balls to all fields. Defensively, he continued to work with his manager, the Cardinals' Ron Warner, who relentlessly hit him fungoes every day and believes he'll be just fine when Wallace sets up in a more athletic position.
11. Dan Cortes, rhp
Surprise Rafters (Royals)
Cortes comes armed with many of the ideals for a pitcher—he has a big body (6-foot-5, 205), is still young (doesn't turn 22 until March) and he can bring it, with his fastball sitting at 91-93 mph. He also continued to show that his 12-to-6 curve could be a legit strikeout pitch but he continues to have trouble commanding it. He makes this list despite not compiling the best of stats, somewhat of a surprise considering Cortes tore through the second of the Double-A Texas League. Scouts, however, wonder if he will truly have the mix of pitches to remain a starter, as he is still working on a changeup and relies on the live fastball.
12. Sean West, lhp
Mesa Solar Sox (Marlins)
West, a first-round supplemental pick in 2005, continued to open eyes in the AFL. The former Shreveport high schooler missed all of 2007 because of labrum surgery but this year got in 100 innings, striking out 92, at high Class A Jupiter. With West also free of problematic blisters on his hand, his 6-foot-8, 200-pound frame creates great downward movement, and his 94-95 mph fastball jumps on hitters. He also has refined his a get-me-over slider into one with more bite and break. If he can be tougher against righthanders and command his fastball on both sides of the plate, West can be extremely valuable as a starter.
13. Julio Borbon, cf
Surprise Rafters (Rangers)
A first-round pick in 2007 out of Tennessee, Borbon earned high marks as a line-drive hitter who takes a plan to the plate and enhances it with a good approach. Some see Borbon as a leadoff hitter who also could hit lower in second half of the order. He doesn't have a ton of power, but he has decent speed and his arm is playable in center. He still needs to learn the nuances of stealing bases and playing center, as he tries to make the spectacular play when a smarter, safer approach would be better. In 2008, he opened at high Class A Stockton and reached Double-A Frisco in late June, with roughly the same strikeout-to-walk ratio but far less success on stolen base attempts.
14. Sean Doolittle, 1b/of
Phoenix Desert Dogs (Athletics)
In college at Virginia, Doolittle hit 22 home runs in three seasons while also pulling duty as a lefthanded pitcher. His power may be beginning to develop, as Doolittle entered the AFL having cracked 22 home runs combined at high Class A Stockton and Double-A Midland. A first-round supplemental pick in 2007, he then added eight more in the AFL. His power surprised scouts, who also liked his smooth stroke and patience at the plate. He played first and also showed some arm strength in right field in the AFL. Doolittle probably needs to continue to get stronger in order to drive more balls if he is to become a corner infielder or corner outfielder.
15. Tyler Flowers, c
Mesa Solar Sox (Braves)
As one scout put it when it came time to talk about Flowers, "What's not to like?" A draft-and-follow ahead of the 2006 draft, Flowers ripped 17 home runs and drew more walks (98) than RBIs (88) at high Class A Myrtle Beach before going on to win the AFL's home run title (12) while maintaining a high on-base percentage. That came as part of the AFL's highest-scoring offense. But will he stick at catcher? He still has work to do behind the plate with his footwork and receiving.
16. Aaron Poreda, lhp
Peoria Saguaros (White Sox)
Deemed off-limits in trade talks at the deadline, the hard-throwing Poreda continued to win admirers in the AFL despite pitching in limited duty out of the bullpen. Because the 2007 first-round pick was generally working only one inning, Poreda could fire away with a fastball that sat in the mid-90s. But he's still obviously trying to tighten his slider, which will be the key to Poreda sticking in the White Sox rotation. But there is plenty to get excited about. His fastball has such heavy sink that some believe he is one of those rare pitchers who could get by with it-and with it alone-to have success. In his first full season in 2008, Poreda, a first-round pick in 2007, was 8-9, 3.13 with 118 strikeouts and 40 walks in 161 innings.
17. Jason Donald, ss
Mesa Solar Sox (Phillies)
The AFL culminated a fine season for Donald, who finished second in batting and slugging in the Double-A Eastern League and also played for Team USA's bronze-medal winning club in the Beijing Games. He can do it all as Donald split his AFL days playing second, third and short. He doesn't have a dynamic tool, but one scout raved, "When you look at this list five years from now, he's going to be a good ball player." He squares the ball up, makes hard contact and shows power. It showed. He finished second in the AFL in batting and was among the top five in both on-base and slugging.
18. Scott Cousins, of
Mesa Solar Sox (Marlins)
A third-round pick in 2006 out of San Francisco, where he was a two-way player, Cousins enjoyed a solid sophomore year in pro ball. He stayed at high Class A Jupiter only two months before being promoted to Double-A Carolina. He's got the athleticism to play center but likely will be in right field, and has the bat to hold down the position. For example, he had 20 extra-base hits in the cavernous parks of the Florida State League, then hit .297/.385/.624 with 33 RBIs thanks to a late surge in the AFL.
19. Jeff Manship, rhp
Phoenix Desert Dogs (Twins)
Manship wasn't the sexiest name in the AFL—he was a 14th-round pick in 2006 out of Notre Dame—but the 6-foot righthander commands his 91 mph fastball to both sides of the plate with an easy, repeatable delivery. One scout saw him as a Joel Piniero type with a nice, 12-to-6 curve and slight feel for a changeup. And looking for durability? His 32 1/3 innings gave him 187 2/3 for the season.
20. Eric Young Jr., if/of
Phoenix Desert Dogs (Rockies)
Talk about finishing strong. Young won the AFL batting and on-base titles and also led the circuit in steals, with 20. He hit .430/.504/.640 with 10 extra-base hits and 20 RBIs and produced despite learning a new position, center field, as the Rockies kicked the tires on whether he could man the outfield, a situation brought on by their glut of middle infielders. He's built like a brick and plays with max energy, a great sign as Young tried to make up for lost time. He missed a month this season at Double-A Tulsa after undergoing surgery to remove the hamate bone on his left hand.