Arizona Fall League Top 10 Prospects
After Strasburg, hitters highlight AFL class
The perennially hitter-friendly Arizona Fall League lived up to its reputation this year. The league as a whole hit .283/.361/.443, giving pitchers a combined 5.35 ERA. While Stephen Strasburg made his unofficial pro debut for the Nationals, and several other 2009 first-round picks pitched in the AFL, the league's best prospects were position players.
To qualify for the list, a player must have had a minimum of 32 plate appearances (one per team game) or pitched 10 2⁄3 innings. Right fielders Jason Heyward (Braves) and Mike Stanton (Marlins) would have ranked prominently but did not meet the playing time cutoff.
1. Stephen Strasburg, rhp, Nationals
You were expecting someone else?
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft, Strasburg didn't play in the minors after signing on Aug. 17, getting a quick tuneup at instructional league before heading to the AFL. Strasburg had one shaky start in the AFL but otherwise dominated with a fastball that sat at 94-99 mph and touched triple digits, mixing in a plus-plus breaking ball. Facing professional hitters also gave Strasburg the opportunity to work in his plus changeup, a third swing-and-miss offering. The only negative for Strasburg came after his final start, when he twisted his knee in pregame warmups, though he won't require surgery.
2. Buster Posey, c, Giants
Scouts coming into the AFL expected to see more from Posey, who hadn't played regularly since August and seemed to many to be worn down after his first full year in pro ball. Despite his struggles, there isn't much to be concerned about with Posey, who has four potentially average or better tools. He has a good, quick swing and doesn't strike out much. With his plate discipline, he should regularly rank among the top catchers in the league in OBP, though he might only have average power. Posey has a strong arm and a quick release. His athleticism helps his agility behind the plate, though he is a below-average runner, and some scouts question his ability to receive good velocity.
3. Domonic Brown, rf, Phillies
Scouts were eager to get a look at Heyward and Stanton, but the two left the league early due to injuries. In their absence, Brown became the position player in the league with arguably the most superstar potential. Brown is an excellent athlete with a 6-foot-5, 204-pound frame that screams projection. He has terrific bat speed, good feel for the strike zone, a solid two-strike approach and projectable power that is beginning to manifest itself in games. Despite his lofty numbers in the regular season, parts of Brown's game remain green as he grows into his coordination. With above-average speed and a 70 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale, Brown has the tools to be a plus defender, but his routes and instincts still need work.
4. Dustin Ackley, of, Mariners
Ackley has one of the prettiest swings around, a quick, compact stroke with good extension, though at times he can get caught out on his front foot. With his swing and outstanding speed, he has the potential to be a perennial .300 hitter. At 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, Ackley has a thin lower half and isn't physically imposing. He showcases impressive raw power in batting practice, though his swing isn't geared solely for power.
Ackley's layoff and inexperience in the outfield was evident at times in the AFL, but he has enough speed to outrun his mistakes and be an above-average defender in a corner outfield position. Ackley's arm strength is below-average at best, and some scouts aren't convinced yet that he could handle center field. The Mariners reportedly will try to keep his middle-of-the-diamond options open by trying him at second base as well.
5. Josh Bell, 3b, Orioles
Considered a defensive liability coming into the season, Bell got himself into better condition and answered questions about his ability to remain at third base. He's still a below-average runner, but Bell has become a solid defender at third base with smoother actions, cleaner footwork, improved range, good hands and an above-average arm.
At the plate, Bell has excellent raw power and could hit 25-plus home runs annually. He can work the count well to get on base, and while he doesn't strike out excessively, he could do more to tighten up his strike zone and not get himself out on pitchers' pitches. Though he's a switch-hitter, Bell has hit significantly better as a lefthanded batter throughout his entire career.
6. Jenrry Mejia, rhp, Mets
The results weren't pretty, not with a 12.56 ERA and 13 walks in 14 1/3 innings for Surprise. But Mejia showed one of the league's strongest arms with a 90-96 mph fastball that touched 98. His fastball at times has excellent cutting life, and at other times he'll put sink on it to generate an abundance of ground balls.
Mejia still needs to bring his secondary pitches up to par, but each one flashes potential. His most advanced offspeed pitch is his changeup, which he throws with good arm speed and has good depth at times. His curveball comes and goes, though it flashes quick break at 78-82 mph.
7. Freddie Freeman, 1b, Braves
Injuries have muted Freeman's offensive output since he reached Double-A this year shortly before his 20th birthday, making it difficult for some scouts to get a good read on him. After battling wrist problems at the end of the minor league season in Double-A Mississippi, Freeman missed time in the AFL with a hyperextended elbow that had been bothering him.
Freeman has an advanced idea of how to hit for his age and plus raw power potential, but he hasn't yet translated his home run power from batting practice into game situations, though that should come with experience. At first base Freeman has smooth actions, good hands and a strong arm.
8. Yonder Alonso, 1b, Reds
Like Freeman, Alonso has been difficult for some scouts to evaluate in the AFL due to injury. Alonso hasn't been the same hitter since missing two months in the second half of the minor league season because of a broken hamate bone. Alonso hasn't been able to drive the ball with as much authority as he recovers from the hamate injury, and he seemed visibly frustrated at times in the AFL.
When healthy, Alonso has above-average power and good bat speed, allowing him to let the ball travel deep in the zone and wear out the gaps. His plate discipline helps him get into good hitter's counts and get on base at a high clip. All of his value should come from his hitting, as he's a well below-average runner and a limited fielder.
9. Starlin Castro, ss, Cubs
Castro continued his skyrocketing pace through the minor leagues with an impressive showing in the AFL. With an athletic, projectable body, Castro has a short, compact swing with good bat speed. He stays inside the ball well and has a good two-strike approach with good feel for the barrel, putting the ball in play and letting his speed take over. Castro is athletic and fields his position well, showing good range and a strong, accurate arm.
Castro has well below-average present power, though with his frame and bat speed he should grow into more pop in time. He still needs to work the count better—he drew three walks in 106 trips to the plate in the AFL—but this season was his first facing competition above rookie ball.
10. Ike Davis, 1b, Mets
Even after Davis hit .298/.381/.524 in 114 games between the high Class A Florida State League and Double-A Eastern League, the 2008 first-round pick still draws mixed reviews. Davis has the raw power to hit 25-30 home runs annually, though he has a somewhat unorthodox swing, starting his stance with a high hand setup then dropping his hands before he hits. He crushes righthanded pitching but still needs to show he can hit enough against lefties. Davis has below-average speed, but he moves well around first base and has a strong arm.
Jonathan Lucroy, c, Brewers:
Lucroy has made steady progress with his hitting and fielding since signing as a third-round pick in 2007. He was one of the more impressive all-around catchers in the AFL, showing improved footwork and quick pop times—as low as 1.8 seconds on occasion. A disciplined hitter who works both gaps well with a solid swing, Lucroy gets on base at an above-average clip, and he should become more dangerous as he gets stronger and grows into more power.
Jose Iglesias, ss, Red Sox:
Signed this year out of Cuba, Iglesias went to the AFL to get his first chance to face top minor league competition. Iglesias' bat is still a question mark but his glovework is outstanding, as he seemed to make a striking impression on anyone who watched him in the field.
Chase D'Arnaud, ss/2b/3b, Pirates:
D'Arnaud is an athletic, versatile player with well-rounded skills. Some scouts see him as a future utility player, while others say they are more impressed each time they see him. D'Arnaud has improved his plate discipline since signing and had nearly as many walks as strikeouts during the minor league season thanks to his hands, ability to use the whole field and willingness to work the count. While he's not a burner, D'Arnaud led the AFL with 13 steals while only getting caught twice.
Kenley Jansen, rhp, Dodgers:
Jansen converted from catching to pitching during the middle of the minor league season, but he showed more polish than one might expect from a recent conversion project. Jansen has the arm strength to routinely pump mid-90s fastballs, though he's still learning to command the pitch along with his slider and changeup.
Brandon Snyder, 1b, Orioles:
Not every scout sees Snyder as a future big league regular, but his improved defense made an impression on Phoenix manager Gary Cathcart. Snyder has good hands and has worked hard to improve his footwork around the bag. Snyder is a solid hitter who walked more than he struck out in the AFL, though he doesn't have prototypical power for a first baseman.
Robbie Weinhardt, rhp, Tigers:
Weinhardt gave up a combined seven runs in three innings in his first two AFL appearances, then went on to lead the AFL with 29 strikeouts in 18 innings while pitching exclusively in relief. He didn't allow a run in his final 13 innings on the strength of a lively low-90s fastball that touched 95 mph.
Mike Moustakas, 3b, Royals:
Moustakas has excellent bat speed, raw power and has good feel for the barrel, but his approach at the plate still has a ways to go. His impatience makes it tough for him to get on base because he doesn't walk much and gets himself out too often on pitchers' pitches. He has a strong arm but some scouts are concerned that his body has gotten thicker over the course of the season and affected his defense.
Carlos Triunfel, ss/2b/3b, Mariners:
A broken left leg wiped out virtually all of Triunfel's 2009 minor league regular season. Already a below-average runner, he needs to get into better physical condition after the layoff. Triunfel's best tool is his plus arm, but he probably doesn't have the range to play up the middle and hasn't overwhelmed at the plate, where he wraps his bat and hasn't shown much patience or power yet.
Nick Weglarz, lf, Indians:
Weglarz still has outstanding plate discipline and power-hitting potential, but his already massive size (listed at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds) at age 21 is becoming a concern for some scouts. Weglarz won't have much defensive value, and his AFL campaign ended early so he could have surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left shin.
Brandon Allen, 1b, Diamondbacks:
Allen has plus raw power and is a pretty good athlete for a player listed at 6-foot-2, 235 pounds. Yet there are still several scouts who think Allen has plenty of holes in his swing and is mostly a hitter who took advantage of mistake pitches this year. His numbers took a nosedive as his strikeout rate soared in his big league callup, and 33 strikeouts in 30 games led to a .177/.316/.274 line in the AFL.
Daryl Jones, lf, Cardinals:
A variety of leg ailments hampered Jones throughout the minor league season, when he batted .279/.360/.389 in 80 games for Double-A Springfield. His struggles continued in the AFL, where his strikeout rate increased as he slumped to a .205/.333/.352 line in 24 games. Putting the ball in play with greater frequency will be crucial for Jones, who at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds doesn't project as a classic power-hitting left fielder.
David Cooper, 1b, Blue Jays:
Cooper had an underwhelming year with Double-A New Hampshire, then continued with a mediocre showing in the AFL. A first-round pick out of California in 2008, Cooper has shown limited power and a 6-foot, 200-pound frame that doesn't project for prototypical first-base power.