2011 Top 10 Arizona Fall League Prospects
PHOENIX—This year's version of Major League Baseball's premier development league boasted six 2011 first-round draft choices, including the first and second overall picks in Gerrit Cole (Pirates) and Danny Hultzen (Mariners). The Scottsdale Scorpions roster included two players, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, ranked at the top of Baseball America's Top 100 list entering 2011, and the Surprise Saguaros team that set a new league record for winning percentage with .722 included a bevy of marquee players on its roster.
To qualify for the list, a player must have had a minimum of one plate appearance per team game (35 to 38, depending on the team) or pitched one inning for every three games played by the team.
1. Bryce Harper, of, Scorpions (Nationals):
Harper's second AFL season got off to a slow start, as the 19-year-old went 3 for 27 in the first two weeks of the season. But he hit .424 with six home runs over the rest of the season to finish at .333/.400/.634. Harper, with his game-changing hitting skills and jaw-dropping raw power, is still the top prospect in baseball and ranks as the AFL's best for the second straight year. He made steady progress with his pitch selection during the fall, helping lead to a 16-game hitting streak, and scouts were impressed with the ease with which he does everything on the field. Because of the presence of other highly-rated and speedy outfielders on the Scorpions squad, Harper played more often in left field, which he played for 37 games in Double-A this year, and at times looked uncomfortable and/or indifferent in the field.
2. Mike Trout, of, Scorpions (Angels):
Trout, 20, was part of a prospect-heavy Scottsdale outfield that also included Harper, Gary Brown (Giants) and Tyson Gillies (Phillies). He looked worn down after spending the month of September in the big leagues, finishing the fall with a season total of 156 games played. Scouts commented that Trout wasn't the same intimidating player they had seen during the minor league season. He was impatient at the plate, leading to an unsightly 5-33 walk-strikeout ratio, and didn't barrel up balls with any consistency. But at times he flashed his incredible tool set.
3. Danny Hultzen, lhp, Javelinas (Mariners):
The Mariners drafted Hultzen No. 2 overall in June out of the University of Virginia, and he made his pro debut in the AFL after signing a major league contract that included a $6.35 million signing bonus. Hultzen impressed in all six of his outings, ranking third in the league in ERA at 1.40 in 19 innings, and added a strong two innings in the Rising Stars game. He had plus command of three pitches and showed that he knows how to pitch. Hultzen was very consistent, never giving up more than one run in any game. Scouts agree that he doesn't have the power repertoire of a true No. 1 starter but is almost certain to become a quality major league pitcher, perhaps as early as next season.
4. Gerrit Cole, rhp, Solar Sox (Pirates):
Cole was the first overall selection in the 2011 draft and, like Hultzen, made his first pro appearance in Arizona. The UCLA product consistently hit triple digits with his heater and showed three plus pitches in his five AFL starts, generally looking like a pitcher worthy of being the No. 1 pick. Like in college, he struggled at times with consistency of his command and feel for the breaking pitches; this tendency was especially evident in the Rising Stars game in which he gave up five runs and didn't make it out of the first inning. Cole's upside is higher, but scouts see Hultzen as being more of a sure thing.
5. Wil Myers, of, Saguaros (Royals):
Myers was coming off a lackluster regular season at the Double-A level when he was hampered by a knee problem, but he dispelled any doubts about his prospect status with a strong AFL season in which he hit .360/.481/.674. His plate discipline improved in the fall, as he drew 20 walks against 18 strikeouts in 86 at-bats. Scouts noticed a tendency for Myers to turn it up a notch in clutch situations, and he has fast hands that help him generate above-average power. While the converted catcher is still relatively new to the outfield, he projects to be a solid outfielder with enough arm to play right field.
6. Nolan Arenado, 3b, Rafters (Rockies):
Arenado, the league MVP, homered in the championship game to help his Rafters team capture the AFL crown, topping off a fall season in which he hit .388/.423/.636 with a league leading 47 hits and 12 doubles. He's still only 20 and has yet to reach Double-A, making Arenado's progress one of the biggest stories in the AFL this year. He made consistent contact, striking out only 14 times in 121 at-bats, and showed a knack for driving in runs. Most impressive was his development in the field, as he now projects to be a quality defender at third base thanks to improved conditioning during the last offseason.
7. Mike Olt, 3b, Saguaros (Rangers):
Olt, 23, used the AFL season to make up for lost time after the righthanded hitter broke his collarbone in June and missed a significant part of the summer. He led the league in home runs (13), RBIs (43), total bases (81) and slugging percentage (.764), coming just short of tying AFL records in the first two categories. Olt projects to be a solid-average hitter with above-average power in the big leagues. He'll be at least an average defender at third base.
8. Michael Choice, of, Desert Dogs (Athletics):
Choice played only 17 games in the AFL and hit six homers in 66 at-bats while batting .318/.423/.667. He's got good bat speed and projects to be a solid middle-of-the-order hitter with enough bat to play a corner outfield position, although he was better in center field than scouts expected. He struggled at times with recognizing breaking balls but has the aptitude to make adjustments. Scouts noticed that he's slowed down a bit since his college days and his average arm may be short for right field, so some believe his ultimate position will be in left.
9. Christian Bethancourt, c, Braves:
Bethancourt, a native of Panama who turned 20 just before the Fall League season, showed his enormous potential while playing for the AFL West division champion Surprise Saguaros. The righthanded hitting catcher batted .306/.324/.556 with five homers. His swing can get long at times and he seldom walks, but he's got plus raw power, drawing a comparison to former Braves catcher Javy Lopez. Scouts liked Bethancourt's arm behind the plate and believe he'll continue to get stronger. He's athletic and loose but still has room for improvement in his catching skills.
10. Jedd Gyorko, 3b, Javelinas (Padres):
Gyorko just keeps hitting no matter at what level he plays. The 23-year-old righthanded hitter led the AFL in batting with a .437 average, second-highest in league history behind Ken Harvey's.479 mark set in 2002. He's got good bat speed and consistently squares up balls. Scouts have noticed that he's slowed down since turning pro, both on the bases and in his movements on the field. A shortstop in college, Gyorko likely is limited to third base, but his bat will play there.
The following five players didn't rank among the Top 10 AFL prospects, but scouts loved them and foresee a major league future for each guy.
Scooter Gennett, 2b, Javelinas (Brewers):
Gennett finished second in the AFL in hitting with a .411 average, thanks to a torrid month of November in which the21-year-old hit. 526. The lefthanded batter surprised scouts with how he impacted the ball and made consistent hard contact. At times he tries to play outside his game and needs to remember to not sell out for power. But as one scout said, "He plays pretty big for a little guy." The 5-foot-9, 164-pounder projects to be an average to plus defender at second base.
Adam Eaton, of, Rafters (Diamondbacks):
Like Gennett, Eaton is a 5-foot-9 sparkplug who plays the game the right way. He hit .344/.410/.475 in the AFL after a regular season in which he advanced to Double-A by the end of his first full season in pro ball. He's a hard-nosed gamer with tools. One scout summed him up, saying, "He did things to win games." He's a plus runner, has a an above-average arm and showed surprising pop against righthanded pitching. His lefthanded bat helps him profile at least as a fourth outfielder.
Chris Herrmann, c, Solar Sox (Twins):
This lefthanded-hitting catcher did as much as any prospect to help his standing in the industry with his AFL performance. Herrmann's name came up in every single discussion with scouts covering the league. He's relatively new to the position, having converted from the outfield during the 2010 minor league season. Herrmann also played infield in high school and at the University of Miami, so he could eventually become a valuable utility player at the big league level if he's not an everyday catcher. He's a steady player with a good approach at the plate and decent gap-to-gap power. Since Herrmann hasn't been catching that long there's room for improvement behind the plate, but he's a hard worker and projects to have a solid-average accurate arm. In 15 games behind the plate in the AFL, he didn't commit an error or a passed ball, and he threw out six of 18 basestealers.
Sean Gilmartin, lhp, Saguaros (Braves):
Gilmartin was one of six first-round picks to play in the AFL this year, and he turned in an impressive showing in the fall after pitching six games during the regular season. The former Florida State southpaw showed good control, walking eight batters in 29 innings. His fastball, which gets into the low 90s, has late life movement and he's got good tilt on his curveball while relying less on his plus changeup. Gilmartin should move quickly through the Atlanta system.
Joe Panik, 2b, Scorpions (Giants):
It's rare for a player with only short-season experience to make it the Fall League, but the Giants first round pick turned in a solid AFL season just months after making his pro debut. Panik hit .323/.394/.473 with just 10 strikeouts in 93 at-bats, drawing a comparison to big league second baseman Freddy Sanchez. One scout commented that he could see Panik winning a major league batting title someday. He also showed good actions around second base, likely his long-term position, in his first stint there after playing shortstop en route to being named MVP of the Northwest League.