2012 Arizona Fall League Roster Analysis





MESA SOLAR SOX

Top Prospect:
The Solar Sox have the most prospect-laden roster in the AFL, though that could change as organizations such as the Yankees, Blue Jays and Giants fill out their TBA slots. The Sox boast 2011 Cubs first-rounder Javier Baez, an offensive wunderkind with 13 homers in his first 290 pro at-bats, as well as Detroit's Nick Castellanos, who's listed as an outfielder as he continues his Miguel Cabrera-inspired move off third base. A case also could be made for Astros first baseman Jonathan Singleton, posting a crisp .894 OPS with 20 homers as a 20-year-old in Double-A.

Bounce-Back Candidate: Matt Szczur was hitting just .202 in his first 30 games at Double-A Tennessee, and the former Villanova football star has a ways to go at 23 to become the Cubs' leadoff man of the future. The AFL at-bats will bring him needed additional experience.

Young Gun: Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig isn't the youngest player on this team, but he's the newest to North American professional baseball. He's also the richest after signing a $42 million major league deal in July, and he'll be one of the most scrutinized as he gets his first extended look at advanced pro pitching.

Sleeper: With all the high-profile bats on the Solar Sox, the sleeper figures to be a pitcher that breaks out. With the Dodgers' thinned system, lefthander Steve "Paco" Rodriguez has a chance to move up their prospect list. The 2012 draftee out of Florida, already in Double-A, should zoom to the majors if he maintains his low-90s stuff and wipeout slider from his days closing for the Gators.

Time Is Running Out For:
The Astros liked Jio Mier's progress this spring as he quieted his approach at the plate and incorporated a new load to his swing. But an ankle injury short-circuited his most productive season since the 2009 first-rounder's debut in the Appalachian League. With all the changes in Houston, Mier will have to impress to earn a spot on the 40-man roster.

Reunited: Puig is the more famous Cuban thanks to his $42 million contract, but he'll be teamed with Rubi Silva, the Cubs infielder and fellow Cuban emigre. Both are veterans of Cuba's 18U national team, with Silva playing on the '07 team (with Adeiny Hechevarria, Jose Iglesias and Dayan Viciedo, among others), while Puig played on the '08 model.


PEORIA JAVELINAS

Top Prospect:
Mariners catcher Mike Zunino gets the slight edge over Reds shortstop Billy Hamilton, who is listed on the roster as an outfielder. The 2012 College Player of the Year, Zunino was the No. 3 pick in the draft, signed for $4 million and didn't skip a beat with the bat. Over his first 150 pro at-bats, he is hitting .367/.458/.720 with 13 home runs between short-season Everett and Double-A Jackson. Zunino may arrive in Arizona a little late, however, as he's set to be married on Oct. 6. Hamilton was the biggest story in the minor leagues this year after breaking Vince Coleman's single-season stolen base record. His defense has always been a question, however. The Reds are getting a solid rookie season out of Zack Cozart at shortstop and Hamilton has made 31 errors this season, so he'll spend his time in Peoria covering some serious ground in center field.

Trying To Bounce Back: Twins righthander Kyle Gibson had Tommy John surgery last September. For an operation that usually keeps pitchers off the mound for 12 months, Gibson recovered quickly and was back on the mound in a game July 10. He's pitched well in his return over 25 innings, already has 22 career Triple-A starts and could see the big leagues in 2013 depending on how things go from here.

Young Gun: The youngest player on the roster is catcher Tommy Joseph, who was traded to the Phillies this summer along with righthander Seth Rosin for Hunter Pence. Joseph slugged 22 home runs last year in the California League, but has found Double-A to be more of a challenge. Padres outfielder Rymer Liriano has been promoted aggressively this season after a monster year (.319/.383/.499 with 65 stolen bases) in the Midwest League as a 20-year-old. Liriano spent half a season in the California League (where he finished in 2011) before being promoted to Double-A San Antonio. Mariners shortstop Nick Franklin is the fourth-youngest player on the team (Zunino is third), but is already in Triple-A.

Sleeper Prospect: While Reds lefthander Tony Cingrani has gotten more ink this summer, the pitcher with the lowest ERA in the California League has been Padres righthander Kevin Quackenbush. An eighth-round pick who signed for just $5,000 last year (the lowest signing bonus in the top 10 rounds) out of South Florida, Quackenbush is 3-2, 0.94 with 27 saves, 70 strikeouts and 22 walks over 58 innings. The last time a pitcher posted an ERA below 1.00 with as many innings in the hitter-friendly California League was Dennis Tankersley with his 0.52 ERA over 52 innings with Lake Elsinore in 2001. Quackenbush doesn't overpower hitters. He sits in the low-90s and relies mostly on spotting up his fastball to all parts of the zone. His secondary stuff is below-average—his best offering is a short slider, but he also mixes in a changeup—and he also has some funk and deception to his delivery. There's no arguing with his numbers, though. Over his first 100 innings since signing, Quackenbush is 5-3, 0.81 with 45 saves, 67 hits allowed, 141 strikeouts and 34 walks.

Time Is Running Out:
Phillies outfielder Zach Collier signed for a little over $1 million as the 34th overall player picked in 2008 out of Chino Hills (Calif.) High. He's amassed more than 1,200 minor league at-bats since then, but his performance has lagged behind his potential, as he's a career .247/.314/.352 hitter, and he has a 50-game PED suspension on his ledger. Collier has a lean, athletic frame at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, shows above-average speed and can cover a lot of ground in center field with a strong arm. At the plate, Collier has bat speed and shows flashes of power.

Reunited: Lefthanders Logan Darnell (Twins) and James Paxton (Mariners) both pitched for Kentucky in 2008 and 2009.

PHOENIX DESERT DOGS

Top Prospect:
Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich impressed managers and scouts around the Florida State League with his all-around game. He's a solid center fielder who can run, field, hit for power and hit for average. On a team without a lot of star power, Yelich stands out.

Bounce-Back Candidate: Brewers righthander Santo Manzanillo's stats in 2012 are pretty unimpressive until you remember that he was pitching just months after he was seriously injured in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Manzanillo made it back onto the mound ahead of schedule. Now he needs to show that his stuff he's regained the mid-90s power stuff that made him one of the Brewers' best pitching prospects before the injury.

Young Gun: He'll only play twice a week because he's on the taxi squad, but Rays third baseman Richie Shaffer, a 2012 first-round pick, will get to make a significant jump in caliber of competition. He's spent a solid, but not spectacular, pro debut at short-season Hudson Valley (New York-Penn), so the jump to facing Double-A and Triple-A pitchers should be a very eye-opening experience.

Sleeper: A year ago, Andrelton Simmons established his prospect credentials with an excellent season the Carolina League. Fellow Braves shortstop Nick Ahmed didn't match Simmons' Carolina League production, but he did show plenty of potential at the plate and on the basepaths to go with solid defense at shortstop. He doesn't have Simmons' range, but he does have the chance to develop into a solid big league shortstop.

Time Is Running Out For: Rays infielder Tim Beckham is trying to catch up for lost time after he was suspended for 50 games for violating Minor League Baseball's recreational drug rules. Beckham's power flashes are tempered by inconsistent pitch recognition and a modest feel for hitting. The Fall League will give him another chance to try to tap into the power scouts expect to see him produce.

Reunited: Rays third baseman Richie Shaffer and Athletics catcher Max Stassi both played for USA Baseball's 16-and-under team in 2007. The team also featured Mariners shortstop Nick Franklin (Peoria), Diamondbacks third baseman Matt Davidson (Salt River), Angels outfielder Randal Grichuk (Scottsdale) and Dodgers lefthander Paco Rodriguez (Mesa).

SALT RIVER RAFTERS

Top Prospect:
Nationals infielder Anthony Rendon needs plenty of at-bats after an ankle injury wiped out most of his first pro season. As long as he stays healthy—a problem each of the last three years for the 2010 College Player of the Year—he'll get the chance to play almost every day in Salt River. He has just 114 at-bats this season after getting none in 2011.

Bounce-Back Candidate: With Stephen Drew traded, shortstop is open in Arizona for Chris Owings. The 21-year-old stumbled in the second half after a promotion to Double-A Mobile and continues to be struggle with pitch recognition at times, leading to a 24-128 walk-strikeout ratio. His power (17 homers overall) and solid defense at short make the strikeouts worth it.

Young Gun: Carlos Sanchez has had one of the minors' best breakout seasons, another good story in the White Sox' feel-good season. The speedy second baseman zoomed to Triple-A as a 20-year-old during a .323 season that included a Futures Game stint.

Sleeper: Kevin Pillar is a Reed Johnson starter kit.  Like Johnson, he's a Southern California college product with lots of average tools, slightly above-average speed, a surprising feel for hitting and a grinder's mentality. With a .328.374/.471 minor league line, Pillar is likely the best pure hitter in the Blue Jays' loaded farm system.

Time Is Running Out For: Christian Garcia just turned 27 and the former Yankees prospect is just coming into his own as a reliever in the Nationals system, reaching 49 innings, his most since 2008. Garcia still hits 96 mph with his fastball, his curve remains a weapon and he has some feel for pitching. If he can stay healthy, this AFL stint could springboard him to Washington in 2013.

Reunited: Outfielders Brian Goodwin (Nationals) and Jake Marisnick (Blue Jays) were teammates on the Baseball Factory team in the 2008 Under Armour All-America Game. That game also featured Franklin, Astros first baseman Bobby Borchering (Mesa), Stassi and Rodriguez.

SCOTTSDALE SCORPIONS

Top Prospect:
The 2010 High School Player of the Year, Kaleb Cowart wanted to hit, not pitch, and the Angels gave him that chance. After a slow start to his pro career, Cowart has started to play more like his idol, Chipper Jones. Like Jones, Cowart is a switch-hitting athletic third baseman with strong hands and power. He's hit his way through two Class A stops this season.

Bounce-Back Candidate:
Austin Romine has missed much of the season with lower back problems, playing just 26 games. Just when Jesus Montero got traded, Romine's star dimmed, and J.R. Murph and Gary Sanchez are rising fast behind him in the Yankees farm system. Romine still has power and catch-and-throw skills; they need to show up in the Fall League for him to get to New York in 2013.

Young Gun: Cowart is the team's youngest player, but the Indians have assigned two 20-year-olds as well in catcher Alex Monsalve and middle infielder Ronny Rodriguez. While Rodriguez flashes plus power and defensive ability, his game lacks consistency and will be tested in the AFL. Monsalve has even better hitting feel and similar power potential, though some scouts question if he'll outgrow catcher.

Sleeper: Gift Ngoepe has shown enough flashes with the glove to project a potential big league future for the South African. But he still needs to show significant improvement at the plate after a solid but unspectacular season in the Florida State League. He'll head to the AFL after playing for South Africa in a World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament in Jupiter, Fla., in September.

Time Is Running Out For:
David Adams missed most of 2010 and 2011 after a severe ankle injury and complications in his recovery, but came back to rake for Double-A Trenton. At 25, he's moved to third base in August to give him another option with Robinson Cano manning second in New York.

Reunited: Giants outfielder Gary Brown and Indians lefthander Matt Packer were teammates on the Orleans Firebirds in the Cape Cod League in 2009.

SURPRISE SAGUAROS

Top Prospect:
Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong didn't wait til the signing deadline to agree to a deal like most of his fellow 2011 first-round picks. As a result, he got enough at-bats to jump to Double-A this year. The second baseman has to supplant Skip Schumaker in St. Louis, and a strong Fall League season could be a further indicator that he'll be ready for the big leagues in 2013.

Bounce-Back Candidate: Mets outfielder Cesar Puello still has plenty of tools, but he's shown no progress in turning those tools into production. Puello missed significant time this year with a fractured hamate bone so he gets somewhat of a pass for struggling while repeating the Florida State League, but he needs to work on recognizing breaking balls. Playing in the Fall League will give him another chance to stop chasing pitches out of the zone.

Young Gun: Yet another in the long line of Rangers' shortstop prospects, 19-year-old Luis Sardinas is one of the younger players in the Fall League. Amazingly, he may feel like he's on the slow track after a solid season at low Class A Hickory, because he signed with the Rangers the same year as Jurickson Profar, who is now ahead of him both developmentally and on the organizational depth chart.

Sleeper: Cardinals outfielder Mike O'Neill has yet to meet a pitcher who he can't work into a long at-bat that often ends with him jogging to first on a walk. O'Neill will bring the minors' best strikeout-to-walk rate to the Fall League to see if he can work the same mojo on more advanced AFL pitchers.

Time Is Running Out For: Cardinals righthander Seth Blair's pro career has been nothing like he would have hoped. A 2010 supplemental first-round pick out of Arizona State, Blair missed time in 2011 when he was suspended by the club for unspecified violations of team rules. This year, he missed almost the entire season because of surgery to remove a benign tumor in a finger on his pitching hand. His career is still young, but Blair has to show improved control if he's ever going to reach his considerable ceiling.

Reunited: Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong and Red Sox outfielder Bryce Brentz were both members of USA Baseball's 2009 Collegiate National Team. Cubs righthander Tony Zych (Mesa) was also on the team.