Arizona Fall League Notebook: Oct. 20

PHOENIX–Rangers outfielder John Mayberry Jr. was the talk of the town today . . . and not just among scouts at Phoenix Municipal Stadium watching the Surprise Rafters take on the Desert Dogs.

Every scout and front office person hanging around the Brewers’ final instructional league game against the Dodgers in Maryvale wanted to discuss Mayberry as one of the Arizona Fall League’s top prospects.
“That’s a guy that needs to be on that list,” said one farm director from a National League club. “He’s going to be one of those guys people give up on too early. A lot of people already have because he hasn’t really controlled the strike zone, but I really think that goes back to him just being another long, lean guy with long arms. It’s just taken a while for him to get his timing down. This guy has huge raw power to all fields.”

The power has never been a question for Mayberry, the 19th overall pick in 2005 out of Stanford.

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.

The 23-year-old outfielder batted .235/.311/.474 in 489 at-bats between high Class A Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco during the regular season, hitting for a higher average in the Texas League. But Mayberry struck out 126 times in 2007 after whiffing 117 times in 459 at-bats in the low Class A Midwest League in 2006.

“He did show the ability to catch up with the plus fastball at Frisco,” Rangers director of player personnel Scott Servais said. “We hadn’t seen that before. He’s making strides and he knows what he has to do to get better.”

Aside from the buzz among scouts in the AFL regarding Mayberry’s approach, the other hot topic of conversation was his body.

“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.”

But in reality, Mayberry–who is 6-foot-6, 230 pounds–hasn’t lost an ounce since he came into the system two years ago.

“I’m actually the identical same weight I was in college,” Mayberry said. “Maybe it’s the way the uniform fits or something . . . I have to wear my pants up? I don’t know. I’m the same. I don’t think I’m any leaner than I was in college at all. And I’m still 230.”

Servais also mentioned the uniform fitting differently, and said he’s been the same weight since Day 1 in the organization.

“Well then, for whatever reason it still looks like he lost 30 to 40 pounds,” another scout from a National League organization said. “He just looks more athletic, and his times to first base are much better. He might have just learned to hit that next gear.

“This is a guy who has holes in his swing–there’s his inability to handle breaking balls, but he also has that hole thigh-high inside that he’s going to have to learn to handle. Richie Sexson has the same hole. I think once he gets his timing down it’ll help him make more consistent contact.

“If he doesn’t, it’s going to be a question if Texas can live with him being a .250 hitter in the big leagues who can jack 30-to-35 homers and be a play a pretty good right field.”

One guy who doesn’t want his club to live with that–or any other deficiency in his game–is Mayberry.

“I think I did OK this year,” Mayberry said. “I was pretty happy with the power numbers. But at the same time I have to put the ball in play more and I need to do that to help the team at the big league level.

“I want to be a better run-producer. I’m just out here trying to become a more disciplined hitter, work on my pitch selection and trying to use the whole field.”

Dog Will Hunt

After spending much of his college career at Florida State on the shelf, the Red Sox took a chance on lefthander Hunter Jones, who is now pitching for the Mesa Solar Sox in the AFL.

Jones, a nondrafted free agent in 2005, pitched with a stress fracture in his elbow throughout his sophomore season with the Seminoles before deciding to turn pro. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound lefty rebounded big time and made 35 appearances at low Class A Greenville in 2006, where he went 4-5, 3.34 with 100 strikeouts in 94 innings with the Drive.

That performance earned him priority status out of the bullpen at high Class A Lancaster this past season, where he put up impressive 4-1, 2.11 numbers in 47 innings in the ultimate hitter’s league before being promoted to Double-A Portland.

“You have to remember he pitched in a very hitter-friendly environment,” Mesa coach and 2007 Lancaster manager Chad Epperson said. “He did an outstanding job for us despite any conditions he had to endure.”

Jones continued to prove himself with the Sea Dogs, going 2-1, 3.19 with 43 strikeouts in 42 innings of work. The 23-year-old lefty has exceptional stuff from the left side.

“He’s really interesting,” Espperson said. “He’s 91-92 (miles-per-hour) with his fastball, and very deceptive with his delivery. That velocity’s not real hard these days, but you see these tardy swings–that fastball gets in on you.

“And then he’s got this little Bugs Bunny curveball–it’s a soft curveball with very good depth–and he’s fiddling with a slider right now.”

Juking It Out

Reds lefthander Ben Jukich has been rocked around in his first two starts for the Surprise Rafters in the AFL, allowing six earned runs on 10 hits in 6 2/3 innings.

Acquired along with reliever Marcus McBeth in the Chris Denorifa deal that was completed in June, Jukich was impressive during the regular season with Cincinnati, going 8-2, 3.55 at high Class A Sarasota.

But one scout wasn’t sold on Jukich’s upside as he continues on with another organization.

“There are things mechanically that I’m not too sure about,” an American League scout said. “He wraps a little bit in the back and doesn’t get real good extension through his delivery.

“He doesn’t repeat his delivery well, which leads him to have trouble throwing his breaking ball for a strike and he isn’t very athletic. There just isn’t very much arm speed to get the ball out of his hand without a lot of effort.”