Chris Kline’s AFL Road Trip: Scouting Alex Gordon

SURPRISE, Ariz.’"The past two weeks have been interesting for Alex Gordon.

After the No. 2 overall pick in this year’™s draft signed on Sept.
29, he hopped a plane the same day and started taking ground balls at
first base in instructional league to prepare for the AFL season.

The Royals sent first baseman Justin Huber home, and with the only
Surprise roster spot available, Gordon filled in for Huber and is
playing exclusively first base this fall. It’™s nothing new; the
everyday starter at third for three years at Nebraska moved to first
base for Team USA last summer, because of Virginia’™s (and Nationals’™
2005 first-rounder) Ryan Zimmerman was the starter on the hot corner
for the Americans.

“I’™ve been there before and it’™s kind of like third’"if the whole
lineup was lefthanded,” Gordon said. “So it’™s not that bad. It’™s not
like they threw me into the fire or anything. I’™m playing with the best
young talent in the game so it’™s truly an honor just to be a part of
it. I wanted to get signed so I could get going, and there’™s no better
place to break in.

“As long as I get a hit, I don’™t care where I play.”

Gordon has played two games for Surprise and recorded his first hit
in nine at-bats as a pro yesterday, but it was enough for a veteran
scout from a National League club to weigh in on the recent
first-rounder, giving some insight into his future ceiling.

“I had to do a double-take during infield,” the scout said. “I was
watching these throws from first base and thought to myself, ‘˜That’™s a
70 arm.’™ You never put 70 grades on arms for first basemen. It screws
up your whole report on a guy because with that kind of arm, you should
be at third. That’™s when I realized it was Gordon.

“He moves well around the bag, good actions, but he’™s wasting his
time playing there this fall as far as I’™m concerned. If this is truly
a developmental league, then let the guy play his natural position. I
know he played there before because of Zimmerman, but Zimmerman’™s not
exactly (Surprise third basemen) Travis Hanson or Corey Smith. Not even
in the same ballpark. He’™s the best true third baseman on this club.

“He’™s clean. Clean in his footwork, in his throws across the
diamond, and in his ability to get to the bag quickly. The bat is
plus-plus. (1995 No. 1 overall pick, also from Nebraska Darin) Erstad
is the guy you compare him to, but they just went to the same
classrooms and played on the same field. Gordon has big power with a
good-looking swing from the left side that has nice leverage. “Before
his first game here, I watched him take BP and there was power to all
fields. Solid-average runner’"he won’™t clog them up. The scary thing
here on this particular club is he’™s been hitting seventh. We’™re
talking (Brandon) Wood, (Billy) Butler, (Howie) Kendrick, (Kendry)
Morales. That’™s a hell of a lot of good hitters on one team.”


• Everyone knows Twins righthander Travis Bowyer can bring
excessive heat, topping out in the high 90s with his plus fastball, but
Bowyer is in the AFL to focus on bringing a quality secondary pitch to
the table for next season. Bowyer, who started off as the setup man at
Triple-A Rochester in 2005, quickly moved to the closer role’"throwing
almost all fastballs while mixing in the occasional changeup during a
successful first half. Bowyer racked up 17 saves and carried a 2.12 ERA
before the all-star break. The second half was a different story,
however, as Bowyer worked on a curveball and struggled with its
command. “I don’™t know if it’™s a curveball or a slider’"it’™s more of a
slurve or whatever you want to call it,” Bowyer said. “But that’™s what
I’™m here working on, just trying to figure out what it’™s going to be
and how to locate it properly. I need that third weapon.”

Bowyer played a part in Surprise shortstop Brandon Wood’™s now
legendary day last Monday when he hit four homers during a 20-1 win
against Grand Canyon. “I’™ve given up three home runs out here, but that
one . . . I have no idea how he got it. It was 97 (mph) and about six
inches off the ground. Whatever. Shoot, I don’™t know. But he drove it
like 400 feet. It really ticked me off because I thought there was no
way he was even going to swing at it. It wasn’™t hittable, except to
him, I guess.”

• There has been no official reason as to why the Brewers removed first baseman Prince Fielder from the AFL, replacing him with Vinny Rottino.
But the consensus among several scouts was that Fielder, who played 39
games in the big leagues as well as the majority of the season at
Triple-A Nashville, was worn out. “He really looked lackadaisical, like
he didn’™t care,” an AL scout said. “I saw him swing at three pitches
during an at-bat’"all breaking balls’"and not even come close. He just
looked worn down. It wouldn’™t surprise me, considering how much he’™s
played. You can only motivate guys so much and to me, it looked like
Mr. Fielder had no interest in being here.”

• With the number of quality third basemen in the AFL’"Gordon, Zimmerman, Ian

Stewart (Rockies), Andy LaRoche (Dodgers), Matt Moses (Twins)’"one third baseman not to overlook is Josh Fields.
A first-round pick of the White Sox out of Oklahoma State in 2004,
Fields made major strides defensively at Double-A Birmingham this
season and is continuing to impress this fall. Fields made two
outstanding plays in the Peoria Javelinas’™ 8-2 loss to Phoenix
yesterday’"both were hard-hit balls, but Fields reacted, knocked both
balls down and made the throw to first in time to get both runners. “A
year ago, I don’™t make either play,” Fields said. “I feel like I’™ve
gotten two times better fielding-wise. Before, I would have missed them
and not thrown or overthrown and it would have gotten inside my head. I
used to carry that kind of stuff for days.”

But not anymore. Fields still has things to improve on
defensively’"his range is decent, but could be better, and his lateral
movement is average. But he’™s made a ton of progress in his first full
season when there were questions as to whether he could remain at third
heading in to 2005.

“I’™m just so much more comfortable now compared to last year,” he
said. “I seem to get to balls I shouldn’™t get to. Now if I could make
all the routine plays, that’™d be nice. It’™s a tough spot to play, but I
love it and I’™m finally feeling like that’™s where I belong. I mean, I’™m
even enjoying doing drills to improve my lateral movement. It’™s crazy.”

What also strikes Fields as slightly crazy is being able to turn on the TV this weekend and see former teammate Bobby Jenks pitching in the World Series.

“I guess it kind of makes you realize how close you are,” Fields
said. “Wow. I played with that dude for a little over half a season and
now he’™s there. He’™s made the best of his shot. I think everyone out
here is starting to realize that we’™re a lot closer than we sometimes

• Pirates catcher Neil Walker has always been regarded as
being mature for his age, and the recently-turned 20-year-old did a lot
of growing up in his first full season. Walker started the year at low
Class A Hickory, where he hit .301-12-68 in 485 at-bats for the
Crawdads. He was called up to high Class A Lynchburg for the playoff
run in late August, but it was at midseason when Walker began figuring
things out.

“The first half of the season at Hickory, I was just kind of
throwing signs down and not really getting a read for the hitters, not
getting a read for the pitchers,” Walker said. “Something just clicked
around the all-star break and I kind of started to see the whole
picture. I got a really good feel for getting focused and staying
focused on what pitchers were trying to do and what hitters were trying
to do, rather than sitting back there and calling stuff and not really
thinking ahead–not anticipating things the way I should have been
doing in the beginning of the season.”

Walker, a first-round pick in 2004, is in the AFL to further hone his work behind the plate and game-calling skills.

“It’™s a lot of technique stuff,” Walker said. “A lot of the games
are high scoring, so there isn’™t much running. But I’™m working on
keeping my feet moving and some things in my throwing mechanics. I need
to keep working on always being on my toes. Even where there’™s no one
on base, receiving everything and keeping it in front of me regardless
of the situation’"I’™m taking an awful lot of pride in what I’™m doing
back there.”