Prospect Pulse: Nov. 3

See also: New agreement includes changes to draft
See also: Going Deep with CBA negotiators Rob Manfred and Todd Weiner
See also: Draft rules change, but slotting system may fall apart
See also: College coaches generally happy with draft rule tweaks

PHOENIX--When the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was announced and included Rule 5 draft alterations, let's just say that not everyone on the field in the Arizona Fall League was thrilled.

The AFL, which serves as not only a finishing school for each club's top prospects, but also as a combine for pro scouts to get a look at players eligible for December's Rule 5 Draft, took a hit this year with the changes to the CBA.

"We kind of knew where this was going," one American League scouting director said. "And so all of the sudden you're looking at a much smaller pool of players to advance for the Rule 5. For me, that draft is becoming less and less of an issue anyway. But this year, I think you'll see even less movement in December than you normally do."

Players are all aware of what the AFL means, especially coming into a protection year. But for players who thought it was their protection year for the first three weeks of the season, their performance suddenly meant a lot less than it did when the league opened on Oct. 10.

"A lot of guys here are ticked off--like big time," said one pitcher from the Mesa Solar Sox. "Here they are, frustrated with their current situation whatever that might be on their club, and they're thinking, 'OK, I'm going to the Arizona Fall League. Maybe this could be the turnaround, the change of scenery that could alter my entire career.' "

But for many of them, that turned out not to be the case, as the CBA changed the course of their lives for at least one more year.

Position Switch

The new CBA will likely help players undergoing a position change, however. Clubs now have one more year to work with a conversion player, whether the player is switching from shortstop to the outfield, or from a position to the mound.

"The fact that it gives us one more year is a pretty big deal," Phillies assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle said. "That way, you have somewhat of a better idea of what you have from seeing a player move from the outfield to the infield or vice versa--and there are a lot of guys who make the move from position player to pitcher that this will only benefit."

It will also benefit players from outside the U.S., particularly from Latin America. With the number of visas limited due to U.S. law, only a small number of players can come to the States from the Dominican and Venezuelan summer leagues.

Clubs can now protect international free agents--who typically take longer to develop because they enter their organizations at age 16 or 17--for an extra year under the new CBA.

"The impact on Latin American-born players might be even greater that the position-switch guys," one AL assistant GM said. "Before, they'd eat up two years on average in the DSL or VSL and now you might not be as tentative to bring more of them over here after a year if you feel confident in their makeup and ability level."

The Fallout

The AFL is more prospect-laden than usual this season, though last year might have had more impact players. But the league's prospects divide along three lines: those going through the motions, those seeking to make a good impression and on-the-bubble players striving for a new direction for their career.

The last segment might taken a hit in terms of quantity, but one AL scout remained adamant about the presence of Rule 5 sleepers.

"You might not have the typical year where you could come out here and target 20 guys," he said. "But there are still a few high-end prospects you could designate as potential impact guys. A lot of them are relievers or fringy position players, but they could impact your club in some way as early as next season."

Regardless of the impact second baseman Dan Uggla had for the Marlins--he batted .282/.339/.480 with 27 home runs in his all-star rookie season--it is rare for an organization to make such a find. Uggla played in the AFL last season before being taken by the Marlins in the major league portion of 2005 Rule 5 draft.

But players like Rangers outfielder Anthony Webster, Red Sox infielder Chad Spann and Reds lefthander Jon Coutlangus could all have solid impact potential if they aren't protected on the 40-man roster.

Webster, a 15th-round pick of the White Sox in 2001, had a breakout season in 2006, jumping to Triple-A after hitting .310/.364/.463 in 216 at-bats at Double-A Frisco. He was playing sparingly in the AFL, but that did not figure to hurt his standing for the Rule 5 draft.

Spann, a fifth-round pick in 2002, has endured injuries each season since being drafted out of Southland Academy in Georgia. His career high for at-bats prior to this season, which he spent at Double-A Portland, was 116, which he accumulated in 2003. The 23-year-old infielder impressed scouts early in the Fall League by hitting .326 with a consistent line drive stroke and by playing a solid third base.

Coutlangus, a lefthanded reliever in the Reds system, spent the bulk of the 2006 season at Double-A Chattanooga where he went 1-3, 2.86 in 63 innings. The 25-year-old was a 19th-round pick of the Giants in 2003, but has opened eyes this fall with command of an average fastball. Coutlangus also has flashed a plus breaking ball out of the pen. He was 1-0, 1.69 in five innings for the Phoenix Desert Dogs.


• Royals righthander Luke Hochevar was scratched from his start for the Western Division with shoulder stiffness in the AFL's Rising Stars Showcase, which was the league's first-ever all-star game. An examination by team doctors revealed a shoulder strain and the 2006 first overall pick was shut down for the remainder of the year. Royals GM Dayton Moore told the Kansas City Star, "All his strength tests are good, and his velocity was up to 94 (mph) in his last start. It's just a little strain. We'll shut him down for now and get him fired back up again in the spring."

• Mets righthander Mike Pelfrey scrapped his curveball and replaced it with a slider right before the AFL season began. While he's showed his usual 93-95 mph fastball velocity, the secondary stuff was still a work in progress. Pelfrey was the ninth overall pick of the 2005 draft.

"You don't need a (radar) gun on this guy. It's like watching a high school kid throw 96 (mph) to high school hitters," a scout from a National League club said. "All the other guys in the game were throwing 93, 94, 95, but it wasn't nearly as devastating because of the swings guys were getting against him. The fastball is plus-plus in terms of velocity and movement down in the zone. The secondary stuff still has a ways to go, but his arm speed on the changeup was good and he showed flashes of getting closer to really burying his breaking ball. It's much better than the curveball, and I think it's better suited for his mix with that pure power stuff."

• Mets outfielder Fernando Martinez is getting rave reviews for his overall approach at the plate and his plus power to all fields, especially to the opposite field. Martinez, who turned 18 on the AFL's opening day, was hitting just .196 in 51 at-bats for Mesa, but that doesn't mean scouts aren't gushing over the young outfielder.

"His approach is so advanced for his age and the ball just jumps off his bat," a scout from an Americn League club said. "The only negative you see is he's a little late in his jumps and reads in center field. He's not as explosive as you'd think he would be."

• Dodgers shortstop Chin-Lung Hu hasn't gotten off to a fast start defensively this fall, showing long actions at times and often trying to make the routine play into something spectacular. His bat also hasn't been impressive, hitting just .216 (8-for-37) with just a pair of extra-base hits.

"He just tries to do too much," a scout from an NL club said. "He has first-step quickness, he has some explosiveness defensively, but he's not fundamentally sound. He's not the guy you want the ball hit to when it means something. (Dodgers 2005 second-round pick) Ivan DeJesus is such a much better prospect for them at that position."