October 2011

AFL statistically

They’ve played 50 games in the Arizona Fall League to date, so I thought it might be fun to look at some of the stats coming out of the desert to date. Yes, I know, it’s a very small sample size, but so what?

The league is averaging 12.26 runs per game, which, I don’t have to tell you, is a good amount of runs. The league is slugging .450 and hitting .280. The Salt Lake Rafters lead the league in team ERA, at 5.19. The league’s ERA is 5.60. Yes, you read that right.

There are 12 hitters with an OPS over 1.000. I know this will come as a shock to you, but the AFL is a good hitters’ league.

Here are some more interesting statistics, not available to all:

Lowest plate appearances to strikeout ratio: Wilfredo Tovar (22.00) and Nolan Arenado (18.67)

Best HR/AB ratio: Michael Choice (1/6.00) and Alex Castellanos (1/9.67)

There are some good pitching numbers to talk about:

Lowest batting average against: Forrest Snow (.034) and Terry Doyle (.078)

Highest K/9 ratio (starter): Nathan Adcock (14.21) and Joe Gardner (14.14)

Highest K/9 ratio (reliever): Alejandro Ramos (17.36) and Andrew Carignan (16.50)

Fewest baserunners per nine ratio (starter): Terry Doyle (4.86) and Cole DeVries (7.71)

Fewest baserunners per nine ratio (reliever): Matt Hoffman (2.70) and Forrest Snow (3.18)

 

Just a little something to chew on as the new AFL week is  about to begin.

NLCS stirs college memory

Not from my own college experience, mind you, but that of one of the players on a postseason roster.

It was 2008 and I was covering the SEC tournament in Alabama. It’s something I’ve done a few times over the years for pre-Draft coverage. It’s such a loaded conference that you can find a whole bunch of potential first-round picks in one place.

In that conference that year, in fact, was Pedro Alvarez, Gordon Beckham, Justin Smoak, Josh Fields and Reese Havens, all of whom were taken in the first round of that 2008 Draft. But the guy I’m thinking of was a supplemental pick that year, taken No. 39 overall by the Cardinals.

At the time, Lance Lynn was the ace of the Ole Miss staff, though he was coming off a so-so junior year. But he had a terrific tournament, helping his school make it to the finals (losing to LSU) and being named to the all-tournament team.

I remember having a conversation with someone at the tournament, someone who followed the team closely. That year, Ole Miss had more than just Lynn who was attracting scouts. There was another starter in the rotation, who went a little later in that draft. That pitcher, by all accounts, had better pure stuff than Lynn. By a lot. But he didn’t have a good year, either.

The biggest difference was how they performed under pressure. Lynn stepped up and was fantastic in the tournament. This other guy, not so much. In fact, we were watching this other guy pitch during this conversation. This unnamed pitcher was under the weather and, if memory serves, came out of the game fairly early as a result. I’m not saying this guy wasn’t sick, but it was what this Ole Miss observer said that really stuck with me.

We were talking about Lynn and how competitive he was on the mound. This conversation-mate said that if it was Lynn who was sick and it was his turn to pitch, he’d simply walk off behind the mound, throw up, then get back on the mound and keep pitching.

Disgusting? Maybe. A little too graphic? Perhaps. But you get the point. There was a certain amount of — to borrow a phrase from old colleague Billy Sample — intestinal fortitude with Lynn. So it’s not a surprise at all to me that he’s thrown three shutout innings across three appearances in the NLCS, even getting a win in Game 2. This after not having pitched since Aug. 9 and being left off the NLDS roster (oblique injury).

The setting wasn’t going to faze him. Success or failure, after seeing him in that SEC tournament, after having that conversation about his toughness on the mound, I knew Lynn would face that kind of challenge without fear.

I don’t know if Lynn is now permanently a reliever. His success in relief might point to that. He certainly has the right mindset.

Oh, and that other guy? He’s had some injury problems… and has yet to make it above Double-A.

***

Quick update on the postseason review front… You can now read the Houston Astros prospect review. Mariners review should be running later today and I’ll pass that link along when it’s live.

 

 

 

 

Professional hitters in Peoria

There are certain terms used by baseball people I love. They are simple, yet say so much.

The first is when someone is called a “real baseball player.” It’s a true compliment, reserved for a player who plays the game the right way, understands the nuances of the game, does the little things, plays all-out. I think you get the picture. There might be an underlying inference that players who are “real baseball players” don’t have the biggest tools in the world. They may not have the tremendous raw power, blazing speed or rocket arm — for these guys, the sum is greater than each of the parts (or something like that). It’s not mutually exclusive. You’ll occasionally get a toolsy “baseball player” and they invariably will be superstars. But a “real baseball player” is kind of the baseball equivalent of a gym rat in basketball.

Another term is “professional hitter.” Again, there’s an undercurrent of a negative of sorts. A “professional hitter” might not be the most athletic guy in the world, but he can really swing the bat. He  often might fit the “bad body, good bat” description. Think Matt Stairs, perhaps the quintessential professional hitter.   Dave Magadan is another good example from the past. Greg Dobbs might be a member of this club now.

This is the term that I couldn’t help but think of when I was looking at the box score for the Peoria Javelinas from Monday’s game. Now, there are a lot of very good hitters in the AFL — they are scoring 13 runs per game thus far and there are two teams hitting well over .300. Peoria isn’t one of them, though the Javs are hitting .294.

It’s more the profile of a few hitters on that team that struck me as potential “professional hitter” types. Now, some might be more than that when all is said and done. Just because they fit the “bad body, good bat” description right now, they could be such a good hitter that they surpass the expectations for a professional hitter. If a guy becomes an every-day player, hitting in the middle of a lineup and competing for batting or RBI titles, then they kind of move past that label.

That being said, there are several guys on Peoria’s roster who could qualify as, at the very least, PFPs. That’s Professional Hitter Prospects. Understanding that they could evolve into more than that, here are the candidates:

Matt Adams, 1B, Cardinals: There’s no question this guy can hit. He’s got a career line of .316/.365/.552 and hit .300 with 32 homers and 101 RBIs in the Texas League in 2011. At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, he’s only been a first baseman in his career. If that Pujols guy doesn’t stay in St. Louis, Adams could stay at first. If Pujols returns — and I think he will — the Cardinals think Adams might be more athletic than people give him credit for and that he could be OK in an outfield corner. We’ll see on that, but that bat should be in the St. Louis lineup soon.

Jedd Gyorko, 3B, Padres: Gyorko slipped into the second round probably because of his size (5-10, 195 pounds) and the fact that because of his size, he didn’t “profile” at a given position. The Padres nabbed him in the second round (they love professional hitters) and he’s been just fine at third base, thank you very much. He also made it to Double-A in his first full season and helped San Antonio win the Texas League championship. Oh, and he hit a combined .333/.400/.552 in 2011, with 25 homers and 114 RBIs, so it might be a mistake to typecast him just yet.

Jaff Decker, OF, Padres: He’s another one who scouts weren’t sure what to do with when he was coming out of the Arizona high school ranks in 2008 (He’s 5-10, 190 pounds). The Padres took him in the supplemental first round in 2008 and when he hit .299/.442/.514 in his first full season (Fort Wayne won a title), it looked like it was a good call. Decker’s struggled a bit since then, with injuries in 2010 and last year with making consistent contact, but he’s got some considerable skills. He still drew over 100 walks in 2011 while hitting 19 homers and driving in 92 runs, all while playing in the Texas League at age 21. Sure, he struck out 142 times, but he’s young and has such tremendous plate discipline that he shouldn’t be dismissed. A .273/.411/.475 career line at his age and level is not too shabby.

Logan Schafer, OF, Brewers: He might be a bit more athletic — 33 steals in the last two seasons — than some others, but his skill set at the plate seems to fit. He, too, has had some injury issues, missing nearly all of 2010 and playing in just 99 games this past season, but when he’s on the field, he hits, as his .301 career average states. He’s got a .363 OBP, too, yet has slugged just .427, perhaps putting him more in the Dave Magadan division of professional hitters.

First Week of AFL is in the books

Week 2 is about to get underway today, so I figured it’s a good time to take a look at the week that was out in the Arizona Fall League.

Be sure to follow all the AFL players who are on Twitter as well as the group we have blogging about their experiences. It’s a great way to get first-hand insight into life in the AFL.

The league (follow them at @MLBAZFallleague) will have it’s Player and Pitcher of the Week, but I figured I’d put in my two cents:

B3 AFL Hitter of the Week

AFL Hitter of the Week: Michael Choice, A’s

The 2010 first-round pick is coming off a 30-homer season in his first full year of pro ball. So far, he’s made it look easy going from Class A Advanced ball to the AFL. Granted, both are hitters’s leagues, but power is power. Choice led the AFL in total bases (18), second in OPS (1.585) — second to Kevin Mattison, who wins best ‘stache in a headshot, at the very least (see below). Choice also topped the AFL with three homers while hitting .471 overall.

Love the 'stache

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B3 AFL Pitcher of the Week

AFL Pitcher of the Week: Daryl Maday, Giants

It was a toss-up for me, between Maday and Reds reliever Brad Boxberger, but I thought perhaps I was being biased because of Boxberger’s blog. That and the fact he’s gone 2 1/3 IP and struck out seven. He did walk two in his second outing (though pitched out of trouble), so I decided to go with the starter in Maday. He went four shutout innings in his start on Oct. 8, allowing just one hit and two walks while striking out six.

 

 

 

While all this is going on, wanted to be sure you saw the end-of-season organizational prospect reviews I’ve been writing. It’s got a little feature on the top prospect in each system along with a review of how the rest of the Top 10 fared and picks for 2011 Player and Pitcher of the Year. Enjoy.

More to come on that front as the offseason unfolds.

A pitching renaissance in the postseason

It’s nothing new to rave about young pitching, but watching the Division Series this year, I couldn’t help but be struck, not just by how many young pitchers are on playoff rosters, but by the important roles they’ve been giving. The results may be uneven, but it’s amazing how often teams are putting the ball in the hands of some fairly inexperienced hurlers, confident that they are the best options at the time.

By now, I’ve written enough about Matt Moore to be the official spokesman of his fan club. But he’s Exhibit A, right? A top prospect who started in Double-A, got a September callup and not only won Game 1 of the ALDS, but threw three more relief innings in Game 4. Of course, he wasn’t alone on that Tampa staff. Jeremy Hellickson, the potential AL Rookie of the Year, started Game 4.

Game 5 between the Yankees and Tigers is tonight. New York’s best (only?) option: Ivan Nova, the right-hander who might give Hellickson a pretty good contest in ROY voting. Mind you, this is a guy who got sent down earlier this year. He’s been nothing short of sensational since his return, of course, and won Game 1  once it resumed post-suspension.

In last night’s Brewers-Diamondbacks game, Arizona brought Jarrod Parker into the game in the sixth inning with a 7-3 lead. Yes, he gave up two hits, a walk and a run, but the fact Parker is even on the postseason roster is somewhat amazing. He is, after all, in his first season following Tommy John surgery. After shaking off the rust in the first half, he was tremendous in the second, helping Mobile win the Double-A Southern League title. He got a late September callup and appeared in one game, a very solid start. With his relief outing in Game 4, that brings his career total of games out of the bullpen to… let’s see here… one.

There’s more… Bryan Shaw joins Parker in that Arizona bullpen with 33 Major League games under his belt and has been perfect in three NLDS appearances. Rookie Al Albuquerque has become an important part of the Tigers bullpen and appeared in two games against the Yankees.

Obviously, I think it’s fantastic and a further sign of where the game is these days. Even the teams with deep pockets have to rely on young pitching, developing their own.

Meanwhile, in Panama…

After dropping their first game, Team USA has won two in a row against Chinese Taipei and Japan. Through three games, few have been more impressive than Pirates middle infield prospect Jordy Mercer, who’s now 5-for-12 with three extra-base hits and five RBIs.

Our friends from the Top 50, Brett Jackson and Travis d’Arnaud, continue to do well (the team is hitting .309 overall). Jackson is 4-for-12 and d’Arnaud is 3-for-8 with three doubles. A somewhat forgotten prospect, A.J Pollock of the Diamondbacks, is 3-for-9 with a homer.

And, finally, the AFL. There was more offense yesterday, shockingly. There’s now been 76 runs scored in five total games. That’s 15.2 runs per game, if you’re keeping score at home. As friend and colleague Kevin Goldstein pointed out via Twitter (@Kevin_Goldstein) recently, the AFL averaged 5.8 runs per game in 2010. So, to summarize: They are a tad ahead of pace so far this year.

The Rays rotation and notes from the AFL

I got a question on Twitter that I thought was worth throwing out there to everyone:

What does the Rays rotation look like in 2012? Should they trade James Shields?

This is relevant here, obviously, because it’s all about Matt Moore. He looked like he’s ready for prime time, which should give the Rays a very nice problem to have next year. People talk about Shields because he’s the most expensive pitcher in the rotation. If the Rays exercise the team option in 2012, he’ll get $7 million. Considering he was an All-Star and the anchor of that rotation, that’s a relative bargain. But the Rays also are working with a somewhat limited budget, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

Jeff Niemann was left off the playoff roster, but that was more because of his lack of success vs. the opponent than anything else, though I’m sure there are those who will read into that more.

Bill Chastain wrote that it’s likely all of the starters — and we haven’t even talked about Alex Torres or Alex Cobb (with Chris Archer coming into play later next year, I think) — will come to Spring Training and have one heckuva competition. Don’t know about you, but I’m booking my trip to Port Charlotte now.

Great quote from David Price in that Chastain piece: “I think I’m going to start my workouts in a couple of hours to make sure I can still be in this rotation.”

So here’s the official question: If you were building the Rays staff on Opening Day 2012, what would be your five-man rotation?

Leave any ideas in comments below.

On to the AFL…

Only two games were played yesterday in the Arizona Fall League, with the night game (the one where Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Gary Brown could’ve been in the same outfield together) being rained out. That’s right, rained out. Red Sox prospect Alex Hassan has a good post about it over on the AFL Prospects blog.

It probably shocks no one that there was a bunch of offense in the other two games. Kind of par for the course in the Fall League, after all. Seven homers were hit in the two games with a combined total of 41 runs crossing the plate. Lots of potential Stars of the Day from a hitting standpoint, but the guy atop the list has to be the pick:

Josh Vitters, Cubs: 2-4, 2 HR, 5 RBIs, 1 SB
Robbie Grossman, Pirates: 2-4, HR, 2 RBI
Anthony Gose, Blue Jays:  2-5, HR, 2B, 3 RBI, 2 R
Alex Castellanos, Dodgers:  3-6, 3 RBI, 2B, 3B
Matt Adams, Cardinals: 3-5, 3 RBI
Jaff Decker, Padres: 4-4, 2 RBI

There is only one Pitcher of the Day candidate: The Reds’ Brad Boxberger (and he’s blogging to boot) . Boxberger got the save for Phoenix, completely shutting the door on Mesa in a 12-8 slugfest. Not only did Boxberger pitch a perfect inning and a third to get the save, he struck out all four batters he faced in less than optimal conditions.

A little more international flavor

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a tendency to be a little too much North America-driven when it comes to prospects. It’s not that I’m so myopic in my views. I actually think it comes more from the fact that I’m so Draft-focused for much of the year, I tend to think of those guys first.

So when I was writing yesterday’s post about the start of various prospect-related games, I only mentioned Team USA when discussing international play and the World Cup in Panama.

There are, of course, many good prospects playing for other teams in this tournament. The U.S. found that out in their first game, losing to Puerto Rico, 8-4. Puerto Rico’s leadoff hitter is Reymond Fuentes, currently No. 4 on the Padres’ Top 10 Prospects list (and No. 8 on the outfield list, by the way). He had two hits and two runs scored. First baseman Neftali Soto led the Reds system in homers with 31 and made it up to Triple-A at age 22. He had two hits and an RBI against the U.S.  (Travis d’Arnaud, one of the Top 50 guys mentioned yesterday, had a pair of doubles and an RBI in a losing effort; Brett Jackson went 1-for-3).

To try and move past my narrow focus, I’ll post about the other international prospects as they play in the tournament in Panama.

We’re not far from the first pitch of the Arizona Fall League, so I leave you with this question of the day (feel free to leave thoughts/answers in comments):

What one prospect are you most looking forward to seeing perform in the AFL this year?

My two cents: I’ll say Gerrit Cole. Not that watching Trout and Harper will be bad, but we’ve seen them perform this year. Cole will be making his unofficial debut and I’m really interested in seeing how the No. 1 overall pick fares.

Let the games begin!

That might seem like a strange sentiment, given the Division Series in Major League Baseball are well underway, but I’m referring to games of another sort, in a variety of arenas (well, ballparks, but you know what I mean).

The first, of course, is the Arizona Fall League. Year 20 of the AFL will kick off on Tuesday and there are prospects aplenty who will be on-hand. Starting pitchers have yet to be posted, but we do know that the Mets’ Collin McHugh will be starting, courtesy of his tweet (follow him @Collin_McHugh):

No, it’s not a desert mirage. I am actually starting opening day of our AFL season on Tuesday! Truly humbled by the privilege.”

McHugh (who has a fantastic blog of his own, A Day Older, a Day Wiser) will also be contributing to our AFL prospects blog, which is already pretty active.

The top two prospects on MLB.com’s Top 50 — Mike Trout and Bryce Harper — will be a part of the same Scottsdale Scorpions outfield. No. 44 Gary Brown will also be there, making the Scorps outfield one of the most fun to watch in recent memory (they’ve also got Tyson Gillies and Alex Hassan out there!).

Other Top 50 prospects in the AFL:

15. Wil Myers, Royals (also a blogger) (Surprise Saguaros)
23. Nick Franklin, Mariners (Peoria Javelinas)
24. Aaron Hicks, Twins (Mesa Solar Sox)
35. Matt Dominguez, Marlins (Surprise Saguaros)

As I pointed out in the roster release story, there were a total of eight No. 1 prospects from different organizations playing as well. That’s down to 7, with the Cubs’ Brett Jackson being replaced by Josh Vitters. Hey, at least Vitters is No. 5 on the Cubs’ list.

And while Jed Bradley is no longer going to be in Arizona, a number of 2011 first-rounders will, starting with No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole (Mesa). No. 2 Danny Hultzen (Peoria) will be there, too, as will No. 28 Sean Gilmartin of the Braves (Surprise), Joe Panik (Scottsdale) of the Giants and No. 31 Mike Mahtook of the Rays (Surprise).

That’s not the only place prospects are playing, of course. While Winter Ball rosters aren’t set yet, there’s overseas action to follow in the form of USA Baseball. The professional team’s first World Cup game in Panama got rained out, but they should be playing for gold soon. Keep in mind, this is a team of guys not on 40-man rosters, but there is Travis d’Arnaud (No. 47) and the aforementioned Brett Jackson (29) from the Top 50, along with some other good talent representing the United States in international competition.

So don’t despair if your team isn’t in the playoffs right now. There’s the future to watch in Arizona and, to an extent, in Panama!

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