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AFL favorites: Non-Top 20 edition

My colleagues Jim Callis (@JimCallisMLB) and Bernie Pleskoff (@BerniePleskoff) have already weighed in on players they liked in the Arizona Fall League who didn’t make MLBPipeline.com’s Top 20 list.  Jim mentioned five players in his blog while Bernie filed two reports, one on outfielder Henry Urrutia and one on lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, both from the Orioles organization.

Teddy Cahill (@tedcahill), who also helped out with the Top 20 along with Jim and Bernie, listed these names when asked who were his non-Top 20 favorites: Eduardo Rodriguez, Andrew Susac, Brian Goodwin and Mason Williams. He also liked Richie Shaffer as a bit of a sleeper pick, not a guy who belongs on a Top 20, but one who “seemed to rebound from a so-so season” and who walked as much as he struck out in Arizona.

Where does that leave me? I, too, like Rodriguez and Susac, but I wanted to find a few players not mentioned by anyone else (a benefit of being late in posting this). So I’m definitely going more of the “sleeper pick” route, though all of these guys are prospects in their own right. In no particular order:

Chris Taylor, SS/2B, Mariners: Not saying he’s going to be a superstar or anything, but he’s hit everywhere he’s been, reaching Double-A this past year. He has good on-base skills and can play second and short. He’s the type of utlity guy (maybe an every-day 2B?) who helps teams win and I’m becoming a firm believer in University of Virginia guys hitting at the next level.

Yorman Rodriguez, OF, Reds: There were signs that the 21-year-old corner outfielder was starting to figure things out during the 2013 season as he reached Double-A for the first time. Yes, there’s swing and miss aplenty, but the tools are very much still there and he’s starting to use them. Oh, and he won’t turn 22 until mid-August.

Mike Montgomery, LHP, Rays: Yeah, I know what you’re going to say. Him again? Been there, done that. But he’s still big and left-handed, and he threw pretty well this fall. He’s still only 24 and has decent stuff. It’s all about command, and it was pretty good in the AFL.

Nick Wittgren, RHP, Marlins: OK, I have to admit. I’m kind of stealing this from Bernie Pleskoff, who really likes Wittgren. So do I, though maybe not quite as much as Bernie does. Wittgren put up video game numbers during the 2013 season (0.77 ERA, .198 BAA, 9.5 K/9, 1.5 BB/9), then did it some more in a much more hostile pitching environment in the AFL (0.66 ERA, .130 BAA, 19 K, 2 BB in 13 2/3 IP). He had 26 saves during the regular season, but he’s likely not a closer in the big leagues. But he could be pitching there in 2014.

Some quick AFL Fall Stars pre-game tidbits

We’re less than an hour away from this year’s Fall Stars (previously called the Rising Stars Game). You can watch on MLB Network and the game will be streaming on MLB.com. I hope you watch the entire game, but if you’re curious, I’ll be sitting in with Paul Severino and Joe Magrane for the 4th-6th innings.

Batting practice was quite a show. Jorge Alfaro (Rangers) probably was the most impressive for the West Division Fall Stars. His raw power is just ridiculous and he was putting balls way up on the berm in left-center consistently.

The East Division’s first group turned into a home run hitting contest between C.J. Cron (Angels) and Kris Bryant (Cubs). Cron hit a light post above the berm and one that nearly left the stadium completely. Bryant wasn’t far behind, but Cron might have been the “victor” in this round.

Cardinals outfielder James Ramsey is the leadoff hitter and isn’t a power guy, but he clearly had fun trying to muscle up. He blasted a couple out to right, though he did swing through a pitch with an all or nothing swing at the end.

Ramsey knows his role, though, tonight and in general. He’s hitting atop a lineup followed by the Nats’ Brian Goodwin, Bryant, Cron, Angels 2B Taylor Lindsey, fellow Cardinal Stephen Piscotty, Cubs right field Jorge Soler, Yankees catcher Peter O’Brien and A’s shortstop Addison Russell (any lineup with Russell hitting ninth is insane). Ramsey turned to Goodwin at the start of BP and said, “All I have to do is get to first base and the rest is easy.”

Alex Meyer and the rest of the West Division pitching staff might have something to say about that, and the West isn’t exactly devoid of firepower (Byron Buxton’s BP was pretty impressive as well).

Should be a fun night. Hit me on Twitter (@JonathanMayoB3) if you want to chat about the game. And join me over on MLB Network. Enjoy the game!

An early thought from the AFL

I spent last week running around the Arizona Fall League during the opening days of the season. Six games in three days (stay tuned for AFL team reports — video and written — that stemmed from those efforts). While my focus was on getting the 30 interviews we had planned done (check), I was able to watch some exciting players in action, both in batting practice as well as during games.

I’ll try to sprinkle some early thoughts here in a series of blog posts. Here’s the first one.

  • Kris Bryant is really good. Not only has the Cubs prospect (and No. 2 overall pick) started his Fall League by going 8-for-18 with two homers and a double, he puts on a ridiculous batting practice show. The power is beyond legit. He’s also an early member of the All-Interview Team: very engaging and thoughtful. He even was happy to talk to me about how he started with his wide stance (sophomore season). I was particularly curious because my 12-year-old son, Ziv, has been using something very similar.

BryantZiv stance

In case you were curious, Bryant is the first one. And yes, I know Ziv has his hands too high (We’re working on it. Jeez, he’s only 12).

More to come…

Remembering a young Buc

http://mlb.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=31066535I was in the Pirates clubhouse yesterday, following the pre-Wild Card game workout. In case you missed, it, I came away with a story on what the Pirates might do to contain speedster Billy Hamilton.

I also contributed to the Pirates notebook, writing up something on hometown kid Neil Walker savoring this return to the postseason.

I don’t wander into big league coverage too often, but it’s often fun for me to think about how I’ve covered some of these established players over the years. Walker is an outstanding example.

It started when he was still in high school. I traveled to Pine-Richland High School in nearby Gibsonia when he was a big-time Draft prospect, hoping to be selected by his hometown team. Best quote from that story is Walker dreaming about playing in Pittsburgh:

“It really is storybook,” said Walker, who idolizes Twins rookie Joe Mauer, the former No. 1 pick who was a high school catcher taken by his hometown team. “They like me a lot, and I like them a lot, and I think they would be a good fit for me.

“Whatever happens, happens. If I don’t make it to [the 11th pick], then I’m going to have the same attitude and mentality toward whatever team I go to, because it’s going to be exciting.”

Walker obviously was taken by the Pirates and came back to PNC Park to play in the 2006 Futures Game (he was still a catcher back then). I talked to him after he was named to the team and he came a day early to do a whirlwind Pittsburgh tour for our very first Futures Game Video Diary. We liked the idea so much, we’ve been doing it every year prior to the Futures Game since then.

 

All-Prospect, 2nd Team

On Monday, Jim Callis and I unveiled our All-Prospect Teams. For a refresher, you can take a look at mine and Jim’s at your leisure.

Not surprisingly, the stories generated considerable discussion and debate. And, truthfully, we both had a hard time making decisions in some cases.

So we decided we’d come up with a 2nd team, All-Prospect. Mine is below. You can find Jim’s over at Callis’ Corner. We decided only to go for the positional assignments and not the “biggest jump,” or “most to prove” categories.

1B C.J. Cron, Angels — Not a deep position, I decided not to cave to Yankee fans bugging me about Greg Bird (who had a very nice year). Cron had a solid, if unspectacular, season in the Texas League.

2B Rougned Odor, Rangers — Some great choices, even for the 2nd team, from Delino DeShields Jr. to Eddie Rosario. But Odor’s still a teenager, made it to (and raked in) the Double-A Texas League, finishing with a combined .305/.365/.474 line to go along with 32 steals.

SS Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox — Just edges other fine choices like Javier Baez or Carlos Correa. Holding his own in the big leagues is just icing on the cake.

3B Miguel Sano, Twins — I went off the board a bit by taking Maikel Franco for my first team, so there’s no question Sano is the best choice here.

C Austin Hedges, Padres — Yes, Evan Gattis has had a solid offensive year, but is he really a catcher? Hedges was just so-so with the bat, but has the chance to be special defensively.

OF Wil Myers, Rays — It was hard to leave him off the first team. Watching him help the Rays in the Wild Card race has been great fun.

OF Joc Pederson, Dodgers — Twenty-two homers and 31 steals all while playing a good center field in Double-A. Could help in 2014.

OF Gregory Polanco, Pirates — He was my “biggest jump” selection on the 1st team. Tons of speed (38 steals), power is coming (12 HR, 30 doubles). Right field in PNC Park will be calling soon.

RHP Archie Bradley, D-backs — Need to give a shout out to Taijuan Walker of the Mariners, but Bradley finished with a 1.84 ERA, .215 BAA while striking out 9.6 per nine innings across two levels.

LHP Andrew Heaney, Marlins — Jim’s 1st team choice, the 2012 first-rounder only threw 95 1/3 innings, but did reach Double-A and finished with a combined 1.60 ERA and .211 BAA.

How can you not love Marcus Stroman?

Forget the fact the Blue Jays pitching prospect is ranked No. 91 on MLB.com’s Top 100 or that he’s No. 3 on Toronto’s Top 20.

And I’m not talking about the fact that he had an excellent year in the Double-A Eastern League, finishing with a 3.30 ERA, .234 batting average against and 129 K’s in 111 2/3 innings pitched (while allowing only 27 walks). He would’ve been fifth in the Eastern League in ERA had he qualified and he still managed to finish ninth in strikeouts despite not making his first start until May 19 (Yes, he was serving a 50-game suspension, but at least Stroman took responsibility for taking over-the-counter supplements without knowing what was in them).

But this isn’t about his on-field performance, which should have him poised to help out in Toronto in 2014 in some capacity. This is about what he did for his mom recently. Stroman was the No. 22 overall pick in the 2012 Draft and received a bonus of $1.8 million as a result. His mother was with him through thick and thin, so Stroman felt it was time to show her how much he appreciated her never-ending support.

By paying off her mortgage. The entire thing. The video is brief, but it’s hard not to get emotional while watching it. April Whitzman from MLBFancave posted it on their blog.

Or you can watch the video right here:

His mom clearly was touched.

That’s pretty cool stuff. Kudos to Stroman for using those dollars in a very, very good way.

The latest Japanese import: Takumi Numata

Before I get to my topic o’ the day, I wanted to make sure everyone saw the work that my colleague is doing on his blog, Callis’ Corner. He’s posted twice in the last couple of days, once on the callup and debut of the Royals’ Yordano Ventura and again about former No. 1 overall pick Tim Beckham getting the call by the Rays. Been quite an interesting few days in terms of big-name callups this late in the year.

Me? Today I want to head overseas briefly. The Dodgers announced on Monday they had signed Takumi Numata, a 19-year-old right-hander from Japan. So I did a little digging. Or tried to, anyway. I can’t say I’m super well-connected in the Far East, but I do know some scouts who work over there. But I had a hard time finding anyone who knew Numata all that well.

Dodger scouts Isao O’Jimi and Pat Kelly signed Numata. Both know what they’re doing, so it will be very interesting to watch Numata, who will be in Arizona to work out with the Dodgers during instructs this fall, develop.

I was about to give up on trying to track down information on Numata, but then Kazuto Yamazaki came to the rescue. Yamazaki writes for a site called ShutDownInning (check out his post about Yu Darvish), and he was able to find some info on Numata, who’d been pitching in the Japanese Industrial League. Here’s what we know about Numata (Yamazaki found the info from this site):

At 6-1, 188 pounds (that’s according to the release), it doesn’t sound like there’s that much physical projection to look for. His fastball sits in the upper 80s to low 90s, according to the report, topping out at 92 mph. He goes right after hitters with it and largely pitches off of his fastball, though he also has a slider. Here’s some brief video:

What made this signing interesting, I think, is that Numata is a teenager. You don’t see that many players that young come from Japan, as most go through the Japanese professional ranks and don’t come over until several years later (like Ichiro did). A year ago, it looked like Shohei Otani was going to try and bypass the professional leagues and come to the United States, becoming the first player to go straight from high school to pro ball here. Instead, he stayed at home and signed with the Nippon Ham Fighters (where he’s pitching AND hitting).

There have been a few teenagers to sign in the past, though: Takuya Tsuchida signed with the Indians in last fall and played in the rookie-level Arizona League this summer. Back in 2004, the Braves signed outfielder Takumi Hamaoka, who played parts of two summers in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2006 and 2007, but that was it. The biggest success story has been Mac Suzuki, signed as a teenager with the Mariners back in 1993. He spent parts of six seasons in the big leagues.

Catching my breath, plus catching up on a showcase

It’s an exciting time around these parts. As you’ve all figured out, Jim Callis (@jimcallismlb) is working with us now at MLB.com and we’re already cranking out some pretty neat content together. If you haven’t seen it, we’ve written the first two in what I hope is a long-running series: Pipeline Perspectives.

We’ve had two entries so far, where Mr. Callis and I have taken sides on two pennant race-related questions.

Question 1: Which pitching prospect will have the biggest impact in playoff races down the stretch? I went with Michael Wacha. Jim took Sonny Gray.

Question 2: Which position prospect will have the biggest impact in playoff races down the stretch? I took Billy Hamilton. Jim went with Xander Bogaerts.

Pipeline Perspectives is going to be a regular feature, so if you have ideas for issues/questions Jim and I can tackle, send them to pipeline@mlb.com. That’s also the email address to send in questions for the Pipeline Inbox, a weekly mailbag Jim and I will be doing.

So lots of good content is on its way, with ways for you to participate as well.

Now on to the final showcase of the summer…

Honestly, I thought it was all over. But there’s a new event in town, the Metropolitan Baseball Classic, hosted by the Mets (it was a brainchild of Mets scouting director Tommy Tanous), with the championship game held at Citi Field. The event was a little under-the-radar, with the U.S. Open capturing the attention of most in Queens during that time. But the talent was far from unknown and the event provided a really good last summer look at some top high school prospects for the 2014 Draft before a little time off before the Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association Championship in Jupiter, Florida in October.

There was a good amount of talent at the event. The list below isn’t ranked — it’s alphabetical — but it’s a pretty good representation of the top performers in New York last week, with the team they played with at the tournament listed (and home state in parentheses):

Spencer Adams- 6’5, 190, RHP; Team Elite (Georgia). Tall and strong, three pitch mix (fastball, slider, changeup) should allow him to start long term. Pitched very well in the championship game and should have more in the tank velocity-wise (he was 90-91 mph in the title game)

Seth Beer 6’3, 185, OF; Marucci Elite. (2016 grad; Georgia) Yes, he’s a couple of years away, but evidently he kind of came out of nowhere to put on a show. Will only get stronger and already has good line drive power to both sides of the field.

Blake Bivens 6’2, 200, RHP; EvoShield Canes (Virginia). Strong and sturdy right-hander. Fastball was up to 91 mph with good movement. Good feel for big curve ball and facing changeup.

Isan Diaz- 5’10, 175, SS; Northeast Mets (Massachusetts). Interesting middle infielder who has the chance to hit and might add some power. Reminded one scout a bit of Robinson Cano in terms of his set-up at the plate.

Elijah Dilday- 6’2, 190, OF; St. Louis Mets (Missouri).  Surprising power, good, quick stroke, squared the ball up often. Has good frame to add strength.

Joseph Gatto- 6’5, 215, RHP; Northeast Mets (New Jersey). Fastball was 88-92 mph here, but has been very busy this summer. May have been a bit tired, but still showed why he’s one of the better high school pitching prospects for next year. Good frame, with room to fill out.

Michael Gettys 6’1, 200, OF; Team Elite (Georgia). Great tools across the board. Great bat speed, plus runner. Was a catalyst for Team Elite, which won the tournament.

Grant Hockin 6’3, 195, RHP; EvoShield Canes (California). Athletic and strong with good three-pitch mix. Was up to 92 mph, good plane and easy arm action. Breaking ball could be plus down the road and has good feel for changeup.

Alex Lange 6’3, 215, RHP; Marucci Elite (Missouri). Big arm strrength, strong body. Was throwing in the low 90s with an outstanding slider.

Jesse Lapore 6’4, 185, RHP; Orlando Scorpions (Florida). Projectable, now up to 91 mph with fastball, can throw downhill. Shows some ability to spin a curve. Was around the strike zone with most of his pitches.

Jon Littell 6’4, 190, OF; St. Louis Mets (Oklahoma). Big and strong, physical frame. Runs well for his size. He has some strength in his swing, but also some length.

Drew Lugbauer 6’3, 210, C; Northeast Mets (New York). Left-handed hitting catcher with power. Big and strong, good arm strength, other parts of his defense are developing.
Troy Stokes Jr 5’10, 185, CF; EvoShield Canes (Maryland). Top of the order type with good speed. Should be able to stay in center. Quick swing with some gap power. Hit tool needs to develop, but could be good table-setter.

Zach Sullivan 6’2, 175, CF; Northeast Mets (New York). Lean athlete with room to add strength. Gotten better over the summer. Excellent speed, can cover a lot of ground in the outfield. There’s strength and bat speed to work with. Tools are there, but they’re a bit raw.

I love Kansas City. No, really.

I feel like my relationship with the fine people of Kansas City hasn’t gone so well lately.

Let me explain.

It started with the Draft, when the Royals surprised everyone by taking Hunter Dozier with the No. 8 pick overall. I was told, afterwards, that my critique of the pick had been a bit harsh. Maybe that’s true, though in watching it again, I have to say that I think I gave it the proper context. Watch below and tell me what you think.

 

 

See? I said would reserve judgement until I saw what they did with their extra picks, right? They were able to draft and sign Sean Manaea as a result and that could end up being a win-win for them. Yes, I did say that Dozier didn’t belong in the top 10, but I did mean it solely based on talent evaluations on who was still available. Maybe the Royals had Dozier atop their board at the time, but I’m pretty certain they’d be the only team in baseball who did after the first seven selectoins had been made.

It appears that I put my foot in my mouth again, at least according to Kansas Citians, in a recent story about potential September callups. The “controversy” centered around this sentence:

Other Top 100 players who could make September interesting for teams out of the race include Yordano Ventura of the Royals, Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays and Archie Bradley of the Diamondbacks.

Honestly, I didn’t even think about this as potentially anger-inducing when I wrote it. But there was this comment with the story:

So I guess Royals are officially out of the race.  Thanks for letting us know Jonathan. (corrected typos)

I responded:

 Who said I was the official word? But… hey, maybe they’ll prove me wrong

There was some good back and forth in comments, and I figured that’d be the end of it. But then I got this comment on a blog post from “Shannon”:

Jonathan, how is it exactly that the Royals are ‘out of it’ as referenced in your article today regarding 40 man rosters and a Royals up and coming pitcher. Its hard to understand how someone in the know would be so attached to their coast bias that they would ignore a yearlong story of a team that IS and HAS BEEN in contention all season.

So I’m the official word and I’m in the know. Not bad for a prospect guy who doesn’t cover the big leagues at all.

I’m not using that as an excuse, mind you. I will say that at the time of the story, the Royals were 9 1/2 games out of first place in the AL Central and 6 1/2 games behind the second wild card, with three other teams ahead of them behind Tampa. They’re now 4 1/2 back, though still with those three teams to leapfrog. Not insurmountable — and maybe “out of the race” wasn’t the right terminology. But keep in mind the story was really about potential callups and not about the postseason race. So if I offended anyone, I apologize. There was no malice intended.

Kansas City, can we be friends again?

OK, glad I got that off my chest. I think I’ll head to the beach. You know, take advantage of that coast bias Shannon spoke of. Now, if only you could tell me which coast I’m biased toward — the Ohio, Monongahela or the Allegheny?

Prospects in the AFL

In case you missed it, the Arizona Fall League released preliminary rosters on Tuesday. There are still plenty of holes to fill, but it gives you a good sense of the talent heading to Arizona this fall, headlined by 25 members of MLB.com’s Top 100 list. But which team (so far) seems the most stacked?

Let’s take a look at Prospect Points to see. What are Prospect Points, you ask? Let me tell you. It’s something we’ve used (courtesy of MLBPipeline behind-the-scenes guru Jason Ratliff) in coming up with a weighted system to measure which teams have the most impact talent based on who they have in the Top 100. We give  100 points to the team with the No. 1 prospect, 99 to the team with No. 2 and on down.

For the AFL, obviously, not all 100 prospects are going, but the system stays the same — Byron Buxton is the No. 1 prospect and he’ll be playing for Glendale, so Glendale gets 100 points. Get it? So here are the AFL Prospect Points Standings (we’ll update as more players get added):

Mesa                  424 PP
Glendale            375 PP
Scottsdale          212 PP
Peoria                 176 PP
Salt River              86 PP
Surprise                74 PP

Curious about the breakdown? Mr. Ratliff (see, told you he was a guru) was kind enough to supply this handy little chart, where you can see Glendale and Mesa both with six Top 100 guys:

Rank Player Org AFL team

1

Byron Buxton Twins Glendale

100

33

Alex Meyer Twins Glendale

68

49

Corey Seager Dodgers Glendale

52

50

Andrew Heaney Marlins Glendale

51

64

Eddie Rosario Twins Glendale

37

74

Colin Moran Marlins Glendale

27

9

Javier Baez Cubs Mesa

92

19

Addison Russell A’s Mesa

82

23

Albert Almora Cubs Mesa

78

27

Jorge Soler Cubs Mesa

74

37

Kris Bryant Cubs Mesa

64

67

Brian Goodwin Nationals Mesa

34

25

Danny Hultzen Mariners Peoria

76

35

Austin Hedges Padres Peoria

66

76

Delino DeShields Astros Peoria

25

92

Jorge Bonifacio Royals Peoria

9

22

Aaron Sanchez Blue Jays Salt River

79

94

Marcus Stroman Blue Jays Salt River

7

38

Mason Williams Yankees Scottsdale

63

41

Alen Hanson Pirates Scottsdale

60

44

Kyle Crick Giants Scottsdale

57

69

Tyler Austin Yankees Scottsdale

32

57

Jorge Alfaro Rangers Surprise

44

85

Garin Cecchini Red Sox Surprise

16

87

Eduardo Rodriguez Orioles Surprise

14

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