ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE PREVIEW

Brendan Rodgers

The key word for the Arizona Fall League is refinement. That’s what the players will be doing. They will be refining their game in preparation for their future.

The Fall League environment allows a player to enter the league as just a “guy” in October and leave in November with his name on the lips and his play in the minds of seam-heads like me (and probably you).

For me, the Arizona Fall League is as good as it gets for a baseball fan. For most of October and November every year, we get to see some of the best baseball prospects in the game. Many clubs send their top prospects to the “finishing school” environment in the Arizona desert. For other clubs, they want to give some good prospects an opportunity to play against some of the best.

There are several factors to keep in mind regarding the Arizona Fall League (AFL).

In this article I’m highlighting some players I’m really looking forward to seeing this fall. There are many, many more guys that I’m excited to see. Guys like Shed Long of the Reds and a return to the league for Michael Chavis, the top prospect in the Red Sox organization.

And keep this in mind: The Arizona Fall League is a great place for a team to “showcase” a player the team may be thinking of trading. Several Fall League players find themselves parts of trades every year. If a club doesn’t have the room to protect a player on their 40-man roster, the Fall League is a great place to “showcase” his talent. Every major league club has representatives (often the general manager) watching his contingent throughout the fall.

FALL LEAGUE PITCHING

First and foremost, fans must remember that hitting is generally far more advanced than pitching in the AFL. Why? Many of the fine prospect pitchers have reached their innings limit in a healthy and complete manner. Others, many of whom will be seen under the beautiful Arizona weather need to catch up on missed innings on the mound. For one reason or another, many of the pitchers we will see this fall need to pitch. Or, perhaps many of the pitchers will be here to work on a particular pitch or refine command of a pitch or pitches. The bottom line? Pitching in general is weaker than hitting in the AFL and the results usually reflect that imbalance.

Each club is assigned a certain number of pitchers to fill out rosters. Many of those on fall rosters are not household names, even in prospect circles. They will pitch out of the bullpen or work a few innings a week. At the end of the short season we will see inflated ERAs and WHIPs that seem a bit incongruous. They need to be taken in context. They need to be taken in stride. While there will be a few very refined arms in the league, many of the pitchers will be destined for a career as a minor leaguer.

More often than hitters, Fall League pitchers often leave the league early before the November conclusion. Often the pitcher has met his innings goal or the team is satisfied with his progress. That is especially true of the few high profile pitchers on rosters.

FALL LEAGUE HITTING

While pitching may be a bit weak, in general, hitting is robust in the league. It stands to reason. The weaker the pitching, the stronger the hitting. Many of the fine batting averages are gathered late in games when pitching tends to weaken.

We must also remember that many of the hitters we are seeing are tired. Some need to make up at-bats due to injury or missed time. Other players are in the league to get those final at-bats at the minor-league level before they make the leap to major league baseball. Some hitters will be working on their swing-an effort perhaps to include more upper cut in their approach.

I have often said the difference between the highest minor league level and major-league baseball is as huge as the Grand Canyon. Why? A minor league hitter may see one very high quality pitcher a week. A minor league hitter may not see a good slider, a good curveball, a good cutter more than once or twice a week. In major-league baseball, every hitter will see quality pitching every game. Every game. He will also see a refined array of fastballs, curveballs, sliders, cutters and changeups. Quality is the key. Every major-league pitcher has at least one or two quality pitchers he uses to retire hitters.

Hitters in the fall look to refine their approach against a particular pitch or pitches. It really is a great opportunity for a hitter to improve.

FALL LEAGUE STARS ON THE HORIZON

I will be concentrating a great deal of time during the Fall League on several high profile players assigned to the league. In no particular order, these are some of the players I will watch closely to determine their skill level in preparation for a life as a big league player.

VLADIMIR GUERRERO JR-3B-TORONTO BLUE JAYS (Surprise)

My top prospect entering 2019, Vlad Guerrero Jr. is an incredible contact hitter with advanced mechanics. More patient than his Hall of Fame father, Vlad Jr. has more plate discipline and he doesn’t go to the plate hacking at every pitch. He played at Double-A and Triple-A this past season and hit .382/19/76. He missed time with an injury, and he will be able to make up some at-bats in October and November in Arizona. Guerrero still has work to do as a third baseman, but he will be good enough to be able to hold his own on defense. When it is all said and done, Guerrero Jr. will be known for line-drives to the gaps and home runs over the walls in any park. He, along with the White Sox Eloy Jimenez (not on the AFL roster) are generational players. Along with Jimenez, I believe Guerrero Jr. and Jimenez will be the next Mike Trout and Bryce Harper duo in baseball. I can’t wait to watch this guy play on a sustained basis.

BO BICHETTE-SS/2B-TORONTO BLUE JAYS (Surprise)

Along with Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette will assist in helping the Blue Jays dig out of a huge hole of non-contention in the American League East. Bichette is the son of former Rockies star Dante Bichette. He is a solid, well-rounded player with upside as a gap hitter. He makes contact, and at age 20, he has completed Double-A. While I don’t see him ready for the major-league roster quite yet, his presence in the Fall League playing with Guerrero Jr. will really help him prepare for the future. His power is emerging, and he will be counted upon to provide an offensive force to the Blue Jays. I am interested to see him play both at shortstop and at second base. As of now, I believe Toronto will be able to use him in either role. He doesn’t have the power or overall skill of Guerrero Jr., but his hit tool is real. And who knows, maybe he’ll show that he is, indeed, ready for the parent club.

LUIS ROBERT-OF-CHICAGO WHITE SOX (Glendale)

A sprained ligament in his left thumb cost Robert two months of playing time this season. Those missed games and at-bats will be recovered in the AFL. Robert is one of the dynamic players that will be highlighted. He’s an outstanding center fielder with speed and terrific defense in center field. While speed may be his most off the chart tool, he has power in his 6-foot-3 frame. A five-tool player, Robert is only 21 and he will likely remain in development until 2020. A native of Cuba, Robert will likely even get stronger and show even more power as his body continues to develop. But above anything else, Robert is an outstanding speedster, and as a switch-hitter, he is dangerous with a bat in his hand.

KESTON HIURA-2B-MILWAUKEE BREWERS (Peoria)

I am really looking forward to a sustained look at one of the best pure hitters in the prospect class. His hit tool is graded as a 70 on the 40-80 scouting scale by many scouts. That makes his hitting All-Star quality. At only 5-11, Hiura has average power. His skill-set on defense is average. Overall, the Brewers will be getting a very good hitting second baseman at some point next season. He has had trouble with his throwing elbow and those issues will be on full view in Arizona. This will be a time for him to work on his defense while further refining his already solid hit tool. Hiura is still only 22 and has a huge future ahead.

FORREST WHITLEY-RHP-ASTROS- (Scottsdale)

After the graduation to the White Sox by Michael Kopech, Whitley is probably the best pitching prospect in the game.  He was suspended 50-games this year for drug abuse and suffered an oblique injury that landed him on the disabled list twice. Had those two situations not taken place, we may have seen much more of Whitley at the big league level this season. A former 1st round draft pick in 2017, Whitley has four above average pitches including a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. However, his command and control at this point remain in progress. Once he can repeat his delivery and find consistency on the mound, Whitley will join the Astros rotation as a mainstay. At 6-7, Whitley is a big guy with a need for more depth to his 195 pounds frame. He is improving rapidly, and his time in the AFL should put the finishing touches on his ability to prepare for his future.

SIXTO SANCHEZ-RHP-PHILLIES- (Scottsdale)

Scottsdale will boast two of the finer prospect pitchers in baseball, as Philles prospect Sixto Sanchez will join Forrest Whitley on the same team.

An international prospect from the Dominican Republic, Sanchez should make the parent team at some point in 2019. Right elbow inflammation took a toll on Sanchez this past season. He is clearly a fine prospect, but the right-hander may have to be limited in his workload to protect his elbow. Sanchez has a fastball that grades out as a 70. He also throws a curveball that is above average as well as a good quality changeup. Sanchez’ fastball velocity is surprising, because the 20-year old isn’t very big at 6-0, 185 pounds. He was assigned to Class-A Advanced Clearwater this past season, and his presence on the Fall League roster was a bit of a surprise to me. However, he does have innings to make up and the league is the perfect place to accomplish that goal. In total, Sanchez threw only 46 2/3 2018 innings.

PETER ALONSO-1B-NEW YORK METS (Scottsdale)

I’m looking forward to seeing Alonso, who is likely the next long-term 1B of the Mets. He was a 2nd round draft pick in 2016 and he’s been on the radar ever since it has appeared that Dominic Smith has not won the total approval of Mets brass. Smith, a left-handed hitter just doesn’t seem like the heir apparent. Alonso, a right-handed hitter may well get some playing time this coming season. Alonso can hit for above average power, but his general hit tool is merely average. He is very slow afoot, but has a good enough arm to play first base. Smith appears to be a better defender than Alonso. He has shortened his swing and isn’t constantly hunting home runs. That’s what I’m looking for this fall. I want to see his plate mechanics.

AUSTIN HAYS-OF-ORIOLES-(Glendale)

Hays made a huge leap to the Orioles parent roster in 2018. He was hurt some of this season but he still played in 128 games at Double-A Bowie and Class-A Advanced Aberdeen. I’m thinking Hays has a shot at becoming a full-time outfielder for Baltimore next season. He has some pop in his bat, has a good eye at the plate, can play very well in the outfield and he has some speed. So, as an all-around player, Hays can help the Orioles by providing some much need depth to their rather thin roster. Hays should join Luis Robert and Estevan Florial in forming a very solid outfield for Glendale. With the Orioles in total transition, it would appear that Hays is in a perfect spot to gain some attention from the parent club.

DAZ CAMERON-OF-TIGERS (Mesa)

Dealt to the Tigers in the Justin Verlander trade from the Houston Astros, Cameron is the son of former big-league outfielder Mike Cameron. The younger Cameron is a right-handed hitting, 6-foot-2, 195 pound center fielder with little power but a hit tool that is coming along. The Fall League will give him a chance to see how far he has come against some good pitchers. He has been inconsistent with both Houston and Detroit, but he is now with a club that can eventually have room for him in a less crowded outfield than with the Astros. Still, now 21, Cameron has to begin to show some promise to call attention to himself with good speed as his prominent calling card.

CRISTIAN PACHE-CENTERFIELDER-BRAVES (Peoria)

The right-handed hitting outfielder from the Dominican is a top Braves prospect, and one of the brightest lights on the Fall League rosters. He hit .285 this past year at Class-A Advanced Florida and .260 at Double-A Mississippi. Pache stroked nine home runs for the year while stealing seven bases, down from his 2017 season of 32 stolen bases. Pache is known mostly as an outstanding defensive centerfielder. He grades as a 70 in that role. He has a strong arm as well. His hit tool is not that advanced and he doesn’t have much power, so the Fall League may really help the 19-year old , right-handed hitter find a good path to the majors.

JON DUPLANTIER-RHP-DIAMONDBACKS (Salt River)

Duplantier is the highest rated Diamondbacks prospect. However, the Dbacks really don’t have that many prospects close to the majors. With a history of shoulder issues, the Dbacks have been careful with him and they have shut him down at the slightest sign of stress, which is a good way to handle him. He threw only 75 innings this past season and is prime to get some more innings under his belt in the Fall League. He has a repertoire that includes a better than average fastball, slider and curveball and an average changeup. A big man at 6-4, 225 pounds, Duplantier came out of Rice University and is being counted upon to eventually step into the Dbacks rotation.

CARTER KIEBOOM-INF-NATIONALS (Salt River)

Kieboom, the youngest of three baseball playing brothers is a top Nationals prospect. He had a terrific 2018, hitting 16 home runs as a shortstop playing for Double-A Harrisburg and Class-A Advanced Potomac. Kieboom has been tagged as a pure hitter with excellent bat skills. He may not have much power at this early point of his career, but he has a better than average hit tool as a middle-infielder. Still only 21, Kieboom should be able to build on that hitting skill and add some power in the future. With average skills across the board, his gap and home run power still need to develop, but he’s a good athlete with lots of upside.

ESTEVAN FLORIAL-OF-YANKEES (Glendale)

Florial is very highly regarded in the Yankees farm system. A solid hitter with some swing-and-miss issues in his game, Florial is probably stuck on the wrong team, as major-league playing time might be difficult for him to find in the future. Only 20, the left-handed hitter has been in the league before. I am wondering if the Yankees will be showcasing Florial this time around to interest teams in a trade for his services. He is a 70 runner, capable of stealing bases. A better defensive player than hitter, Florial has a great deal to offer.

LUIS ALEXANDER BASABE-OF-WHITE SOX (Glendale)

Unlike Luis Robert who I have seen play a considerable number of times, I haven’t seen highly regarded switch-hitting Basabe at all. He is regarded as a good, speedy runner with above average skill in the outfield. He is not viewed as much of a hitter, and his power seems to be on the rise. Because he is still only 22, Basabe has time to grow into his offensive game, and the Fall League will be a great test for him. An identical twin, Luis Alexander Basabe was signed by the Red Sox, along with his brother Luis Alejandro. Both have since been traded out of the organization, with Luis Alejandro going to the Diamondbacks.

KEIBERT RUIZ-C-DODGERS (Glendale)

Keibert Ruiz may be one of the highest ranked catchers in the entire prospect class. A switch-hitter, Ruiz is a good hitting, good fielding catcher. He doesn’t have tremendous power, but his skills behind the plate and with a bat in his hand have earned high praise. He finished his Double-A season at Tulsa hitting .268 with 12 home runs. The Venezuelan native is best known as a good handler of pitchers with above average catching mechanics. This will be my first extended look at Ruiz, as I saw him briefly last spring training in Glendale.

BRENDAN RODGERS-INF-ROCKIES

I believe there is little doubt Rodgers is headed for the parent club in 2019. For me, the question is which position he will play in the middle-infield? Trevor Story is having a career year with both power and speed stealing bases. Do the Rockies leave Story at shortstop and not disrupt his flow, or do they put Rodgers at short and Story at second? Long a highly regarded Rockies prospect, Rodgers is 6-0 even, so he isn’t very big. He hit a combined .268 this past season in Double-A and Triple-A, playing 114 games. I should note that he has played second, short and third in the minor leagues, so the Rockies may be able to use this highly prized prospect anywhere in the infield.

PAVIN SMITH-1B-DIAMONDBACKS (Salt River)

Smith is a 6-2, 210 pound left-handed hitter out of Virginia. The problem is that the Diamondbacks are fairly well set at first base with All-Star Paul Goldschmidt. That may change in a couple years, when Smith is likely ready for prime time play. He has just completed play at Class-A Advanced Visalia, where he hit .255 with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs playing in 120 games. He did smoke 25 doubles in his 504 plate appearances, so there is great hope that he can continue an upswing in power. His production should increase with time and experience, but Smith is on the radar and his experience in Arizona this coming fall will help his outlook on the game.

MONTE HARRISON-OF-MARLINS (Salt River)

The highest ranking player in the Marlins system, the 6-3, right-handed hitting Harrison went to Miami in the deal that sent Christian Yelich from Miami to Milwaukee. Harrison is probably one of the guys I’m most excited to see play once again. A veteran of a past Fall League campaign, Harrison is an outstanding athlete. He still struggles at the plate a bit, but he is outstanding in the outfield and he has a big, big throwing arm. Faster than one might believe, grading as a 60 runner is not a fluke. He looks like a football player and runs like a tailback. He has work to do making consistent contact, but I think Harrison’s future is very bright.

LUCIUS FOX-INF-RAYS- (Peoria)

Lucius Fox was highly regarded when he began with the San Francisco Giants. However, he was traded to the Rays before he even got a chance to show his true value. A switch-hitter, Fox still lags a bit with the bat. He has little to no power, but he is really, really fast ( a 70 runner) and can steal bases when he learns the proper techniques. He has reached Double-A in the Rays system at the age of 21. I think Fox can be a starting shortstop in the league, but Tampa Bay is still just welcoming Willy Adames. Between Adames and Fox, the middle-infield could be covered for years. However, Fox will have to refine his offense before he can be declared ready to play major-league quality baseball. Joe Wendle, acquired from Oakland is another block to his path, but Fox can become a special type defender with speed to burn.

ARAMIS GARCIA-C-GIANTS (Scottsdale)

I have seen Garcia play in the Fall League and I targeted him at the time as a player with major-league capability. He actually made some appearances in San Francisco this season, but his future may well depend upon how long the club keeps Buster Posey behind the plate. Worse case scenario has Garcia fighting for a backup catcher role. Of course, with Nick Hundley as the current backup catcher, it isn’t likely we will see much more of Garcia in Giants lineups this year. But the future may depend upon how well Garcia can hit. Another bite at the Fall League apple may well help the 6-2, 220 pound catcher get the confidence he needs to move forward.

I do hope you look forward to my Twitter updates and to my articles on this site throughout October and November when I will feature what I have seen in Fall League games.

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I think the Washington Nationals threw the towel in too early. They could have kept their players and traded them in the offseason and could have likely gotten more for them. I think it sent a terrible message to their fans to give up on the season in late July.

Colorado, Arizona and Los Angeles will fight all the way to the end to win the National League West. I think the Dodgers will prevail, but Colorado and Arizona are putting up a tremendous fight. I have some real concerns about Zack Greinke being strong for Arizona in the month of September. There are lots of pitches on his right arm.

With their huge lead in the AL Central, Cleveland had the luxury of obtaining Josh Donaldson for next to nothing in return and then being able to put him on the disabled list, send him to minor league rehab games, and reap the benefit of a more fit offensive weapon when it’s all said and done. Donaldson will be ready for the playoffs, even if it means moving Jose Ramirez from third to second and Jason Kipnis from second to center.

The Cy Young Award I thought could be won by James Paxton will not happen. He has spent time again this season on the disabled list and his inconsistent outings have hurt. The Mariners never caught a break all season, what with Robbie Cano suspended and King Felix Hernandez ineffective. But mentioning the Cy Young brings me to the great work this season by the Phillies Aaron Nola. To me, he’s a Cy Young candidate and a great pitcher to build around for their future.

The Yankees have pretty much relegated Greg Bird to the bench with the emergence of big Luke Voit to play first base. I wonder if the Yankees will try to peddle Bird in a deal for a pitcher this offseason? Man, the Yankees really do need pitching.

TIME FOR SOME NUMBERS

Count me among those that are concerned with the lack of aggressiveness at the plate for White Sox second baseman Yoan Moncada. I’m seeing a bit of improvement swinging when he is in a two-strike hole, but 191 strikeouts as of Friday? Wow! He leads all of baseball.

Speaking of strikeouts: Stanton (186) Gallo (184) Chris Davis (172) Chris Taylor (160) round out the Top 5.

Walks, you ask? Mike Trout (109) Bryce Harper (105) Joey Votto (98) Carlos Santana (94) and Jose Ramirez (93) comprise the Top 5. A walk’s as good as a hit, right?

On base percentage is more important than batting average to me and most people I know. Here are the top five in OBP with at least 300 at-bats: (Mike Trout .456) (Mookie Betts .425) (Joey Votto .420) (Juan Soto .419) (J D Martinez .407).

How’s this for the Mariners Edwin Diaz’ season: 53 saves, 36 hits in 67.1 innings pitched, 117 strikeouts, 16 walks and 67 game appearances as of Friday, September 7.

Closest to Diaz is saves is the Red Sox Craig Kimbrel and the Rockies Wade Davis who are tied with…….38.

Tyler Chatwood has walked 93 hitters in 101.2 innings.

Mike Leake has yielded 189 hits in 171 innings.

Ketel Marte has ten triples. Alex Bregman has 47 doubles. Francisco Lindor has scored 117 runs.

Kris Davis was the first to 40 homers, and that’s his baseball leading number of long balls as of Friday.

Baltimore has lost 99 games. They trail the Red Sox by……55 1/2 games in the standings.

Kansas City has lost 93. They trail Cleveland by 33 1/2 games. Three weeks remain for both Baltimore and Kansas City to go deep into the 100’s in games lost.

Boston has won 97 games with 21 left to play.

Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff.

About The Author

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff