The weather could not have been more beautiful in the Valley of the Sun in Phoenix, Arizona for the beginning of the Arizona Fall League. With temperatures in the 80’s, a cool breeze ruffling the American flag just a bit and the sun shining brightly to welcome a new group of prospects, the Fall League began season number 27.
The brainchild of baseball executive Roland Hemond, the Arizona Fall League was invented to give top prospects a chance to play offseason baseball in the United States rather than travel to a foreign country to hone their skills. Remaining in stateside, clubs can better monitor the progress of their players. In addition, club executives can also watch their Instructional League clubs working in Arizona as well.
Changing little over the years, a limited staff under the leadership of Arizona Fall League Director Steve Cobb guides a group of prospect players who help stock six teams that play games from the second week in October until just before Thanksgiving in November.
Former general manager and current baseball executive Bill Bavasi and MLP Senior Vice President of Marketing & Entertainment Ken Krasner have joined the Fall League administration this season. Just as an aside, Bavasi was my general manager when I scouted for the Seattle Mariners and it really is great to see him here in Arizona. He’s an outstanding baseball exec.
Each of five major league organizations blend together to form a team. The six blended teams play in Spring Training facilities. The facilities used and their Spring Training occupants include Mesa (Cubs) Scottsdale (Giants) Salt River Fields (Rockies and Diamondbacks) Glendale (Dodgers and White Sox) Peoria (Mariners and Padres) and Surprise (Kansas City and Texas). Games are played at 12:35 PM and 6:35 PM so young players can experience day games as well as those in the evening. Games are played Monday-Saturday with Sunday being a day off for all players and staff.
There are two separate divisions in the league. The East Division (Mesa-Salt River-Scottsdale) and the West Division (Glendale, Peoria, Surprise) play each other throughout the six-week season. However, at the end of the season, the winners of each Division meet in the Arizona Fall League Championship Game.
The league holds their annual Fall Stars Game, a quasi All-Star Game at the end of the 4th week. The game does not always feature the players with the best first half performances. Instead, the Fall Stars are determined by league staff in conjunction with Player Development staff of each major league club.
It is not uncommon for countless front office executives in addition to numbers of scouts to be in the stands watching prospects in each of the three games played each game day. It is not uncommon for teams to “showcase” players they may have to place on their 40-man roster later in the fall. Some of those players, as well as others may be the target of willing team trade partners. I cannot remember a year when several Fall League players weren’t traded.
I have been fortunate to watch the Arizona Fall League since its inception. I vividly remember the year basketball superstar Michael Jordan played for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the 1994 Fall League. In fact, as I was on the way to Arizona from Chicago to watch Jordan play in the AFL, Jordan was on his way to Chicago for rest and personal time away. So I missed him. But I saw many other prospects that season, and every other year of the AFL. Tim Tebow was a Fall League player, as were Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, Derek Jeter, Ronald Acuna and some 4,800 players who have appeared in the AFL. Over 2,900 of the league’s graduates have appeared in major league baseball.
Specific team assignments and their locations for the fall are as follows:
MESA SOLAR SOX: Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics
SALT RIVER RAFTERS: Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Miami Marlins, Minnesota Twins, Washington Nationals
SCOTTSDALE SCORPIONS: Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants
GLENDALE DESERT DOGS: Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees
PEORIA JAVELINAS: Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays
SCOTTSDALE SCORPIONS: Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays
Today I begin profile reports on some of the players I have been watching this Fall League season. I will update these reports if I find other information on the particular player I wish to add after seeing more of their play:
VLADIMIR GUERERRO JR-3B/TORONTO BLUE JAYS
B/T: R/R | 6’1″/200 | Age: 19
Vlad Guerrero Jr. was signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2015.
When scouting Vlad Guerrero Jr., a good place to begin is his physical presence. Guerrero Jr. is a big man. He appears to be at least 20 pounds heavier than his listed weight. With a broad frame and a large lower-body, it strikes me that Guerrero Jr. is going to have to watch his weight carefully in his career. I have seen players like Miguel Sano and Pablo Sandoval let their weight get too far out of line, diminishing their skills. Right now Guerrero Jr. has a frame resembling that of a young Prince Fielder. If he can hit like Prince, that will be fine. But Fielder’s career ended when he couldn’t really overcome physical problems. Vlad Jr. has all the talent in the world, but he has to be mindful of the importance of staying in prime shape.
Guerrero Jr. is a very, very advanced player at only 19 years old. He will turn 20 in March.
Strong , stocky and powerful, Guerrero Jr. has the bat speed and strength to be a home run force at the big league level for years and years to come. He has very quick and strong forearms and wrists with lightning fast bat speed.
The son of a Hall of Fame superstar, Vlad Jr. has a bit more plate discipline than his dad. Feasting on fastballs, Vlad Jr. has a bit more trouble with late breaking sliders and cutters. I saw him flail at an outside pitch that broke quickly. However, pitches within the strike zone may well land in either outfield gap or over the fence. But those hiccups are more the outlier, the exception, than the rule.
Guerrero Jr. does not have the natural athletic ability, athletic frame, or natural speed of his dad. Instead, Guerrero Jr. has created his success by working and honing skills like bat speed, pitch recognition and hitting mechanics that he can learn while making the most of the natural gifts of his gene pool.
Fact: The average exit speed of the ball off the bat of a major league player is in the range of 93 to 95 miles per hour. That’s plenty fast. Think in the 105 miles per hour range as an average when Guerrero Jr. barrels the ball. His bat speed is outstanding.
Guerrero Jr. finds the barrel of the bat with advanced hitting mechanics, excellent eye-hand coordination, excellent concentration and an ability to quickly see the ball out of the hand of the pitcher.
In three minor league seasons with the Blue Jays, Guerrero Jr. has an incredible batting average of .331 with 41 homers and 200 RBIs. He has also hit 69 minor league doubles and six triples. Guerrero Jr. is truly a generational type hitter.
Defensively, I find his lack of range and slow first step to be a bit of an issue at third base. He is a below average defender at this point in his career. Ultimately, I feel his best position may well be first base. In the worst case scenario, Guerrero Jr. will live-out his career as a very high quality designated hitter. That may be a long way off, however, as the Blue Jays have every intention on playing him on defense. The best case scenario is that he improves with experience at 3B and can stick there for his career.
The fact that Guerrero Jr. can be considered for a role on the Blue Jays 25-man roster next season speaks to his ability as a professional, lethal and focused power hitter. He has the potential to hit 30 home runs early in his career. That number can grow with time and experience.
I project Guerrero Jr. to be a highly credible middle of the batting order hitter capable of driving in a minimum of 100 runs a season. Given his patience and above average eye-hand coordination, pitching to Guerrero Jr. will be a tremendous challenge. He will have to be beaten on breaking balls outside the strike zone away from the middle of the plate. He’ll crush any mistake made by a pitcher.
Guerrero Jr. and other highly regarded Blue Jays prospects provide some hope for a franchise that has been trending in the wrong direction. He is exciting to watch. He’s the type of player that will keep fans from going to the concession stands when he comes to bat.
In his first week in the Fall League, Guerrero is tormenting pitchers. He is a doubles machine and midway through Friday afternoon’s game he was hitting a rather eye-popping .667 with 8 hits in 12 plate appearances. Four of his hits have been doubles. Fans and his teammates are loving it.
Summary: A lethal power-hitter with upside for outstanding batting average and power numbers, but with below average defense at 3B at this early stage of his career.
Scouting Grade: 70 with tremendous upside
CAVAN BIGGIO-2B/3B/OF/TORONTO BLUE JAYS
B/T: L/R | 6’1″/201 | Age: 23
Cavan Biggio, the son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, is an excellent athlete with very good baseball instincts.
When I saw him play it was in right field. Normally a second baseman, Biggio was not overwhelmed in the outfield. He made good plays and took good routes. I want to see more of him, and I will as the fall continues. So far in the young fall season, Biggio has not played every game, every day.
Using a good eye at the plate, Biggio is not easily fooled. Hitting from the left side, I feel he is capable of taking a pitch where it is thrown and not just pulling the ball to the right side.
He may scuffle a bit until he finds a greater comfort zone within his own abilities. I can see Biggio being a candidate to stress a great deal if things aren’t going well. He seems to be intense and focused on success. Those are very positive qualities, but I am concerned about his ability to handle adversity-such as a hitting slump. Being the son of a major league player brings pressure that his peers won’t always have to endure.
After playing baseball at Notre Dame, Biggio became a 5th round pick of the Blue Jays in the 2016 draft. This past season, the Houston native hit .252 with 26 home runs and 99 RBI at Double-A New Hampshire. Those numbers helped earn Biggio the Eastern League MVP and Rookie of the Year awards.
I believe Biggio will be a much better overall player than scouts and analysts have projected so far. I see his power as being natural, and not a fluke. His swing has enough uppercut to threaten the walls and fences in most parks. In addition, Biggio has the speed, the quickness and the instincts to steal bases. So overall, his hit tool, his power and some sneaky speed may ultimately come together nicely to produce an average to above average player.
He isn’t fast, but Biggio’s instincts and game savvy should lead to some nice stolen base numbers to supplement an average hit tool and some surprising power. He is a disciplined hitter, making the most of pitches he feels he can drive. Biggio will be a tough out.
If Biggio continues to play second base, he will provide offense and power that generally exceeds the position at the big league level. However, given his outfield work in the Fall League it is not unrealistic to determine that Biggio can be the type of player that moves around the diamond as needed, making him a highly valuable offensive player on the Blue Jays roster.
It is likely Biggio will require at least another year of seasoning in his development program before he is considered for a major league graduation.
It remains to be seen if Biggio can build on his 26 home run season. I’m not sure his power translates to that type of number, but he very well could surprise and repeat that production with his hard work and solid effort.
Summary: A good athlete capable of exceeding expectations as a versatile major league player.
Scouting Grade: 50
KESTON HIURA-2B/MILWAUKEE BREWERS
B/T: R/R | 5’11″/190 | Age: 22
A 2017 1st round pick by the Brewers in the 2017 draft out of the University of California at Irvine, Hiura is a very exciting player to watch. He was a 2017 Golden Spikes semifinalist while playing in the Big West Conference. He was named the Player of the Year in the conference as well. That same year he hit .442, winning the NCAA batting title.
Using excellent bat to ball skills, Hiura makes loud contact at the plate. He has an outstanding hit tool that could translate to flirting with, if not winning a batting title someday. In parts of two minor league seasons so far, the 22-year-old Hiura has a minor league batting average of .313. He finished 2018 at Double-A Biloxi in the Southern League where he hit .272 in 307 plate appearances. He began the year hitting .320 at Class-A Advanced Carolina.
It is so easy to see why the Brewers liked him out of Cal Irvine. He makes outstanding contact, sees the ball out of the hand of the pitcher very well, and has nearly flawless hitting mechanics. A right elbow injury in his past has not seemed to hamper him as a professional.
Hiura’s measured swing and outstanding bat speed help generate his gap and home run power. He has the ability to use the entire field, taking a pitch where it is thrown.
I really like the way Hiura controls his at-bats. He doesn’t get overly aggressive and takes what the pitcher is giving. He can cream a pitcher’s mistakes. With an ability to see the ball early out of the pitcher’s hand, Hiura does a very good job of recognizing pitches.
While I think Hiura will be able to steal bases, much will depend upon his instincts to run. He still needs some work on reading pitchers. But make no mistake, Hiura will be called upon to steal bases and he will succeed. He has a very advanced feel for proper base running and a good technique for stealing bases at this early stage of his professional career. Again, reading pitchers may be the last item to cross off his list in preparing to be an elite base stealer. He is stealing bases more with good base running technique as opposed to great speed. Frankly, I find him more “quick” than fast. It works.
While some scouts and analysts have been critical of his defense at 2B, I believe he is good enough to play average defense with a strong enough arm for that position. However, I wouldn’t want to play Hiura at shortstop due to a slower first step, an overall lack of range and not enough arm strength to make the throw from the hole. But at 2B, he’ll do just fine.
Hiura’s game seems very natural. He isn’t forcing his at-bats. He isn’t trying to hit every pitch out of the park. He just looks like he’s having fun and enjoying the challenges that come with being a professional baseball player. It is his natural ability and the way he brings the game to him with a confident flow that impress me.
If Hiura hits as I have seen so far, he can be a very capable regular 2B on a good quality team like the Brewers. However, I feel he needs one more complete season of development before a September call gives him a look at his next level of play.
Summary: An outstanding contact hitter with power and plate discipline. An average defender best suited at 2B.
Scouting Grade: 55
ROB KAMINSKY-LHP-CLEVELAND INDIANS
B/T: R/L | 5’11″/200 | Age: 24
Drafted out of St. Joseph Regional High School is Montvale, New Jersey by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1st round of the 2013 draft, Rob Kaminsky was the 28th overall person taken in that draft. However, the Cardinals chose to trade Kaminsky to the Cleveland Indians in July 2015. It was a quick organizational ending for a 1st round draft pick. The Cardinals needed the power Brandon Moss, the player they received in the deal with Cleveland offered.
So far, Kaminsky has not produced the type of pitching the Indians had anticipated. In fact, having turned 24 in September, it would appear Kaminsky is on the clock now and he must start to produce to earn any type of big league promotion.
It was ironic that the Cardinals traded Kaminsky after he had two very good seasons in their development program. Then, when he got to the Indians, injuries piled up. He has missed lots of time due to injuries. While excitement was high when he was traded to Cleveland, he has just not been the pitcher the Indians or their fans expected when they made the trade with St. Louis.
In his six-season minor league career, Kaminsky has a 26-20 record with a 2.72 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, numbers that are not bad. This year the Indians used Kaminsky in the bullpen. He had started games in every other season until now. He even closed games for Double-A Akron in the Eastern League, earning 4 saves along the way.
Given the state of the Indians bullpen, it seems the Tribe may be looking to the left-handed Kaminsky to come out of the pen for them next season. However, from what I have seen, I’m not persuaded about his ability to pitch at the highest level.
His curveball is his best pitch, grading out at better than average. However, a low-velocity fastball and a way below average changeup do not add to his repertoire. Poor command and control only serve to compound his problems. If he gets too much of the plate with that good curve, he gets hit hard.
Kaminsky has had a history of a sore forearm and general arm issues. While that is not uncommon, one has to wonder if he is durable enough to pitch a hefty number of innings.
A high walk rate of greater than six walks per nine innings coupled with a lowish strikeout rate of seven per nine innings do not enhance Kaminsky’s chances of a promotion. Command and control problems haunt him.
Perhaps he will be a late left-handed bloomer, but from what I have seen, Rob Kaminsky is pitching well below his drafted expectations and he will have to take advantage of any opportunity he gets to showcase what talent he has. And I just don’t see the talent.
I am wondering if Kaminsky might be used as a starter in the Fall League for the Glendale club? Maybe that along with some relief duty will be a way to determine if Kaminsky is a keeper in the Cleveland system.
One way or another, as a starter or reliever, the Indians would welcome an improvement in the command and control of Rob Kaminsky. He will always be dependent upon a good curveball, but he must improve his overall repertoire to extend his career in a positive manner.
Summary: An underachieving, oft-injured left-handed pitcher with his clock ticking. Poor command and control, limited velocity on a weak fastball and an excellent curve ball are his major offerings.
Scouting Grade: 40
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