Periodically, I’ll be posting notes from in-person observations at Fall Instructional League and the Arizona Fall League. Both are essentially the scouting calendar’s dessert course both in their timing and sometimes dubious value. I take bad fall looks with a large grain of salt as players are sometimes fatigued, disinterested, put in difficult situations purposefully so that they’ll fail, or some combination of these or other bits of important context. With that in mind here are links to past notes followed by this edition’s.
Previously: 9/20 (TEX, SD).
San Diego held an intrasquad game last Thursday morning that featured many of the club’s high-profile position players. Venezuelan infielder Justin Lopez has begun to grow into his rangy, 6-foot-2 frame and is taking stronger swings than he was in the spring. His levers and swing are long, causing Lopez to be late on some hittable fastballs, but he has good feel to hit for a gangly 17-year-old switch-hitter. Lopez is a graceful defender with polished actions for a teenager and can competently play either middle-infield position, though he might eventually outgrow shortstop. He turns 18 in May.
OF/1B Tirso Ornelas has also been in the midst of a physical transformation, streamlining a frame that I once thought was surely destined for first base. He spent a good amount of time in center field this summer, and while I think it’s very unlikely he plays there long term, I do like his chances of serving as a competent corner-outfield defender, probably in left field. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on Ornelas’s bat wherever he ultimately falls on the defensive spectrum but he’s very advanced in that regard, with all-fields doubles power already at age 17. On Thursday, he stayed back on a breaking ball on the outer half and hit it the opposite way for a single.
Like Ornelas, RHP Martin Carrasco is a 17-year-old from Tijuana. He doesn’t throw especially hard right now, sitting 85-88, but he has advanced fastball command and some feel for a changeup and breaking ball. He’s an intriguing, athletic teenage arm and worth following as he transitions to stateside ball.
The White Sox’ and Rangers’ instructional-league groups played each other in Surprise on Thursday afternoon. Walker Weickel, a righty drafted 55th overall by San Diego in 2012, started the game for Texas and was 91-93, touching 94, with an average curveball and fringe cutter and changeup. Weickel was released by San Diego near the end of spring training and was picked up by Texas in early April.
CF Pedro Gonzalez, who Texas received as the player to be named later in the Jonathan Lucroy trade, had a huge day. He tallied multiple extra-base hits and showed good range in center field. He’s a 45 runner from home to first, but long-legged striders like Gonzalez often take a little while longer to get to full speed. I’m optimistic about his chances of staying in center field. He had some issues around the wall/warning-track area but Gonzalez is a converted shortstop who’s been playing the outfield for only a few seasons. His frame has room for another 30 pounds or so and whatever raw power comes with it.
White Sox lefty Ian Clarkin sat in the upper 80s and touched 90 with an average curveball and changeup. He was one of the prospects sent to Chicago from the Yankees in the Frazier/Kahnle/Robertson deal. C Zack Collins, the team’s 2016 first rounder, turned on a fastball from Rangers RHP Tyler Phillips and homered to right field.
On Friday, a lone Brewers and Padres instructional-league game was straddled by a full day of amateur tournament play in the West Valley. Padres SS Luis Almanzar looked much better that day then he had in the few games I’d seen leading up to this one, hitting one ball to the warning track the opposite way and later doubling down the left-field line. I think he’s a better fit at second base than at shortstop, which means he’ll have to hit for more power than he did in the Northwest League in 2017.
Brewers 2017 first-rounder Keston Hiura played second base on Friday, notable because he spent all spring DH-ing at UC Irvine due to an elbow injury. That continued through all but three of Hiura’s final four games at the end of the pro season. I didn’t see his arm stress-tested during this game, but I thought he had the best bat speed on the field.
RHP Adrian Houser made a tune-up start ahead of Fall League play and looks to be in great physical condition. He made nine late-season starts after missing just over a year due to elbow surgery and rehab. He was up to 96 with his fastball and missing bats with a 12-6 curveball.
On Saturday, I saw Padres Cuban righty Michel Baez sit 94-97 and throw strikes with an average curveball. He lacked feel for his changeup that morning, but it’s his best secondary pitch. He alternated half-innings with Cuban lefty Adrian Morejon, who was 93-94 with an above-average breaking ball and changeup but poor command. He was a dominant on-paper strike-thrower at short-season Tri-City before struggling with walks in six starts at Low-A Fort Wayne.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.