The majority of the baseball-viewing public will be fixed upon the conclusions of the Division Series this week, but the scouting and player development departments of MLB clubs will gather in the greater Phoenix area for the start of the Arizona Fall League on Tuesday. Several of the players in the AFL will play a significant role at the MLB level in 2012, perhaps in October. Arizona’s Game 3 starter tonight is Josh Collmenter, a 2010 member of the Scottsdale Scorpions.
Many of the game’s top prospects will be playing a 38-game schedule in front of crowds that number in the hundreds but include many of the game’s top executives. For some, it’s a chance to get more plate appearances after a limited run in MLB (Mike Trout). For others, it’s the first chance to show an organization what it just invested in (Gerrit Cole). Altogether, the AFL presents an exciting opportunity for players and evaluators before the book on 2011 is closed.
While it’s important to consider the small sample of innings pitched in the AFL, pitching prospects can use a solid performance in the AFL as a springboard to a breakout season. In the 2010 AFL, Nationals righty Brad Peacock flashed a plus FB and CB on his way to striking out 17 in 12 IP while the 2011 season saw him dominate AA and AAA. His breakout season earned him a promotion to Washington, DC in September.
Here are some of the arms to follow this fall:
Several first rounders from a loaded 2011 draft will be making their professional debuts in the AFL this month, headlined by the top overall pick, Gerrit Cole. The righty’s artillery includes a high 90’s fastball, but he went just 6-8, 3.31 this season at UCLA. This fall, the Pirates will have their first opportunity to start harnessing better results out of the righty’s electric stuff when he joins the Mesa Solar Sox. Joining Cole on the Solar Sox will be Cubs reliever Jeff Beliveau. The lefty could parlay a strong AFL campaign into a spot in the Cubs 2012 bullpen, as he’s coming off a year which saw him strike out 69 in 59 IP while allowing just 37 hits at Double-A.
Number 2 overall pick Dan Hultzen will look to showcase what made him command an $8.5 million MLB deal when he suits up for the Peoria Javelinas. Hultzen is a candidate to move quickly through the Mariners system – the polished lefty was dominant in three years at Virginia and could be poised to join Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda in the Mariners rotation late in 2012. Joining Hultzen on the Javelinas is Mets righty Collin McHugh. The former 18th round pick will look to continue to showcase the stuff that saw him strike out 100 in 93.1 IP while allowing just 78 H for Double- A Binghamton.
Joe Gardner was a piece the Rockies obtained in the the Ubaldo Jimenez deal, and he’ll look to add a solid AFL campaign to a strong string of starts for his new organization. The righty posted a 4.99 ERA in 19 starts for Double- A Akron, but over six starts for Tulsa in the Texas League, he allowed 31 H in 36.1 IP to go along with a 2.48 ERA. He’ll take the mound for the Salt River Rafters and be joined on the squad by Charles Brewer of the Diamondbacks, who will be looking to boost his IP total for 2011 – this season he posted a 2.58 ERA in just 58.33 Double-A IP.
Braves 1st rounder Sean Gilmartin will join Hultzen as a 2011 1st round lefty in the AFL when he joins the Surprise Sagauros. Gilmartin impressed in five starts in A – ball, punching out 30 in 21.1 IP after a stellar career at Florida State. Johan Yan is a very intriguing prospect in the Rangers chain who will team with Gilmartin on the Sagauros staff. Formerly a 3B, he switched to the mound in 2009 and had a breakout year in 2011, culminating with a 26.2 IP, 18 H, 1 ER performance at Double-A Frisco.
Matt Purke will make his highly anticipated professional debut for the Scottsdale Scorpions. Purke slipped to the 3d round in this June’s draft, but commanded a $4.4 million bonus and MLB deal from the Nationals. A former first rounder out of HS, Purke was slowed this season at TCU due to shoulder soreness. The Nats are convinced he is healthy – they’ll get a chance to evaluate him against some of the minors top prospects this fall.
A pair of Phillie pharmhands (sorry, couldn’t resist) will team up with Purke for Scottsdale. Lefty Jacob Diekman posted an 11.49 K/9 in 65 IP for Double-A Reading in 2011 while righty Tyler Cloyd tallied a 6.6 K/BB ratio in 17 starts for the Phillies’ Double-A affiliate.
The Yankees will send several pitchers to the Phoenix Desert Dogs. The closest to MLB is righty David Phelps – he has spent the last two seasons in the upper minors and could be auditioning for other teams as he is rarely mentioned in the Yankee prospect group that includes Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. Donnie Joseph, a lefty reliever in the Reds system, will look to salvage a disastrous 2011 campaign that saw him walk 4.6/9 IP and post a 6.94 ERA at Double-A Carolina.
The scouting and player development bonanza that is the AFL begins at 12:35 MST pm today.