Your chance to see some live baseball before the long, dark winter months is just about done. The Arizona Fall League is wrapping up. It's a sad day for sure.
But the AFL also marks an unofficial moment -- that moment when we turn our attention to next year. It's already time to begin making projections, filling out rankings, and making off-season trades in your keeper and dynasty leagues. Dunno about you, but my twitter feed is full of questions like these into the winter.
So let's take a look at the prospects down in the AFL. They're a mixed bag. While the group of players sent to the league are top-notch for the most part, they represent three distinct groups.
One group consists of elite prospects that are ready for the major leagues. The AFL gives the team one last chance to stretch them out and see how their best young players stack up against the best young players on other teams. Last year, the profiles of Brandon Belt, Dustin Ackley, Ben Revere, and Marc Rzepcynski turned out to be relevant for the major leagues. To be fair, Kam Mickolio and Leslie Anderson were stated long shots.
Another group are elite prospects that are further away. Last year, Bryce Harper, Mike Montgomery, Eric Hosmer, Zack Cox, Michael Taylor, Danny Duffy, Marc Krauss, Charlie Blackmon, Tony Sanchez and Chris Carpenter got a profile. All of them stayed in the minor leagues except the Royals duo and the surprise callup of Blackmon in Colorado. You'll see some of these guys again.
The last group are not really prospects. For the most part, the pitchers in the AFL are not high-end talent -- a young, exciting prospect arm is usually protected from logging lots of innings in the minors. Instead, what you get are injured players that need innings, or pitchers changing roles.
We'll focus on the first two groups and sprinkle that last group in where appropriate. Because it really is time to think about these players in the context of next year. Don't neglect your fantasy team all winter!
Here are your MLB-ready Arizona Fall League stars.
OF Mike Trout, Los Angeles A.L.
The best baseball-ready prospect in baseball is blocked at the major league level and not wowing in Arizona. But! Some of the worst outfielders in baseball -- Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu -- are blocking him in Los Angeles. And even though he only has one home run and his .287 batting average is mediocre for the AFL this year, he's only garnered 103 at-bats down there. He also has 32 strikeouts against five walks, but he's never had a problem with strikeouts, even in the majors last year. Paul Sporer saw him play live and felt that he looked tired, which could be considering that he crossed the 600-plate-appearance threshold for the first time in his career while in Arizona. It would be nice if Trout had laid waste to the AFL, but his performance in spring training still might be more important in determining his playing time in 2012.
OF Bryce Harper, Washington
Harper's meteoric rise took a bit of a detour when he hit Double-A last season. At least his strikeout rate came back to earth (around 18% for the year), but his power disappeared in Harrisburg. The Eastern League is a little bit more of a pitcher's league, and he was only there for about 150 plate appearances, so it's not time to jump ship. So it's good news that Harper has six home runs (tied for third behind Mike Olt's league-leading 13) and is showing his slugging ability again in Arizona. For one, he hit a ball further than anyone at the AFL (462 feet). He's still a top-flight talent, and once he puts in a half-season of strong work at Double-A, the team will be very tempted to call him up for the second half. He's no lock for a 2012 arrival, but he's closer than his numbers would suggest.
SS Nick Franklin, Seattle
Franklin is batting .233 in the AFL, and it looks like a disappointing effort overall (.662 OPS). He did hit a home run in the all-star game -- part of a four for five effort with two doubles, a home run, and four RBI -- and the time has not been lost. He led the AFL with 18 hard contact hits. Trackman, a company with cameras in the Arizona parks, recorded 18 times where the ball was going more than 90 MPH off of Franklin's bat -- and batters in the majors usually hit better than .360 on similar contact. Franklin may not have elite power or speed, but he looks like he'll be a useful fantasy shortstop in the major leagues. Since he only managed 92 PAs in Double-A last year, he'll probably begin the season there again, but there's an outside chance that he could join keystone partner Dustin Ackley in Seattle before September.
3B Will Middlebrooks, Boston
A breakout year in Double-A has Middlebrooks knocking on the door, but his strikeout rate is still an issue. So his .250/.300/.518 line looks okay -- nice and powerful, really -- but put up against the .286/.363/.454 average line in the AFL, it's a less exciting. And his 19 strikeouts in 60 PAs is also not so exciting. Middlebrooks has power. He also has iffy plate discipline and a crowded major league team.
OF Jaff Decker, San Diego
Decker is a smallish (5'10", 190 lbs) athletic outfielder that packs a good punch for his size. His strikeout rate has also been creeping in the wrong direction as he's advanced in the minor leagues, and he's a lefty going to the worst power park in the major leagues for left-handed hitters. His .284/.400/.432 line in the AFL is meh. He'll probably play in the majors, but leave him for your deep league dynasty team or on the waiver wire after your mixed league draft.
OF Logan Schafer, Milwaukee
Schafer doesn't have much power, or much success stealing bases. But he does walks some and makes a ton of contact. That .302/.364/.448 line in the AFL looks good, but even better is that he continued to avoid striking out. He only struck out nine times in his 100+ PAs in the desert, and walk and strikeout rates stabilize quicker than most statistics. Unfortunately he's the same handedness as Nyjer Morgan, so it will take a trade to open up playing time in center field for him.
3B Matt Dominguez, Florida
He's supposedly a glove-first guy, but the bat's just not there at all. A .210/.278/.383 line in one of the easiest offensive leagues in baseball… yeah. Not enough. If he could just walk a little more, or show a little power, there's a job waiting for him in the bigs. At least until Jose Reyes signs there, if he does.
SP Miguel De Los Santos, Texas
This 23-year-old Dominican lefty only managed 91 2/3 innings this year in the minor leagues, so he's in Arizona to add innings. Well, he's pitched another 25 1/3 innings there, and struck out a league-leading 34 batters. The walk rate is a problem for him, and that's been the case before and after his Tommy John surgery. His 13 walks mean that they are still an issue, but when a guy strikes this many out, you remember his name.
RP Chris Carpenter, Chicago N.L.
"Not that" Chris Carpenter is back again, and he's hitting triple digits on the radar again. What's different a year later? Well, Carlos Marmol had a poor year, and the team might be looking to rebuild with an entirely new front office in place. Could Carpenter be the Closer of the Future in Chicago? It's not a crazy thought. Marmol only has one year left on his deal, and even Sean Marshall is entering his final season under control. Managing a 3.29 ERA in a league that sees 12 runs score per game is pretty impressive, as are the 18 strikeouts in 13.2 innings. The ten walks are a problem, and were a problem for much of 2011. The good news is that they haven't always been a problem at every level. He could figure it out.
RP Brad Boxberger, Cincinnati
The Reds' best relief prospect dominated at Triple-A with a double-digit strikeout rate and the team is likely to let their former closer, Francisco Cordero, walk this offseason. They're also trying Aroldis Chapman as a starter in Arizona (though he's only managed two-plus innings due to a sore shoulder), so there's a chance Boxberger could sneak into late-inning duty as early as late 2012. In the AFL, he's continued his dominance with a 2.92 ERA and 19 strikeouts against four walks.
RP Robert Carson, New York N.L.
Carson's a lefty that rose to the top of the velocity leader boards in Arizona by throwing 94-MPH-plus regularly. As a southpaw reliever he's a little less likely to end up closing, but the Mets may go in any direction with that bullpen next year, so stash the name.
RP Anthony Bass, San Diego
Bass has 23 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings for Peoria, so you can ignore the 4.98 ERA some. He also only has five walks. But Trackman has his fastball as one of the straightest in Arizona, and Bass has not had the most impressive strikeout rates in the minor leagues. Bell may not be coming back to San Diego, but Luke Gregeqrson is ahead of him in line.
SP Terry Doyle, Chicago A.L.
Reader Nathaniel Stoltz puts forth Doyle as a pitcher worth watching. Doyle hasn't shown a good strikeout rate since A-ball, but his control has always been elite. These trends continued in the AFL, as he only struck out 18 in 24 1/3 innings, but he also only walked four. That sort of strikeout-to-walk ratio, especially when put up in an offensive environment, is worth keeping an eye out for, especially since the big league club is about to lose a major part of it's rotation.