Eno Sarris


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The AFL's Upside Plays

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

We covered the more MLB-ready prospects last week, so now it's time to look at the longer-term assets that could be helpful in dynasty leagues with prospect slots. In any case, these are the players that should move up prospect lists this coming year, and are great names to file away.


Just in time for this piece, I did a little research over at FanGraphs about the success rates of the AFL Rising Stars. Being selected as an all star means you have about the same success rate as a top-30 hitting prospect -- which is great news because some of the players that were selected haven't shown on a top 100 prospect list yet. This is how you get the jump on your leaguemates.


Byron Buxton
Dude can fly. In the parlance of scouts, this Twins prospect also has long levers. The power is a question -- he had above-average power in low-A, and then about league-average power in high-A. In Arizona, he's showing the power but also whiffing more, which can be a risk with taller players. They often have bigger holes in their plate coverage, especially inside, where it's tough to get all that arm through their swing fast enough to turn on something. But Buxton's outfield defense, speed and patience all make for a soft landing, even if he doesn't quite have above-average power in the big leagues, even if he does strike out a bit. Possible outcomes vary all the way from the Michael Saunders / Mike Cameron section of the store to even… gasp… Andrew McCutchen territory. But once a prospect gets this much helium, you have to remember that even a top-ten hitting prospect has a bust rate over 40%.


Austin Hedges
The Padres' catching prospect has actually seen Double-A time, but with Yasmani Grandal in the big leagues, there's not as much or a rush to get him up there. He didn't fare well in Double-A, but it was only 75 plate appearances, and scouts were mad about Hedges' defense in Arizona. He threw out Brian Goodwin and James Ramsey in the Rising Stars game, showcasing his great arm. Though defense doesn't score in fantasy, it will get him to the big leagues faster. Once there, he could hit for an okay average with a little bit of power and speed… but probably won't be much better than Russell Martin. Which is great in real life, but in fantasy, it underlines how tough it is to find good-hitting catching prospects.


Kyle Crick
Kyle Crick threw so fast that his changeup went almost 89 in the Rising Stars game. He's been top ten overall in average fastball velocity, and his fastball gets top-ten RPM. He has great breaking stuff, too. So what's the problem? Hopefully, it's mechanical. He does have some issues with his stride and landing spot with the front foot -- they're inconsistent, and probably some of the reason why his walk rates have been bad. But it's hard to know if he'll fix them. He has the stuff to succeed, but needs to add control. He was in the AFL to build innings -- an oblique injury during the season limited him to just 68 2/3 innings in High-A, and the Giants probably want him to throw deeper past 100 innings next season as he gets closer to the big leagues.


Addison Russell
I'll be posting an interview with Russell soon, but the general takeaway from talking to him was that he's very smart and aware on the field. Talking about him about defense and the way he has to captain some of the infield was eye-opening. There is some talk that his bigger frame would move him off the position, but he's playing it well, and that might be partially because he's making the most of his positioning. He knows where to put himself. On offense, there's a little bit of swing and miss to his game, which brings risk, but he's patient, plays good defense, and has real power and speed. He admitted to me that his pre-Rising-Stars-game batting average was depressed by a bad batting average on balls in play -- and since, his line drives have been finding grass, and his .299/.375/.455 line looks a lot more like what he can do. He's an excellent fantasy shortstop prospect.


Alen Hanson
By being picked for the Rising Stars game, and being young, Alen Hanson has pushed his success rate in the big leagues close to 40%. The problem is that his defense is a little suspect at shortstop, and his power waxes and wanes, and his patience isn't always there. But the tools are obvious. He blazed around the basepaths in Arizona and made the most of poor plate discipline to keep on the good side of most scouts. There was some belief that if he could slow down the game a bit and focus on just making the play, he could make his tools work at short. And it's shortstop in Pittsburgh that could be waiting for him if he has a good year this year. He's a decent buy low, considering the tools and opportunity are still there.


Jorge Soler
For an athletic, big dude, the power hasn't quite been there yet for Soler. And the 21-year-old hasn't quite shown good plate discipline yet. He looks like he'll eventually show big time power, and that's probably intertwined with his plate discipline. Better pitch recognition will allow him to uncork on balls. He hasn't had a great time in Arizona, though, and the plate discipline went the wrong way. Hopefully he can use that time to prepare himself for the jump to Double-A, where pitchers can command their breaking stuff more often. If his plate discipline stats get worse instead of improving, it might be time to sell his stock.


Albert Almora
The Cubs' lesser-known of the top three prospects, Albert Almora has a lot of things going for him. He makes more contact than Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler -- but contact rates lag behind walk rates as predictors of future success, and his walk rates have been poor. At 19, he's super young, and his selection to the Rising Stars game probably predicts a jump in future prospect lists. He had a few injuries this season, but he seems confident that those problems are behind him. He'll probably see some Double-A time this year, but watch his walk rates, as those might be more important even than his burgeoning power.


Garin Cecchini
Cecchini was the subject of much of the chatter among evaluators. His frenetic approach to defense had strange results. At times, he seemed disinterested in playing defense, as he watched balls go by him and coaches expressed frustration. At other times, he went full bore into the play and overdid things. He obviously has the ability to play third base, though, and injecting some calm into his game could be all that he needs. At the plate, he has the potential to show great patience, above-average power with good speed (he stole 51 in 2012, but that went down to 23 in High-A and Double-A combined this season) and a decent batting average. Since he's a Red Sox third baseman, his future is nebulous right now, and he may end up in another organization. The 22-year-old is reasonably, close though.


Corey Seager
Seager is very different from Cecchini. He's big for a shortstop, but his calm actions in the field make it possible he'll stick there for a while. He's patient, but he's got more swing and miss in his game than Cecchini. Call him a higher-risk, higher-reward guy. If he gets the contact rate in line, and sticks at shortstop, he could be a more powerful version of his brother Kyle Seager, at a more valuable position. If he struggles to make contact in Double-A this year, it might take him a while to crack the Dodger lineup.


Mookie Betts
The five-foot-nine second baseman in the Red Sox organization was named after Mookie Blalock, not Mookie Wilson, and just played baseball because he was good at it. That's fine, from talking to him, it's obvious that he's a smart guy that studies the game.  http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/mookie-betts-learns-from-the-red-sox/ His combination of youth (he just turned 21), contact and high walk rates puts him on the right side of all success/bust profiles. He may not show a major league isolated slugging percentage over .200 like he did in High-A, but he'll have power, speed (he stole 46 this year, against only five caught stealings), and a good batting average -- and a great on-base percentage. He admitted he's struggling in Arizona, but his walk and strikeout rates are still in line, and he hopes that seeing the more advanced style of pitching he's seeing at the AFL will help him be more ready for Double-A next year. This is a name to remember, and he'll be rocketing up prospect lists this spring. Go get him now if you can, even if the Red Sox have a decent second baseman. Betts can possibly play short or center field, and he can also play for another organization.


CJ Cron
If there wasn't a lack of power prospects right now, Cron might be less exciting. He doesn't walk much and has the statistical profile of a Mark Trumbo. With that comp comes all the risk that comes in a stocky power hitter with no patience. In Double-A, his power dropped to league average, and some of the wind went out of his sails. In the desert, he's hitting .405/.458/.703, which makes him either more sexy to a team looking for power, or more likely has a success to Trumbo if the Angels do indeed trade him. With 565 plate appearances in Double-A, and 83 more in Arizona, he's actually fairly close to big-league ready. It's the flaws, and the big league situation in Los Angeles, that relegated him to this list.

Yorman Rodriguez
Rodriguez made a big-time throw from right field that almost nailed a runner in the Rising Stars game, and has been hitting for power in Arizona. But his plate discipline has the toxic combination of low walks and high strikeouts, which might suggest he's in Arizona to pump up his trade value. Either way, there's power and speed here, and the Reds could use an outfielder soon. File for later.


Tyler Naquin
Look at Naquin's stats, and you'll be unimpressed. Not much power, okay speed, not much patience, and too many strikeouts for a center fielder with little power. Watch him hit batting practice, as I did, and you'll be unimpressed. He sprayed the field -- with soft line drives that came up ten-to-twenty feet short of the fence. But in the game, you do get a sense that Naquin knows what he's doing. He's trying to spray the field and ride a high batting average on balls in play to decent batting average and on-base percentage numbers, while playing good center field D. At 22, though, Naquin isn't really young, and he isn't really a great mixed-league prospect, despite being a Rising Star.


Delino Deshields, Jr.
Junior made the All-Star team and was twenty for much of this year. He stole 101 bases across two levels in 2012, and followed up with 59 this year. He has patience, and could show average power. And yet there's something about his game that turns many evaluators off. I saw it in batting practice -- a complete disinterest in some of the chores of the game that got him told off by a coach. And though he was repeating a level, the Astros kept him at High-A all season this year, perhaps to prove a point. There's a decent amount of risk here for a guy that has lineage, patience and tools.


Aaron Sanchez
The Blue Jays' other Arizona star, Sanchez has returned to his strikeout ways in the desert, showing no ill effects from a shoulder scare this season. But he hasn't done much to improve his walk rate, and that's the thing holding him back from future success. The AFL for him was an introduction to the better hitters he'll see in Double-A this year, and since he's done well, it's fair to be optimistic. he could succeed in the big leagues with a lot of strikeouts and a lot of walks. But it would be nice to see further improvement in his walk rate, since his curve, change and fastball are so fantastic.


Andrew Heaney
The Marlins pitcher had a strained lat this year, and since he was already in Double-A, it's fair to say he should have been in the 'close to the bigs' article. Mea culpa. Now that he's added 24+ AFL innings, he's up over 120 innings on the season, and that would allow him around 160+ next season. Heaney doesn't get a lot of ground balls, or strikeouts, but he's headed to a good ballpark and league for pitcher success. And he does have good control. All of these things continued in the desert. If his slider continues to develop, it should mix with a good change up and mid-nineties gas to produce more strikeouts, but even if it doesn't, Heaney should be a decent back-end fantasy starter in most leagues.


Brett Nicholas
Nicholas is a first baseman, and the bar for a major league quality first baseman is very high. He hasn't quite shown the superlative power numbers you might expect from a first baseman, and he doesn't usually walk more than the league average. He hasn't walked once in regular play in Arizona, for example. And he has one homer in regular league play. Then he got to the All-Star game despite his mediocre league play, and he hit two homers and almost snagged a hotshot liner six feet off the ground and four or five feet to his right. Mitch Moreland isn't a long-term answer, and Nicholas has been mentioned in off-season trade talks. The biggest negative might be his age -- the 25-year-old has been old for his levels. He might leave Texas in a trade.


Ken Giles
We're in the long-shot, reliever portion of the program. But Giles hit triple digits regularly in Arizona -- he's had the fastest fastball down there -- and his fastball also has a lot of spin, which generates swinging strikes according to Trackman. He hasn't shown the control he needs to succeed, but with the way Jonathan Papelbon's peripherals have been in a nose dive, he could be relevant in fantasy leagues shortly.

Eno Sarris is an editor and writer at FanGraphs.com. You can find his work gathered in one place at and enosarris.com. Follow his misadventures in writing on Twitter as well.
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