No matter where we follow prospects, whether it’s in spring training, the minor league season, or the Arizona Fall League, we tend to gravitate towards the prospects with the highest potential. And why wouldn’t we? The prospects with the highest ceilings are the prospects that have the best chance of making it in the majors, so it’s only natural to pay them more attention.
But every year in the Arizona Fall League, there are prospects who enter the desert as a virtual unknown but leave it on our radar.
This season is no exception, with a number of prospects who are not typically discussed among the team-by-team rankings that should be coming out over the next few months, but are playing themselves into consideration, at the very least, for our attention entering the 2013 season.
Milwaukee Brewers shortstop prospect Josh Prince is second in the AFL with a .460 batting average (23-for-50). Coming off a season in which he hit .251 as a 24-year-old in Double-A, Prince did display one impressive quality this season – the ability to draw walks despite not having any power to speak of.
The ability to draw walks without being a power hitter is one of my favorite non-traditional tools, because it displays a truly patient approach at the plate. Power hitters will draw more walks than perhaps their plate discipline really deserves became pitchers fear them. Prince hit 28 doubles, three triples and seven home runs in a full Double-A season. No one issued him a walk out of fear.
Yet he worked 74 of them anyway, thus posting a respectable .346 on-base percentage despite his low batting average. It was a drastic jump in plate discipline for Prince, so it remains to be seen how this will translate into his future performance, but for a player that otherwise offered little in terms of standout ability, it’s at least something to look forward to next season.
While Prince made strides in 2012 that have carried over to the AFL, Mike O’Neill continues to do what he’s always done. Hit and walk.
O’Neill was a 31st round pick by the Cardinals in 2010 out of USC and has yet to have a season in which he hasn’t walked more than he struck out. He’s got one more strikeout than walk in the AFL this season, but has time to fix that as he’s hit .333 (12-for-36) with six walks. In 2012, O’Neill hit .359 between High and Double-A, but more impressively, walked 78 times against just 26 strike outs. That’s Tony Gwynn territory.
O’Neill is not Tony Gwynn, mainly because his 24-year-old season came in the Florida State League instead of the NL West. He has virtually no power, hitting 24 doubles and five triples but no home runs on the season. He’s never struck out much, so he knows his role at the plate, and earns every bit of his walks. He hit .562 in a 13 game call-up in Double-A at the end of the season and could start there again next season, but he’s done nothing but hit and get on base as a professional and could find his way into the Cardinals plans if he keeps it up.
Kyle Jensen losses a lot of attention within the Miami Marlins organization to fellow outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, but fighting to get it back this fall, hitting .408/.453/.633 in the AFL. He hit just .234 this season but did add 21 doubles and 24 home runs, so the Marlins have to be pleased to see him put together his power without sacrificing average. Ozuna, by the way, is leading the Dominican Winter League with four home runs while hitting .344 with five doubles.
While the AFL is a hitter’s league, there have been some strong performances on the mound, led by Pirates prospect Kyle Kaminska, one of the players they obtained in the trade that brought Gaby Sanchez to the team this summer. Kaminska is battling for a spot on the 40-man roster this off-season, and his 2.00 ERA in 18 AFL innings can only help that cause, especially after striking out 16 and walking just one.
Other Performance of Note
Darin Ruf, the Philies prospect who emerged at age 26 after leading the Eastern League with 38 home runs, is now leading the Venezuelan Winter League with eight home runs after hitting four over the weekend in back-to-back two-homer games.