Michael Choice| OF| Phoenix Desert Dogs (Oakland Athletics)
AFL Stats: .311/.425/.672, 61 AB
Last 10 Games: .243/.378/.459, 37 AB
I received an e-mail from a reader asking why I omitted Choice from last week’s Arizona Fall League (AFL) update, and I politely responded that I’d covered him in the first update. When looking up the link to send back to him, I noticed I hadn’t, in fact, covered Choice at all. While he has cooled off in his last ten games, he’s long overdue to have the limelight shone in his direction.
Choice has a ton of power, and the biggest question surrounding him is if he has too much swing-and-miss in his bat to allow that power to play in games. He made strides from his debut in his draft year last season to this year cutting back on striking out, and has been at his best in the AFL with just 11 strikeouts in 61 at-bats.
It’s important to keep in mind that the environment is hitter-friendly, and the pitching prospects, for the most part, are not in the same class as their hitting counterparts. Regardless, the way Choice has punished the ball is incredibly encouraging for next year’s outlook.
Joe Panik| SS| Scottsdale Scorpions (San Francisco Giants)
AFL Stats: .295/.377/.426, 61 AB
Last 10 Games: .385/.467/.590
Panik was the Giants’ first-round selection this year, and many observers viewed his selection as being largely attributed to his signability and modest price tag. He isn’t lauded for any single star-level tool, but he doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, either. Panik projects to be an offensive-minded shortstop capable of playing average-ish defense.
Because he signed quickly, Panik was able to play 69 games for short-season Salem-Keizer. He slashed .341/.401/.467, doing exactly what a polished college draftee should do. He started the AFL season off slowly but has been on a tear in his last 10 games.
He makes a ton of contact and has struck out just five times in his 61 at-bats in the AFL. He doesn’t possess fantasy superstar potential, but average power with potential for a plus average from the shortstop position is notable these days, and Panik will be capable of just that if he develops as projected by most. Expect him to move quickly through the Giants system.
Christian Bethancourt| C| Surprise Saguaros (Atlanta Braves)
AFL Stats: .358/.370/.642, 53 AB
Last 10 Games: .297/.316/.676, 37 AB
Bethancourt is a prospect with a high ceiling, but he still requires a lot of projection and is quite raw. These things are to be expected of a 20 year old. The thing that’s important for fantasy gamers to remember is that most of his high prospect ranking is to be credited to his 80 grade arm and superstar defensive potential. Reviews on his offensive upside are mixed, with the best projections suggesting he can hit for above-average power and little else at his peak.
Bethancourt’s approach leaves a lot to be desired. Splitting the season between Low-A and High-A, his walk-to-strikeout ratio (BB:K) was just 11:62 in 387 at-bats. That poor rate has been exacerbated in the AFL as his BB:K stands at 1:14.
Bethancourt epitomizes the pitfall of looking exclusively at batting average in a small sample absent of additional context such as playing environment. All things considered, his play has been stellar in the AFL, but 53 at-bats shouldn’t dramatically alter his future outlook.
Wil Myers| OF| Surprise Saguaros (Kansas City Royals)
AFL Stats: .384/.505/.685, 73 AB
Last 10 Games: .452/.521/.714, 42 AB
Hitter-friendly environment or not, Myers is absolutely clobbering the ball and performing like the blue-chip prospect he is. He leads AFL batters in OPS at 1.190 and OBP at .505, and is second in walks with 18. He has 28 hits, with 12 of them going for extra bases. Anyone who jumped off this 20 year old’s bandwagon after an underwhelming season in Double-A should be falling all over themselves to get back on.
Junior Lake| SS| Mesa Solar Sox (Chicago Cubs)
AFL Stats: .315/.365/.618, 89 AB
Last 10 Games: .311/.326/.578, 45 AB
Cubs fans, and fantasy gamers, that see Lake’s five home runs and 16 stolen bases with no caught stealings and have delusions of a future superstar at the shortstop position need to pump the brakes. Lake was allergic to walking last summer (19 free passes) and was no stranger to striking out (109 whiffs) while splitting time between repeating High-A and getting some experience in Double-A.
His power was pedestrian as well, as he hit just 12 home runs in 445 at-bats. He did steal 38 bases, but as the old saying goes, you can’t steal first base. Lake’s poor approach resulted in a .248 average, and with such a low walk rate, an unacceptable .300 OBP. It’s tough to view his results as anything but positive, but it looks more like a timely hot streak than a sign of things to come.
Danny Hultzen| SP| Peoria Javelinas (Seattle Mariners)
AFL Stats: 5 starts, 16.2 IP, 4 BB, 12 K, 1.62 ERA, 1.02 WHIP
After I openly questioned where the strikeouts were from Hultzen on October 21, in two games spanning seven innings, he has turned it on. In his last two starts, he has tamed hitters, allowing just five baserunners, walking one, and striking out 10 in seven and two-thirds innings.
In addition to strong stats, his PITCHf/x data are encouraging as well, something Michael Schatz looked at over at Beyond the Box Score. The most encouraging info, at least in my opinion, is that his fastballs, two-seam and four-seam, are averaging 92.5 mph in starts where PITCHf/x data was captured for him. That type of velocity will help him greatly against big league hitters in the future.
As a college draftee who is succeeding in the AFL, I’d guess he’ll begin the year in Double-A and could see a September call-up if all goes well.
Gerrit Cole| SP| Mesa Solar Sox (Pittsburgh Pirates)
AFL Stats: 4 starts, 12 IP, 3 BB, 12 K, 3.00 ERA, 0.92 WHIP
Like Hultzen, Cole has pitched very well in the AFL. He has struck out exactly a batter an inning, all while walking no more than one batter in any start. His power arsenal is the stuff prospect hounds dream of. Unfortunately, Cole doesn’t have any PITCHf/x data available, having not pitched in either ballpark equipped to record it, but Keith Law reported he operated in in upper-90’s in his debut, touching 100 mph twice.
Plus-plus velocity with control isn’t a common profile for a young pitcher, so when one comes along, it causes a stir. Get excited about Cole, very excited.
Bradley Boxberger| RP| Phoenix Desert Dogs (Cincinnati Reds)
AFL Stats: 9 relief appearances, 11.1 IP, 4 BB, 19 K, 3.18 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
If Aroldis Chapman‘s transition to starting goes well, and the Reds do not re-sign Francisco Cordero, Boxberger could eventually find himself in the saves mix there. He was a supplemental first-round pick in 2009 and made his pro debut in 2010. Boxberger spent time starting and relieving that year, but he was transitioned to a full-time relief role this year.
He began the season in Double-A and finished in Triple-A. His 14.94 K/9 in Double-A was staggering, and while it dropped slightly moving to Triple-A, his mark remained very good at 11.71 K/9. He is able to pile up the strikeouts with a three pitch mix that includes and upper-90s fastball, a slider and change-up.
The strikeouts come at a cost, which is spotty control. Thus far, though, his formula for success has carried over to the AFL, where Boxberger has nailed games down with saves three times.
With a good showing in spring training, he should break camp with the parent club. Even in a non-closer capacity, he has the potential to be a contributor in deep mixed-leagues and NL-only formats if he’s able to miss bats regularly at the major league level.