Jedd Gyorko| 3B| Peoria Javelinas (San Diego Padres)
AFL stats: .459/.500/.757, 37 AB
Gyorko had a tremendous season split between High-A and Double-A, and his hot bat has carried over to the Arizona Fall League. He leads the league in batting average, and has ripped three home runs and two doubles with 11 RBI. He’s making a ton of contact, having struck out only four times. His ability to pile up hits is his calling card, and going to be what eventually gets him to the majors. He finished the year in Double-A, and it isn’t unreasonable to think he’ll begin next year in Triple-A. If that’s the case, he’s got a chance to put up jaw-dropping numbers in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.
Nolan Arenado| 3B| Salt River Rafters (Colorado Rockies)
AFL stats: .408/.423/.592, 49 AB
Yet another prospect at the hot corner from an National League West organization finds himself featured this week for the right reasons. Arenado, like Gyorko, had a big season in the minors. He spent the full year in High-A and took advantage of playing in the favorable environment provided by the California League, launching 20 home runs in 517 at-bats. He has hit two more home runs in his 49 AFL at bats and recorded a league best 19 RBI. Arenado rarely struck out in High-A, and has been even more impressive with just three strikeouts in the AFL. He’s not walking often, but when you get hits in 20 of 49 a-bats, it’s tough to find fault with your approach. He also had no problem working ball fours during the minor league season, so just marvel at his scorching bat.
Josh Vitters| OF| Mesa Solar Sox (Chicago Cubs)
AFL stats: .395/.438/.605, 43 AB
Nope, that’s not a typo, Vitters is learning to play the outfield corners, while still getting time at third base and perhaps even dabbling at first base, according to Paige Schector of the Cubs official website. A full-time move to the outfield would hurt his fantasy value, but Cubs fans, and dynasty league owners, would just be happy to see his bat develop as it was expected to when he was selected third overall. He’s stinging the ball, but more importantly, he has four walks. Vitters has always been a free swinger, and the key to getting the most out of his hitting skills might be learning a little bit of patience. He didn’t crack the Top-100 Fantasy Prospect List, and got no consideration for it, but he’s still just 22 and just finished a full season in Double-A, so don’t write him off yet.
Tim Beckham| SS| Surprise Saguaros (Tampa Bay Rays)
AFL stats: .263/.391/.605, 38 AB
Don’t let the batting average fool you—Beckham is doing a great job at the plate and displaying reasons for optimism about the upcoming season. Beckham’s 8:11 walk-to-strikeout rate is a big step up from the 42:120 rate in his minor league season. In addition to his outstanding OBP, he has seven extra base hits that include two home runs. The Rays got little offensive production out of the shortstop position, and Beckham finished the year in Triple-A. Connecting the dots, the Rays could stand to upgrade the position and Beckham would provide a cost-controlled, in-house option if his strong AFL performance continues and he plays well in Triple-A to start next year.
Wil Myers| OF| Surprise Saguaros (Kansas City Royals)
AFL Stats: .343/.511/.686, 35 AB
It would be next to impossible to spin Myers’ 2011 season as anything short of a disappointment, but he’s doing his best to redeem himself in the AFL. Myers’ strike zone judgment and patience are fantastic for a 20-year-old, especially one who spent all year in Double-A. Even in a down season, he walked 52 times in 354 AB. In the AFL, Myers has more walks than strikeouts with a 12:9 BB:K rate. He has hit two doubles, two triple, and two home runs, and is looking like the prospect who excited so many pundits before this year.
Mike Trout| OF| Scottsdale Scorpions (Los Angeles Angels)
AFL stats: .225/.225/.300, 40 AB
Trout exceeded even the most optimistic expectations by reaching the majors before his 20th birthday. His AFL play has been bad, though. He’s struck out 11 times, and hasn’t walked once. His power hasn’t shown itself eithe,r with three doubles being the only extra base hits. Such a small sample is nothing to panic over, or conversely, get overly excited about. Trout remains a top two fantasy prospect.
Bryce Harper| OF| Scottsdale Scorpions (Washington Nationals)
AFL stats: .211/.302/.395, 38 AB
Harper’s season ended early due to a hamstring injury, and his stats suggest he may be a little rusty after the layoff. Nothing in his stats stands out as being awful, other than the average, but with just 38 at-bats, a small sample size warning is obviously in order. He’s still walking regularly, five times, and isn’t striking out at an alarming rate with seven. His three stolen bases and one triple are encouraging because they are positive signs that his hamstring is completely healthy. In such a hitter-friendly environment, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Harper go on a home run binge and find himself here once again with a glowing update next week.
Nick Franklin| SS| Peoria Javelinas (Seattle Mariners)
AFL stats: .188/.316/.313, 32 AB
Franklin’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde differences between his 2010 and 2011 seasons have a lot of folks watching him closely in the AFL in hopes of getting a better grasp on his future. He was ranked 36th on the Top-100 Fantasy Baseball Prospect List, where I said this to say about him: “He’s set to play in the Arizona Fall League, and is the most likely player on this list to see his stock soar or plummet based on his performance there.” With 10 strikeouts, just two extra base hits, and an average below the Mendoza-line, it’s safe to say which direction his stock his headed at the moment.
Neil Ramirez| SP| Surprise Saguaros (Texas Rangers)
AFL stats: 2 starts, 7 IP, 1 BB, 5 K, 1.29 ERA, 0.71 WHIP
Ramirez had a breakout season this year and has been excellent in two AFL starts as well. He struck out better than a batter an inning this year (10.93 K/9), but also walked a few more hitters (4.04 BB/9) than would be ideal. All things considered, it was a great year for a player who barely cracked Baseball America‘s top-30 prospects in the Rangers organization. He’s primarily a three-pitch pitcher, throwing a fastball in the low-to-mid-90s, a change-up and a curveball. According to his AFL PITCHf/x data, he is leaning heavily on his four-seam fastball and change-up, while occasionally mixing in his curve. He has thrown three sliders, and one cutter according to PITCHf/x. He just missed the cut for the Top-100 Fantasy Prospect List. If C.J. Wilson leaves as a free agent, there will likely be some chatter about Neftali Feliz moving to the rotation, but don’t be surprised if that rotation spot ends up filled by Ramirez eventually.
Gerrit Cole| SP| Mesa Solar Sox (Pittsburgh Pirates)
AFL stats: 2 starts, 5.1 IP, 2 BB, 5 K, 5.06 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
Cole’s pro debut was a bit messy: He allowed three earned runs and four base runners in just two and a third innings. His second start was more befitting of a prospect regarded as highly as Cole is. He went three innings, allowing no earned runs, walking just one, and striking out three. Unfortunately his PITCHf/x data for two AFL starts is no available, but suffice to say, no one questions his stuff. Keep tabs on his results in the AFL; they may help the Pirates decide what at level to start Cole’s minor league career.
Danny Hultzen| SP| Peoria Javelinas (Seattle Mariners)
AFL stats: 3 starts, 9 IP, 3 BB, 2 K, 2.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
The surprise No. 2 overall selection in this year’s draft, Hultzen has pitched effectively in three turns. His start on Oct. 19 garnered some attention: He threw four no- hit innings, walking just one batter. On the surface, it looks like he had a dominant game, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. He struck out no batters, and the bulk of his outs, 10 of 12, came on flyballs. In fact, since striking out two batters in his two-inning debut, he has struck out zero in his next seven.
PITCHf/x data isn’t available yet for his Oct. 19 turn, but it is up for his previous start on Oct. 13. In that start, he threw his four seam-fastball 42 times out of a total of 63 pitches thrown. His fastball velocity sat just below 93 mph, which is plus velocity for a southpaw, and maxed out just under 95. The second most frequent pitch he threw was his two-seam fastball, which he threw 10 times (though his average fastball velocity on that pitch makes me wonder if some of them were misclassified). His final 11 pitches were six change-ups and five sliders. The average velocity on his change-up was 80.5 mph. The difference in velocity between his four-seam fastball and change-up bode well for tying up batters if he’s able to throw both with similar arm action. The lack of strikeouts is disappointing, but the fastball velocity and results are promising.