Arizona Fall League preview

For prospect watchers, this is the saddest time of year. It’s like late November for the rest of the baseball world or March for football fans or right after the Olympics for handball fans. Minor league baseball is all but over (with a few rounds of playoff action still to finish) and we have a few weeks before the winter leagues get underway. So what do we do during our time of despair?

Why an Arizona Fall League preview of course!

Yes that’s right. We’re going to preview a league where we don’t care who wins, just because we hate not getting to see our favorite prospects for a few weeks. Does that make us crazy? Well it probably makes me crazy anyway, but that’s just a part of prospecting. It’s a year-round job, even if baseball isn’t always.

Where are all the pitchers?

At first glance, one thing that stands out is how much better the hitting is going to be in the AFL than the pitching. The AFL is always an extreme hitter’s league where prospects put up some crazy numbers. The combination of hot desert air, tired arms on the mound and a small sample size make for some crazy AFL seasons for hitters.

I’m not trying to knock the pitchers heading to the desert this fall, but as a whole, teams just didn’t send their high-ceiling pitching prospects to the AFL this season, perhaps to avoid the mental beating pitchers are prone to taking out there.

The best pitching prospects on each AFL team are Jarred Cosart (Mesa), Johnny Hellweg (Phoenix), Nick Maronde (Scottsdale), James Paxton (Peoria), Andre Rienzo (Salt River), and Brock Huntzinger (Surprise). Those are all intriguing prospects to various degrees, but none are going to incite fear into the hearts of hitters.

This has become a trend in the AFL, with the only big pitching prospects to join the league lately being primarily first-round draft picks from that season. This year, no teams elected to take that route with their newly signed prospects, perhaps thanks to the earlier signing deadline that allowed teams to get a look at their pitchers without having to subject them to the AFL beating.

In addition to the guys already listed, the Peoria Javelinas will feature Casey Kelly and Kyle Gibson, a pair of rehabbing pitching prospects. Gibson is coming back from Tommy John surgery and the Twins want him to get the innings he lost this season. Kelly missed significant time this year due to injury. Despite making a few starts with the Padres in the majors this season, he also has some innings to get back.

Murderer’s row

In the AFL, playing time is divided on a schedule so that everyone gets to play. That should be good news for a lot of pitchers hoping to get a reprieve from some of the dynamic lineups that can potentially be put together given these rosters.

For instance, the Mesa Solar Sox can trot out a middle-of-the-lineup featuring Jonathan Schoop, Jonathan Singleton, Nick Castellanos, George Springer and Javier Baez. That’s better than the Astros’ lineup last night. The Javelinas can split Mariners prospects Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino with Padres outfielder Rymer Liriano, and set them all up with stolen base king Billy Hamilton.

All in all it’s another good crop of prospects heading to the desert this season. We should see a lot of high scoring and some exciting action, which always makes for fun baseball watching. Just remember as fans not to get too excited about a hitter’s inflated numbers, or too worried if your team’s top pitching prospect gets shelled.

In the end, the AFL is a lot like Vegas. It’s a lot of fun and a great experience, but you just hope everyone comes out of it without getting hurt or mentally damaged. After all, what happens in the AFL stays there.

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