Fast tracking in Arizona

Autumn. The season of change, rakes, costumes and turkeys. And top prospect fall ball in Arizona.

October is the start of winter baseball, with the Arizona Fall League as the lone domestic offering. Comprised of six teams stocked with top talent from all 30 major league teams, the AFL is a boon for prospect watchers. Since 2009, it’s also been a place to get a first look at a young pitcher via PITCHf/x. With two teams playing in Peoria and one in Surprise, there’s always an AFL game being recorded by a PITCHf/x system.

With over 100 AFL pitchers available to look at via PITCHf/x, it’s easy to find interesting pitchers. For example, three 2010 draft picks—from the first and second rounds—have made the jump and have joined, amongst others, five first round picks from 2008 and 2009. These are some of the bluest chips in the deep pool of prospects.

Eight is enough

In honor of Casey Stengel and/or Bill Petersen, the eight selected pitchers are ordered alphabetically by height.

Pitcher Organization Draft Year Round Number Highest Level
Michael Montgomery Royals 2008 1 36 AA
Sammy Solis Nationals 2010 2 51 A
Bryan Price Indians* 2008 1 45 AA
Rex Brothers Rockies 2009 1 34 AA
Chance Ruffin Tigers 2010 1 48 NCAA
Casey Kelly Red Sox 2008 1 30 AA
Joshua Fields Mariners 2008 1 20 AA
Jordan Swagerty Cardinals 2010 2 75 NCAA

* acquired by trade from Red Sox

Pitcher Height Weight Throws DOB City, State
Montgomery 6’5″ 180 L 7/1/1989 Valencia, CA
Solis 6’5″ 230 L 8/10/1988 Litchfield Park, AZ
Price 6’4″ 200 R 11/13/1986 Corpus Christi, TX
Brothers 6’1″ 205 L 12/18/1987 Shelbyville, TN
Ruffin 6’1″ 185 R 9/8/1988 Austin, TX
Kelly 6’3″ 194 R 10/4/1989 Sarasota, FL
Fields 6’0″ 180 R 8/19/1985 Hull, GA
Swagerty 6’0″ 175 R 7/14/1989 Dallas, TX

Pitcher Fastball Change-up Breaking Ball
Montgomery 94 84 76
Solis 91 82 78
Price 92 84 86
Brothers 95 89 87
Ruffin 94 83
Kelly 92 84 81
Fields 93 82 81
Swagerty 93 84

The whole bunch is in their early 20s and from a warm weather state. No soft tossers, but no eye-poppers either.

Grab your favorite age—and time-appropriate beverage—as 16 minutes of pitching video follows. The first clip takes you to ESPN.com, since it doesn’t allow the video (also available on YouTube) to be embedded.

Michael Montgomery

Jason Grey’s report (click the image below) mentions each of the three pitches Montgomery has shown in the AFL. Montgomery’s fastball has actually cracked 96 mph at least a few times, so he seems to be developing some more power already—Grey mentions 94 mph as a “touch” speed, and he’s averaging that in the games available in PITCHf/x.

image

With a big, slow curveball, Montgomery covers about 25 mph from fastest to slowest. Even with that nice spread, and a change-up in between, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Montgomery add a fourth pitch before too long. I’ll suggest something harder than his change-up. Perhaps a slutter.

Montgomery has faced over 1,000 batters since turning pro, posting better than average strikeout and walk rates to go with a higher than average ground ball rate. This despite an elevated walk rate after his promotion to the Texas League. Despite that hiccup, what’s not to like?

Sammy Solis

Solis is a big kid, as tall as Montgomery but listed at 230 pounds when drafted. As seen in the table above, he is not a power guy. He also has a fourth pitch, a slurve, according to Baseball America.

So far, in the AFL, Solis has picked-up a bunch of ground balls. I don’t believe he’s throwing a two-seamer, but the action on the pitch is impressive. His arm angle provides some natural tail and sink. That said, his PITCHf/x data does hint at two different fastballs so I wouldn’t be totally shocked to find he’s got a two-seam grip in the mix.

Bryan Price

Price was drafted by the Red Sox but sent to the Indians in the Victor Martinez trade. During his trips around the minor leagues, Price has a roughly average batted ball distribution with impressive strikeout and walk rates. If anything, he may be a slight fly ball pitcher, but nothing extreme. And he’s a work-in-progress.

Since the trade, he has added a splitter in place of his change-up. If you’re hunting for it in PITCHf/x, it is just a little bit slower than his slider with a little bit more glove side action, or tumble. Evidence of his two-seam fastball may exist if you squint.

Rex Brothers

If you skip the other videos, make a point of watching this one. There’s something about how he hunches his shoulders, stays compact and blasts towards the plate.

Jason Grey has talked about Brothers as a future closer thanks to his stuff and deception. He does have a nasty power slider, and he’s even tallied good strikeout and ground ball rates on his way up and into Double-A. He’ll need to cut down on the walks if he expects to go anywhere, though. So far so good, on that front, in the AFL.

Chance Ruffin

Chance’s father is Bruce Ruffin, who pitched in the major leagues until 1997. The second generation has a chance at getting there in 2011. A closer in college, Ruffin could be fast-tracked, as his AFL assignment hints.

Lacking size, Ruffin seems to generate his velocity without much effort. He throws two fastballs, his two-seam sinker just a bit slower than the four-seam heater. His slider has good action in the eyes of PITCHf/x, nothing spectacular but major league quality.

Casey Kelly

In a word, smooth. Kelly’s easy, balanced delivery produces four pitches. Mixing four- and two-seam fastballs in the low 90s, he rounds out nicely with a change-up and strong curveball. The breaking ball is somewhere between a power snapper and a big looper, based on the limited PITCHf/x data available.

Kelly doesn’t strike out a lot of guys, but walks very few. He’s showing a slight ground ball tendency, indicative of the sinker in his arsenal. Most impressively, he was a 20-year-old who spent the entire season in a Double-A rotation. WEEI reports Kelly has finished for the year, and expresses high expectations despite his less than exciting stats.

Joshua Fields

Fields’ professional career started in the Southern League in 2009, followed by a trip to the AFL. His second season was very much the same, another lap in Double-A and now another visit to the AFL. His results are marked by a lot of walks, line drives and strikeouts. In this case, Meatloaf would point out two out of those three are bad.

If you paid attention, one of the broadcasters in the clip mentions Fields staying in school after being picked in the second round by the Braves in 2007. Good move, as the Scott Boras client moved up 49 spots and snagged a $1.75 million bonus. David Aardsma is certainly aware of his presence.

Jordan Swagerty

Swagerty has thrown a few sinkers among his fastballs, so he’s just a cutter away from Dave Duncan‘s heart. Looks like he can almost touch 95 and has a decent slider. PITCHf/x hasn’t capture his change-up yet.

Like Ruffin’s, Swagerty’s AFL debut was his professional debut. Swagerty has yet to walk a batter in five innings, which is unlike Ruffin (5 in 5.1).

Oh, by the way

Other former first round picks in the 2010 AFL include:
Brooks Brown
Jeremy Jeffress
Kyle Waldrop
Scott Elbert
Sean West

For a rundown of top prospects from each of the six AFL clubs, check out THT Live’s 2010 AFL Preview by Jeff Moore

And take a trip back to last year with a few looks at 2009 AFL PITCHf/x:
Rule 5 Draft preview
Four 2009 first round picks
Stephen Strasburg

References & Resources
Biographical information from Baseball Cube
PITCHf/x from SportVision and MLBAM
Pitch classifications by the author
Batted ball data from MLBAM

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Comments

  1. Harry Pavlidis said...

    four-seam and a few two-seams, on either side of 92 on average, 83 mph change-up and a breaking ball at 78 … kind of a slurvey curve thrown from a high arm slot. In two games with PFX, his heater has maxed-out at 94.5 mph.

  2. Ari Berkowitz said...

    Ruffin’s delivery is quite similar to another former Texas closer, Huston Street.  Rex Brother’s does the same thing that Phil Hughes does with his arm.  Before they deliver a pitch, they bend their forearms under their elbows and then snap it back up to deliver the pitch.

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