Ten Notable Arizona Fall League Performances

Today, I will break down five oustanding performances and five disappointing performances by top prospects in the Arizona Fall League. It’s difficult to generate any meaningful conclusions about a player’s development only three weeks after opening day, but I will note which performance trends are worth paying attention to in the second half of the season.

The Overachievers

Ryan Braun

Milwaukee Brewers | Position: Third base | Bats: Right | DOB: 11/17/1983

Braun leads the league in RBIs and 10 of his 15 hits have been for extra bases.

                   AB  AVG  OBP  SLG
First Half of AFL  47 .319 .389 .745

Braun’s five home runs have been scattered across the outfield, with two home runs to left field, two home runs to center field, and one opposite-field blast off of Braves prospect Anthony Lerew. Braun struggled to hit for much power early in the 2006 season, but he started launching more extra-base hits after a mid-season promotion to the Southern League. His early results in the Arizona Fall League confirm that he is perfectly capable of hitting the ball hard against advanced competition. Braun is still only 22 years old and he will enter the 2007 season as one the most complete hitting prospects in the upper minor leagues.

Chip Cannon

Toronto Blue Jays | Position: First base | Bats: Left | DOB: 11/30/1981

                   AB  AVG  OBP  SLG
First Half of AFL  51 .385 .484 .846

The overall numbers look great, but Blue Jays fans should temper their enthusiasm. Cannon has not improved on his high strikeout rate (about 30% of all plate appearances) in the Arizona Fall League and his high batting average is inflated by an unsustainable .434 batting average of balls in play (BABIP). Cannon’s propensity for striking out is a cause for concern. An optimist will look at Ryan Howard’s high strikeout rates in Double-A, but Howard is an exceptional player in many respects and Cannon’s power is not really comparable to Howard’s anyway. Here is a list of hitters with a similar strikeout rate and isolated power (ISOP) numbers as a 23- to 25-year old in Double-A.

Year Org Player
2005 SEA Jon Nelson
2005 WAS Cristian Guerrero
2004 KC  Cory Aldridge
2003 SEA A.J. Zapp
2003 LA  Derek Michaelis

None of these guys have made much of an impact in the big leagues. Cannon, a former eighth round draft pick, had a nice 2006 season and his career has exceeded many expectations. However, his position on the defensive spectrum and his incomplete set of offensive skills limits his potential as a major leaguer.

Mark Reynolds

Arizona Diamondbacks | Position: Left Field | Bats: Right | DOB: 8/3/1983

Three weeks ago, I chose Reynolds as one of seven players to follow in Arizona. Reynolds experienced one of the most noteworthy breakout seasons of the 2006 season, and has continued to hit well in Arizona:

                   AB  AVG  OBP  SLG
First Half of AFL  51 .314 .397 .647

If the Diamondbacks system was not already stacked with young infielders and outfielders, the organization would be grooming Reynolds as their second baseman or left fielder of the future. Reynolds will take instead need to take advantage of his versatility to earn a roster spot with the Diamondbacks in late 2007 or 2008. The former shortstop has logged playing time at first base, second base, left field, and right field during the first two weeks of the AFL season.

Kevin Frandsen

San Francisco Giants | Position: Second Base | Bats: Right | DOB: 5/24/1982

The Bay Area native is slapping the ball all over Arizona baseball diamonds and walking twice as often as he strikes out.

                   AB  AVG  OBP  SLG
First Half of AFL  63 .389 .511 .611

He is also 5-for-7 in stolen base attempts and has played three infield positions. Frandsen doesn’t have enough pop in his bat to ever be a star in the big leagues, but he is capable of much better production than the .215/.284/.323 numbers he put up in 93 big league at-bats during the 2006 season.

Nolan Reimold

Baltimore Orioles | Position: Right Field | Bats: Right | DOB: 10/12/1983

Like Hunter Pence one year ago, lots of folks are waiting to see if Reimold can handle better pitching in the advanced minors before deciding whether or not he really is going to be a fixture in Baltimore’s outfield.

                   AB  AVG  OBP  SLG
First Half of AFL  42 .333 .481 .524

Reimold has not shown much power thus far, but he hit 19 home runs in the Carolina league in 2006 and nobody really doubts that he can hit the ball hard. There are other things going on that are more interesting. Reimold’s plate patience is exceptional and he has the fourth-best OBP in the league. His reasonable contact rate (only nine strikeouts in 52 plate appearances) is encouraging. It is only a half-season of AFL action, but it seems that Reimold is ready for the next challenge. He should spend next season in the Eastern League, but there’s always the chance that Baltimore applies the Nick Markakis plan and rushes him up to the American League.

The Underachievers

Matt Tuiasosopo

Seattle Mariners | Position: Third Base | Bats: Right | DOB: 5/10/1986

This isn’t pretty:

                   AB  AVG  OBP  SLG
First Half of AFL  47 .149 .216 .213

The Mariners lured Tuiasosopo away from a football career with a $2.3 million bonus after the 2004 draft. Since then, he has moved from shortstop to third base and has struggled to make contact or hit home runs at every stop of his minor league career. He reached a low point this summer when he hit .185 with one home run in 62 games following an aggressive promotion him to the Texas League. The Mariners will be paying Adrian Beltre for a few more years, so Tuiasosopo has plenty of time to turn things around, and the Mariners won’t have any reason to rush him more than they already have.

Fernando Martinez

New York Mets | Position: Center Field | Bats: Left | DOB: 10/10/1988

Martinez is not getting on base for the Mesa Solar Sox. He is also 0-for-16 versus southpaws, excluding his RBI single versus Tony Sipp during the league’s first ever “Rising Stars” exhibition game.

                   AB  AVG  OBP  SLG
First Half of AFL  51 .196 .236 .314

The 17-year-old Mets prospect struggled after a promotion to the Florida State League in 2006, but I’ve already explained why that performance want not as bad as it looked . He has continued to struggle to get on-base in Arizona, however. Most of the pitchers he is facing are five or more years older than him, so this isn’t entirely unexpected.

Martinez might be pressing when facing advanced competition and his disintegrating walk rate should raise some eyebrows. After an average walk rate (7% of all plate appearances) in Hagerstown, his walk rate dropped in Florida (5% of all plate appearances) and he has only walked once during 52 plate appearances in Arizona.

Joe Koshansky

Colorado Rockies | Position: First Base | Bats: Left | DOB: 5/26/1982

The 24-year-old first basemen has surprised many onlookers with nearly 70 home runs during the past two years, but his Arizona Fall League performance is not so impressive.

                   AB  AVG  OBP  SLG
First Half of AFL  41 .171 .271 .341

Koshansky is the unlucky guy with one of the league’s worst BABIP (.185). He’s lifting the ball in the air often enough (62% of batted balls), but he has not gotten the kind of results he usually does. I don’t see his early performance as a cause for concern; he will probably finish the season with a few more home runs and a batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage all at least 50 points higher than they are now.

Eric Duncan

New York Yankees | Position: First Base | Bats: Left | DOB: 12/07/1984

It is difficult to figure out what kind of player Eric Duncan will be. He was terrible in 2005 but went on to win an MVP award during last year’s AFL season. He made huge improvements in his contact rate during 2006, but he struggled with a lingering back injury and his overall numbers were underwhelming.

Duncan is trying to make up for time lost due to injuries in Arizona.

                   AB  AVG  OBP  SLG
First Half of AFL  56 .286 .317 .411

The above numbers don’t look so bad in typical contexts, but Duncan is actually having a below-average season in the offense-oriented Arizona Fall League. Three walks and four extra-base hits after 60 plate appearances is not what I would have expected from Duncan this month. He is still only 21 years old, so perhaps I should be more forgiving of such inconsistency.

Kevin Melillo

Oakland Athletics | Position: Second Base | Bats: Left | DOB: 5/14/1982

Melillo pleasantly surprised the Athletics with 24 home runs in his first full season of professional baseball. After a solid 2006 season in the Texas League, Melillo nearly earned the spot on the Athletics ALCS roster that was ultimately filled by Mark Kiger. Melillo drove in two runs during the AFL opener, but he has slumped since then:

                   AB  AVG  OBP  SLG
First Half of AFL  51 .216 .231 .314

The fact that Melillo has only walked once is probably the most surprising facet of his disappointing first half. He only has one extra-base hit since opening day, so his offense is struggling all around. There is some good news, however. Melillo made some starts at third base and so far he seems to be handling the transition well. The Athletics don’t have a lot of depth at the hot corner, and Melillo might be a good fit as a utility infielder and insurance for the oft-injured .

Other AFL News

Luke Hochevar, the #1 overall pick from the 2006 draft, left Arizona with a shoulder strain.

Elijah Dukes made a surprise appearance in Arizona when Wes Bankston got hurt. Dukes has not played in a professional game since August due to a suspension, and he has rocked AFL pitching since his return.

The Trevor Crowe-as-second baseman experiment is over. Crowe is playing the outfield in the AFL and the Indians say they have no further plans to move him to the infield.

Terry Evans, the Angels’ acquisition in the Jeff Weaver trade, has been hampered by a lingering leg injury.

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