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AFL Thoughts, Part 2: Meadows, Profar, etc.

In case you missed Part One of my AFL notes, I covered Clint Frazier, Dominic Smith, Ian Clarkin and five other interesting prospects playing in this year’s Arizona Fall League. Just a disclaimer: I was out in Arizona for fun, and I wasn’t paying too much attention to defensive ability for any one player. These scouting reports would be more complete if I was actually scouting for an MLB organization.

Austin Meadows, L/L OF (PIT)
He’s 6’2″/200 and a plus athlete. He hit .307/.357/.407 in the Florida State League (High-A) and won’t turn 21 until next May. I was excited to watch him play, given the hype around his name, but I wasn’t impressed. Maybe he’s tired, or maybe he doesn’t care about the Fall League, but in those eight PAs, there wasn’t a single one that instilled faith in me. Despite a noticeable confidence approaching the box, he seemed almost apathetic at the plate. I can’t remark on him as a defender, but he’s clearly a good athlete, so I doubt corner outfield would give him too much trouble. With McCutchen, Marte, and Polanco ahead of him though, he’s got a tough road to major-league playing time. In my opinion, the Pirates would be smart to trade him during the offseason and improve their 2016 MLB roster.

Yandy Diaz, R/R 3B (CLE)
Pretty impressive stature; listed at 6’2″…weight could be anywhere between 185-205, but he has above-average athleticism for his size. A Cuban-born defector with fairly natural motions at third base, and good arm action making the throws across the diamond. He turned 24 in August, but he had a pretty solid year at AA (.315/.412/.408). With his size, you’d expect him to hit for more power, but he compensates with the type of plate discipline that may allow him to stick around until something clicks. Based on body alone, I’d compare him to a young Edwin Encarnacion (not anywhere the raw power, though). By no means is Diaz a surefire MLB contributor, but his main detractor is something he has a real chance to build upon. With the frame he has, I still see room for the power to develop, and he could turn into a quality everyday MLB third baseman.

Alex Blandino, R/R INF (CIN)
I just didn’t see the ballplayer in this guy. He made one fairly challenging play at second base, but he had so many empty plate appearances; swinging at first-pitch breaking balls, or taking called third strikes down the heart of the plate. In a hitter-friendly league, he seemed like an automatic out. Blandino was a first-round pick in 2014, and had a pretty solid year at High-A in 2015, but he’ll be 23 to start the season next year. I’d be surprised if Blandino ever lives up to his first-round price tag. Insert pun about him being a ‘bland’ prospect.

Brett Phillips, L/R OF (MIL)
One of the key pieces in the deal that brought Carlos Gomez to Houston, Phillips has a shot to contribute for the Brewers as soon as Opening Day 2016. He’s similar to Clint Frazier, with slightly less muscle mass (and power). As one of my friends noted, “He’s a good downhill runner.” As with Frazier, Phillips strikes out a bit too much, and it could easily be the difference in Phillips being a Quad-A player and an MLB regular. The tools are impressive, though; I could see some Alex Gordon seasons in him.

Adam Brett Walker II, R/R DH/1B (MIN)
Built like a tight end; 6’4″/230+. Great athleticism for his size, yet he was limited to DHing in the AFL. He needs to shorten his swing. His hands drop, causing the barrel of his bat to loop through the zone. He swings and misses at way too many pitches because of a weak top hand. I had essentially written him off after 11 PA…and then he hit a ball over 450 feet.

Photo Credit: Buck Davidson (@BuckDavidson)

The raw power is enormous. At least a 7. When he gets his pitch, he hits it a long way. He hit 31 HRs and stole 13 bases at Double-A Chattanooga, showing the power and athleticism are very real, but only to the tune of a .239/.309/.498 triple-slash as a 23-year old. He lead the Southern league in K-rate, striking out 35% of the time. He’d be lucky to hit .150 in the Majors right now, but he’s not unfixable. If Minnesota’s player development staff can get him to fix his swing plane, this guy could theoretically hit 40 home runs.

Gary Sanchez, R/R C (NYY)
Another big guy, Sanchez looks the part of a major-league catcher. 6’2″/220+, with decent athleticism and an average arm. He’ll never be a stud defensively, but he could theoretically stick as a 120-game catcher. He displayed some pretty lively power, driving home runs to left- and right-center. I spoke with a cranky, yet knowledgeable, Yankees fan who didn’t think much of Sanchez, but I’d be happy to have him in my system. He turns 23 this December, and he’s already posted a .295/.349/.500 slash at AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Berre. He could become more of a 1B/DH type with age, but his bat seems good enough to be around average for a DH. If he can stick behind the plate, the Yankees have a very valuable asset on their hands. He could develop into a .260/.340/.450 catcher.

(UPDATE) Jurickson Profar, switch-hitting MI (TEX)
I had the pleasure of seeing his first PA back my first day out there…and (true story), he laced a double to right field and as he was sliding into second base, Nate Orf turned to the dugout and simply said, “He’s back.” The respect this guy gets from his peers is enough to justify the hope alone. Profar’s already had a taste of the dream, whereas many of these guys are working to get there. His swing looks as natural as ever. When I was in attendance, it was a hit parade for the former LLWS Champion. Texas will have a very nice problem come Opening Day 2016, with Odor, Andrus, and Profar. Where he’ll play defensively, I’m not too sure (left field?), but I’m fairly certain he’ll be right back on track come April of next year. Kid’s a special talent.

Overall general thoughts on the AFL from a fan’s perspective: it’s incredible. I stayed with a few friends in the greater Phoenix area, and we split a $120 ‘family pass’ — which permits entrance for up to six people to any and all of the AFL games for the season (including the Fall Star Game and the championship). The four of us were able to attend nine games each in a seven-day span, and we sat in the first row behind home plate or the dugout every time, all for $30 a piece…that’s a little over $3 a game(!). I was able to witness a literal team-wide drum circle going on in the Surprise Saguaros dugout, which rallied them to a dominant 18-3 victory over the Glendale Desert Dogs. The entire week was a fantastic experience at such a reasonable price. If you have a family and want to take your kids to a bunch of professional baseball games, and take in ‘the future of baseball’, do yourself a favor and book a trip for the Arizona Fall League for the same price as taking the family to a regular season MLB game.

I have some more thoughts, particularly on a handful of pitchers, so I’ll be writing up another (shorter) post in the next few days. Again, thanks for reading.

Seven Days In the Desert: My Favorite Prospects From the AFL

Seven days, nine games. Eight guys who stood out to me.

These aren’t necessarily the best players I saw in the Arizona Fall League (AFL), just the eight guys who I’m particularly bullish on. Alex Reyes has a lights-out fastball/curveball combo, and some of the best mound presence I’ve ever seen from a 20-year old, but he’s been written about by many others…so I decided to write about these eight.

1. Lewis Brinson, R/R OF (TEX)
6’3”+, long, athletic outfielder with a frame that has plenty of room to fill out. Above-average speed and athleticism, enough to probably steal 20-25 bases at the big-league level today. Good approach at the plate, takes his hacks, and doesn’t waste any at-bats. Despite a fairly wiry body, Brinson still has impressive in-game power (400+ ft. HR to center)…once his frame fills out, this kid very well could be an All-Star. He strikes me as being a surefire MLB contributor, and he has the upside of a Starling Marte or Jason Heyward. Brinson won’t turn 22 until next May, and he’s already had a very impressive campaign at AA, plus 37 PA at Triple-A in which he mashed to a .433/.541/.567 line. I didn’t really know much about him prior to the AFL, but I was impressed from his first plate appearance. My personal favorite player at the AFL this year.

2. Dominic Smith, L/L 1B (NYM)
He’s a professional hitter. His approach is very refined, his swing is incredibly simple. Very impressive hitter given he only turned 20 this past June. He’s a big boy though, with a body similar to Michael Conforto or even a slightly lighter Kyle Schwarber. Given he’s pretty bulky and left-handed, his defensive flexibility is limited to first base. I don’t believe he’s had any time in the outfield, but I suppose he’s athletic enough to play a reasonably below-average LF. With that said, his bat will play for any of the 30 teams. He’s a very balanced hitter and has a stroke with almost no extraneous motion. Short and compact swing, and he really uses his thick lower half to drive the ball. The second night I was out there, I saw him hit a ball about 420-430 feet with that same easy stroke — the ball just sounds pretty coming off his bat. Others have raved about his ability, and it’s pretty easy to tell there’s some serious talent there just by looking at his fall-league numbers, but he has the mechanics to support it. However, I did see him struggle a bit against lefties, including a downright ugly check-swing strikeout on a sidearm slider about six inches outside. The lower-end of the spectrum for Smith might be a James Loney-type platoon first baseman; best-case scenario is a pure .300 hitter who develops some legit 30+ HR power during the prime of his career (maybe a lefty-only Victor Martinez).

3. Clint Frazier, R/R OF (CLE)
He’s not quite 6-foot, but Frazier looked like one of the strongest guys in the AFL. Seriously, his forearms are huge. Above-average tools pretty much across the board, Frazier is a natural athlete. He doesn’t quite have the range to stick in center, but he’s been playing there for the Scottsdale Scorpions. Considering he just turned 21 two months ago, Frazier is a very impressive player. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him crush the ball in Double-A next year, and work his way into at least a cup of coffee in Cleveland. He still swings and misses a bit too much, particularly on breaking stuff down, but he consistently drives the ball, and has the type of speed to turn some doubles into triples. There’s no doubt he’ll be a major leaguer, but if he continues to whiff too much, he’s probably more of a Travis Buck-type 4th outfielder. I liked what I saw though, so I’m pretty bullish; I see him being something like a right-handed Kole Calhoun with a bit more stolen-base ability.

4. Ian Clarkin, LHP (NYY)
Besides Alex Reyes, Clarkin might’ve the most intriguing pitcher I saw in the AFL. With that said, my immediate thoughts were Clarkin’s  a 3-starter with #2 upside. Very clean, very smooth, fundamental delivery…similar in robotic-nature to Cliff Lee. Very nice life on his fastball, and while I didn’t have a gun, I’d guess Clarkin was sitting 91-92, and touching 94 when he needed to. From a 20-year old lefty, that’s pretty fantastic.

Drafted 33rd overall in 2013, Clarkin sat out the entire 2015 season with elbow inflammation. Clearly, the Yankees should be concerned his UCL might be a ticking time bomb, but they should be very pleased to have this lefty in their system. His secondary stuff was good enough, mixing in an above-average curveball with an average change and cutter. While he doesn’t have the lights-out type of stuff some other guys have, Clarkin brought a very mature approach to the mound. As long as he stays healthy, look for him to develop into a dependable lefty starter with some standout seasons (a la Gio Gonzalez with a little more command). At worst, he’s a solid lefty bullpen arm, but I think injuries would be the only thing standing in the way of him being a starter.

5 & 6. Jack Reinheimer, R/R SS (ARI) and Tyler Smith, R/R 2B/SS (SEA)
These two guys are ballplayers, flat out. In my head, I lumped them together before discovering they were both drafted by the Mariners in 2013 (5th and 8th rounds, respectively). They started the 2015 season as the middle-infield combo at Double-A Jackson. Reinheimer’s the more natural defender, with a legit chance to stick at short, whereas Smith is primarily more of a second baseman going forward. Luckily for Smith, they were separated in June when Reinheimer was acquired by Arizona in the deal that brought Mark Trumbo to Seattle.

Of the two, I prefer Reinheimer overall, but Smith flashed a bit more power, pulling a ball about 380 feet for a low-flying home run that left the park in a hurry. They both have athletic bodies (6’1/186 and 6’0/190) and an instinctive feel for the game, but Reinheimer is a full year younger. He also has a slightly better hit tool — enough that I could see him hitting .280 during his prime. He’s not a franchise shortstop you build around, but he’s a very nice piece for the Diamondbacks to have. He has a solid approach at the plate, an athletic stance, and the swing plane to spray line drives around the field. He reminds me of a better version of Cliff Pennington (a 3.5 win player with Oakland in 2010), whereas Smith is more of a Cliff Pennington version of Cliff Pennington. Both should contribute at the MLB level in the near future.

7. Ramon Torres, switch-hitting 2B/SS (KC)
The first game I went to was a Thursday afternoon matchup between Surprise and Scottsdale at the Giants’ Spring Training complex. I got there early enough to catch the second half of Surprise’s infield/outfield, and there was really only one player who stood out to me. The only natural defender I saw was Ramos Torres. He was playing second base, and he made all the plays easy; ranging to his left or right, it didn’t seem to slow down the 5’9/155 Royal. His middle-infield counterparts (including Yadiel Rivera and Aledmys Diaz) left a lot to be desired, but Torres looked very fluid. The multi-million dollar question becomes: can he hit? I hadn’t ever heard of this guy, so I was able to scout him without presumption. What I saw that day was not very impressive. A seemingly weak, left-handed contact swing that didn’t instill much confidence. Granted, the kid’s only listed at 5’9/155, but it hardly looked like the type of swing that could keep you above the Mendoza line in the big leagues. 0-4 with 2 K’s; I left the park saying, “If only he could hit.”

Good thing I got to see him play multiple games. Two days later he crushed a home run, right-handed, probably close to 385 feet. It was his only hit of the day (1-5 with a BB), but the power he generated was enough to make me stand up out of my seat. The next time he played, three days later, I was also in attendance. Batting second in the best lineup in the AFL, Torres displayed some serious pop from the left-side. This time, pulling a ball for a stand-up triple off the right field fence at spacious Salt River Field. This ball might’ve gone even further, given the power alleys are 390 feet away. Impressive in-game pop from both sides of the plate for a natural up-the-middle defender? Yes, please. I’m having a hard time putting an exact comp on Torres, but I could see him having the upside of a switch-hitting Elvis Andrus, with a good chance of at least being a respectable utility infielder like Adam Rosales.

8 (Bonus). Nathan Orf, R/R INF (MIL)
25 year old utility-type infielder and AFL “taxi squad” member (essentially, roster filler only active on Wednesday and Saturday games to give the ‘real’ prospects some extra rest). Nate Orf is a ballplayer through and through. Despite only reaching AA this year at the not-so-tender age of 25, Nate Orf was one of the most impressive players out in Arizona. Only 5’9”, Orf is about as easy to overlook as Dominic Smith is to notice. Orf seemed to get a hit every time he was up, spraying the ball all over the field and showing an advanced eye at the plate. Granted, Orf was facing pitchers some 3-to-5 years younger than him, but he seemed to hit line drives to the opposite field at will. He also made some nice defensive plays at third, and while he’ll never have the power to be much of an everyday corner infielder, Orf has the type of approach to the game that will make him an excellent bench player in the Major Leagues someday soon. Easily one of the most fun guys to watch while I was out there.

I saw JP Crawford and AJ Reed, and neither did anything to ‘wow’ me — though, Crawford’s multiple errors came pretty close. The only thing that surprised me was how big Crawford is. He’s every bit the 6’2/180 he’s listed at, and has the frame that makes me think he could be a 20+ HR threat at some point in his career. I’ll be putting together a Part II because there are a few other guys I’d like to cover, both negative and positive, including Austin Meadows, Brett Phillips, Yoan Lopez, Chance Sisco, and many others. Thanks for reading.