AFL Notes October 22-25, 2014
It’s been six years since my last trip to the desert to watch the Arizona Fall League so when I had the chance to finally make it down I couldn’t resist. I was able to watch parts or all of four games and see many talented players who will be Major League contributors. I didn’t prepare ahead of time to take great notes on players nor was I able to really evaluate many players because I was mainly focused on a select few I found intriguing. Here are the those notes.
When I got to the park with my uncle and saw that neither Byron Buxton nor Eddie Rosario were in the lineup I rather zoned out and just enjoyed watching high caliber baseball because there were no players I was dying to see. One player who stood out on the Salt River Rafters was the first guy out of the bullpen, Brian Ellington.
Brian Ellington (Marlins): His frame stands out as a lanky right hander standing 6’ 4” and 200 pounds. Then you see his first pitch and the radar gun says 97. He had a bit of an issue throwing strikes as the inning got started by walking the leadoff hitter and throwing balls on six of his first seven pitches but after that he settled down. He had a long, loose arm that acted as a powerful whip to unleash upper 90’s heaters. He also threw a slider that was in the upper 80’s and some downward tilt and when he stayed on top of the pitch, it looked like something that would generate many swing and misses.
This was the game I was most excited about. First, I was able to see the beautiful Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. The players are very spoiled being able to call that park home. For a spring training base, it really doesn’t get any better.
Second, the Rafters’ lineup was filled with players I was excited to see.
Byron Buxton (Twins): Coming off two major injuries I expected to see a Buxton who didn’t look like he was in midseason shape and that’s what I got. His timing looked a little off but what I saw was a balanced swing that showed his quick hands. He did lunge for pitches on the outer half of the plate instead of letting them travel a little more but that is just a sign of rust. One ball he lunged for with two strikes was a slow grounder to short and he showed the speed that leaves scouts drooling as he put pressure on the shortstop who bobbled the ball and even if he had fielded it cleanly would not have had a chance to throw him out. He did get a fastball in on his hands that he was able to fist into short center for another base hit. He would come around to score and it was apparent how quick he is on the bases. Later in the game there was a line drive into left center that looked like a base hit off the bat and he glided over to the baseball and caught it on the run to make it look like a routine play.
Eddie Rosario (Twins): I have not seen much footage of Rosario and I came away impressed. He did miss 50 games this season but he looked in very good shape. He showed a strong arm in left field on a throw to the plate that prevented a runner from even trying to tag up on a fly ball. Batting from the left side, he showed a lot of movement in his hands but he was able to get load in on time and still drive the ball. He made consistent contact and hard contact which gives me reason to believe his down season was because of the time away from the game. I came away most excited about Rosario possibly starting next season in AA before receiving some sort of promotion. At worst he will be a good bat off the bench in bigs and can play all three outfield spots while being serviceable at second.
Peter O’Brien (Diamondbacks): The power hitting “catcher” was not catching on this night as he was at first base. There are questions about whether O’Brien can catch and I have no way to evaluate him at first base other than saying he caught all the balls thrown to him…except one. Hmmm. Well either way I was happy to see him at bat. The scouting report stood true to form in this contest as he was beat inside on a heater that broke his bat and he chased the breaking pitches away to strikeout. But when a fastball was left over the plate for him to extend his hands, he stroked a double to left-center and the ball off his bat sounded like a baby’s laughter. If he can make the proper adjustments, I see no reason why he can’t be a big league regular at first base as he has nice trajectory to his swing. It might not happen in Arizona though as he’s blocked by some other guy who plays first base and it kinda-sorta great.
Rio Ruiz (Astros): I didn’t pay as much attention to Ruiz as I probably should have but I did watch one at bat in particular in which he lined a double down the right field line and he did a nice job trusting his hands to turn on a fastball low-and-in. At third base, he displayed a strong throwing arm but I didn’t come away overly impressed with the footwork.
Max Kepler (Twins): Kepler was interesting. He doesn’t have the numbers in the minors to backup what I saw. I saw a lean, young player who has a very short stroke that creates nice backspin. If I put him on my diet I think I could add the necessary weight for him to turn some of those doubles into 15-18 homers a year. He doesn’t have a strong throwing arm but has wheels and can get to balls well.
Anthony DeSclafani (Marlins): After receiving the lineup card, I saw Desclafani was on the bump for Salt River which is always exciting to see a big leaguer. Though he had just 33 big league innings this season, he did have a strong 26-5 K/BB ratio. When assessing a pitcher, I like to watch the pitcher play catch and so I stood down the left field line to watch. When he got to his max distance of about 150 feet, he showed a free and easy arm action and when he came back in and threw more on a line, he displayed tremendous arm speed. When he got on the mound I studied his pitch grips and he throws a four-seam fastball to the glove side of the plate, two-seam sinker to the arm side, a spiked-breaking ball, slider and circle-change.
In the game, DeSclafani located both his fastballs to the sides of the plate and with good velocity. Brooks Baseball had his average fastball velocity at 93 mph and the radar guns showed him between 91 and 95 and mostly in the 92-94 range. He threw just a few changeups and they were nothing to get excited about. His spiked-curve was nothing more than a get-me-over pitch for a first-pitch offering of in a fastball count when a change of pace might be needed. The slider had good tilt and he was able to throw it for a strike and for a strikeout. He did have a rough fourth inning when he left a few fastballs at the belt and he gave up a homer.
DeSclafani gets a lot of power from his lower half to generate the velocity. I have an equation,
hip drive = momentum = velocity , and he had great hip drive and led with his front heel to keep his front side closed and gave him good direction to the plate. He kept the ball on the ground well as he got six groundouts to just one flyout.
Jake Reed (Twins): Reed threw just one inning and faced three hitters. He was lighting up the radar guns sitting in the mid 90’s though it was rather straight. He did have two loud outs on sliders up in the zone but one appearance I can’t truly judge that pitch.
Enrique Burgos (Diamondbacks): The big right hander pitched one perfect inning and showed the power stuff scouts rave about. He threw a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90’s and though he does not have great command of the pitch, in a one inning role he could get away with it. He cut his walk rate in half this season which is promising. He slider was powerful and had good vertical movement to it rather than having it be an east-west pitch.
Dan Vogelbach (Cubs): I got to this game in the fourth inning and saw him hit just twice. The first was against a lefty and he had no chance. He looked uncomfortable and hit a weak popup after being ahead in the count 3-0. The next plate appearance came against a righty and he worked the count in his favor and hit a hard single to right. He does have a bit of a hitch with his hands but got them in a good position. His stroke is short with good lift. I don’t seem him being a National League player as he has a very non-athletic body.
Sean Nolin (Blue Jays): Another pitcher who has a big league time though it’s just 1.1 innings in 2013. The southpaw wasn’t over powering with his fastball as it was in the upper 80’s but it played up because his changeup had hitters out front. He threw just 60 percent strikes but the only base runner he allowed was on a hit batter with a fastball that got away armside. He struck out five in just three innings and was likely pulled early as he went deep in counts to a lot of hitters. He had good direction to the plate and didn’t pull off to the third base side.