The second week of The Arizona Fall League has come and gone with little fanfare. We saw the arrival of Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, but we also saw the disappearance of two high profile players. For undisclosed reasons, Brandon Belt has not been playing in games. He hasnít left his team, but there are reports that he is banged up. Atlanta Braves first base prospect Freddie Freeman left the AFL to see a hand specialist in Atlanta and he will not return after spraining his left thumb early in Week 2.
My goal in my Fall League Notebook is to share thoughts and observations that may assist readers with fantasy team selections this coming spring. As a result, most of my reports will focus on hitting. The Fall League features fewer quality pitchers than hitters. That makes perfect sense because of the workloads already on the arms of the young professional pitchers.
This week, Iím going to introduce some more obscure players along with some names you may recognize.
The players Iím highlighting early in the season are not necessarily those you will see in the big leagues next season. There are a few of those that Iíll write about in the coming weeks. These players (probably with the exception of Brandon Belt) are further away from their ultimate goal of playing big league baseball. But they could blossom and get the telephone call of their lifetime. Keep your eye on them. They can each play.
Brandon Belt, 1B, SFG Ė The never-ending first base issue for the Giants may end when management feels Belt is ready for the big time. He is clearly a true power hitter in every sense of the word.
Belt is an imposing 6-foot-5 195-pound first baseman that looks much bigger than those stats. He has a very well defined, very strong upper-body. He is the type of physical athlete that can cause pitchers to keep away from his power and not give him pitches to hit. In reality, Belt is selective at the plate and he knows the strike zone. In his 492 professional at-bats at three minor league levels in 2009, he walked 93 times compared to 99 strikeouts; good numbers for a power hitter.
The Houston native had an outstanding first year with the Giants after being selected in the fifth round (No. 147 overall) in the 2009 first-year player draft. Combined at High-A, Double-A and Triple-A, Belt hit .352 with 23 home runs and 112 RBI. This fall, Belt is hitting .321 over eight games. However, he hasnít played in a week and there are no reasons being given for his absence.
Belt may get additional seasoning and at-bats in the minor leagues during the 2011 campaign. Since he has less than 500 professional at-bats (not counting the Arizona Fall League), it may be to his benefit to see some more Triple-A pitching. He only played 13 games at Fresno in the Pacific Coast League, hitting .229 with four homers. His major damage was done at High-A San Jose in the California League and at Double-A Richmond in the Eastern League. Belt has a nice, easy stroke at the plate that meets the ball where itís thrown. His ability to control his swing and not go to the plate trying to hit everything 500 feet may help his overall development. If there is a ďholeĒ in his approach at the plate, it might be inside at his hands. While his bat is quick, like many younger hitters, pitches under their hands often cause problems. A similar situation exists with Bryce Harper.
Because of their constant hunt for an answer at first base, it may be very hard to keep Belt off the big league roster if he continues to put up numbers. Belt is clearly one of the premier power hitters in the AFL.
Charlie Culberson, 2B/3B, SFG Ė Second base is another position of questionable organizational depth for the Giants. They have tried Kevin Frandsen, Manny Burris, and others at the position before settling on Freddy Sanchez to play the position. While Sanchez may be stable for a while, health issues have taken their toll on the former Pirate. The search for a permanent answer at second base may go on for quite some time.
Culberson can hit. Heís basically a singles hitter, but he can hit the gaps and upon occasion he knocks the ball out of the park. I like his level, measured swing and his knowledge of the strike zone. Heíll strike out, just like most hitters, but he consistently puts the ball in play. Culberson centers pitches well and he doesnít try to do more with a pitch than his skills permit. In short, he isnít up there swinging for the fences all the time.
Culberson is only 21 years old, so he will be developing his skills in the minor leagues for a couple more seasons, but heís a player to watch. He hit .290 in 2010 at High-A San Jose in the California League (a hitters paradise.)
Even though Culberson is not a good defensive player at this stage of his career, there is time for him to develop as either a second or third baseman for the Giants. His poor defense may kill his chances if he never improves with the glove, but teams can usually find places for guys that can hit.
Culberson won Player of The Week honors for Week 2 in the AFL because he is hitting .548 with two homers and nine RBI.
Brandon Laird, LF, NYY - Laird, a right-handed hitting outfielder, was a 27th round draft choice of the Yankees in 2007. To this point, he has had a decent minor league career without being spectacular in any one category. Historically, he hasnít shown much power in his bat. However, at Double-A Trenton in the Eastern League this past season, Laird managed to hit 23 home runs in 409 at-bats. He also stroked 22 doubles and two triples while striking out just 84 times.
When he played at Triple-A Scranton in the International League in 2010 he hit only .246 with two homers in 31 games. That small sample size suggested that the next level of play might have been too advanced for Laird at this particular point of his career.
This fall, Laird has shown some good bat control and similar power in his first two weeks in Arizona. So far, after nie games played and 38 at-bats, Laird has stroked five doubles and two homers. Heís hitting .342 for his Phoenix Desert Dogs team.
Laird just turned 23 years old in 2010. He has 1,604 minor league at bats in his career and he should continue to improve. The Yankees are not tremendously deep with talent and projectable prospects in their minor league system. As a result, a player like Laird has been given an opportunity to play in front of big league scouts against good competition and he is more than holding his own. He has gotten my attention with a quick bat and an approach that has centered pitches with good power.
I like the way Laird plays defense and I think he will continue to improve all parts of his game.
Brad Peacock, P, WAS Ė Through the first two weeks, I havenít seen many pitchers that have shown more all around ability than Peacock.
He is a 6-foot-1 175-pound right-handed pitcher from Miami, Florida. Peacock was a 41st round selection of the Nationals in 2006. He has been a starter to date in his career, compiling a 19-35 record over five seasons.
This fall, Peacock has worked exclusively out of the Scottsdale Scorpions' bullpen. In six innings pitched, he has given up only four hits and one run. What has intrigued me the most is the fact that Peacock has struck out 12 while walking only one hitter. In his career, Peacock has struck out 363 and walked 152. The command of all his pitches he has shown in Arizona will certainly cause the Nationals to give Peacock an extra look.
In the bullpen, Peacock can reduce his repertoire to two or three quality pitches. So far in the AFL, he has shown a fastball that sits at 92 and tops out at 95. Given the good command of that pitch, he has the magic bullet to use as an ďoutĒ pitch. I also saw a mid-80ís slider that misses bats as well.
Itís early to say if Peacock can be in the Nationals' 2011 plans. However, I did see some excellent mound presence and a strong, mechanically sound approach. If he continues to pitch this way, Peacock can ultimately close in the major leagues and provide value for fantasy players. But thatís in the future. For now, I just want to introduce him to you.
Jordan Pacheco, C, COL Ė There are several catching prospects assigned to the AFL. I will be featuring several of them as the weekís progress. This week I want to introduce you to Pacheco, a tough 6-foot-1, 190-pound solidly built Rockies farmhand.
So far, Pacheco is putting the ball in play with a loud bat. He shares time at catcher with other players for the Scottsdale Scorpions, but in five games, Pacheco is hitting .364 with four RBI. I especially like his level swing and his ability to hit the ball where itís pitched. A right-handed hitter from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Pacheco has also played first base in the AFL. That ability allows him to expand his development and potential for an eventual call to the big leagues.
Pacheco is a career .310 hitter over four minor league seasons. He highest level of play to date has been at Double-A Tulsa of the Texas League where he hit .333 over 78 at-bats in 21 games this past season.
Although he does not profile as a power hitter, heís a gap hitter that makes contact at the plate. He also walks more than he strikes out, walking 60 times while striking out 42 times over a total of 468 at-bats in 2010. Thatís a very impressive fact that makes Pacheco a valuable player to keep on the teamís radar.
I have to see more of Pacheco behind the plate to see if he has a chance to become a backup catcher in the big leagues. But if he continues to hit, Pacheco could eventually find himself as a top option for the Rockies.
FALL BALL SCRIBBLES:
- No game in the AFL may go beyond 11 innings if the score is tied. Lack of pitching depth and wear and tear on the pitchers is the reason for the Robinson Rule. The rule was named after former AFL Director of Baseball Operations Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.
- Teams in the AFL wear their major league teamís home and road uniforms with a hat that has their AFL teamís logo. The net result looks like a major league All-Star Game with different caps. The AFL provides teams a series of numbers to use for their players. That assures that no two players are wearing the same number on their AFL team.
AFL PLAYERS OF WEEK TWO AS SELECTED BY THE STAFF:
Charlie Culberson, 2B, SFG
Brad Holt, RHP, NYM
BERNIEíS EYES ARE ON:
Leslie Anderson, OF, TAM
Jeremy Moore, OF, LAA