Week 3 in the AFL was highlighted by the first professional home run hit by Bryce Harper. The majestic fly ball landed in the Party Pavilion in deep right field at Scottsdale Stadium. No exact distance was provided.
As Iíve said in my first two notebooks, hitting prevails in the AFL. In Week 3, batting averages soared and pitching continued to look tired and spent. Letís take a look at some of the players you should watch for the future:
Leslie Anderson, OF, TAM Ė Anderson is a left-handed hitting 6-foot-1 outfielder from Cuba. Make no mistake; Anderson brought his bat with him to the AFL. He has outstanding plate discipline and a very short and measured swing. He doesnít give up at-bats and he clearly has a plan when he goes to the plate.
This past season, Anderson hit a combined .302 over 99 games and 387 at-bats. While thatís not a tremendous sample, it gives us a peek at his potential as a hitter. Included in his statistics are 11 homers and 49 RBI with three stolen bases. He struck out 54 times and walked on 27 occasions.
The 28-year-old is currently hitting at a .298 clip in the AFL with one homer and eight RBI. He has a knack for making things happen.
The one aspect of Andersonís game that concerns me is a lackluster approach at some times. He looks like he doesnít care, but perhaps itís because everything comes relatively easy to him. He does make playing baseball look very simple. There isnít any rush. There isnít any anxiety. No fidgeting at the plate. No unusual mannerisms. In fact, Anderson is a get in the box, see the pitch, and hit the pitch type of hitter. He shoots line drives to the right-center gap with ease. I like his approach and I like the fact he plays good defense with a strong, accurate arm.
Anderson is in a crowded outfield situation with Tampa. The fact that Carl Crawford is a free agent could help Andersonís position in the pecking order. He has speed, but he is not anywhere close to Crawford in that regard. Overall, Anderson is a good ballplayer and he should play in the big leagues in 2012 or perhaps sooner.
Jeremy Moore, OF, LAA Ė Moore is a speedy outfielder in an organization that values and utilizes speed. In the past I have raved about Peter Bourjos, another member of the Angels' organization. It may be the presence of Bourjos that keeps Moore in the minor leagues a little longer than heíd wish. Moore has more pop in his bat than Bourjos, but Bourjos is faster than Moore. From what I have seen to date, while Moore plays good defense, but Bourjos plays better in the outfield.
Moore is a 23-year-old left-handed hitter. Heís 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. When I have seen him, Moore has played center field for the Mesa Solar Sox in the AFL. Itís a tough position to play with the high sky in Arizona. However, he takes good routes and with excellent speed, and he runs down balls hit behind him by going directly to the ball and covering lots of ground quickly.
In his three seasons in the minor leagues, Moore has a composite .265 batting average. He hit .282 at Double-A Altoona this past season. It was his best year at the plate. He has been hitting since day one in the AFL.
To date, Moore is hitting .373 with two homers and 12 RBI. He has stolen eight bases. Heís been a very tough out at the plate and heís raised his stock in the eyes of many scouts.
I am not totally sold that Moore is an everyday outfielder. I think he is worth watching as his career develops. The Angels may be making significant changes to the makeup of their 2011 team. Weíll have to wait until spring training to see if that has ramifications for Moore.
Casey Kelly, SP, BOS Ė Kelly, 21, is a rising star in the Red Sox's organization. There are those who feel Kelly is on the fast track to the Boston rotation. However, for that to happen, heíll have to start missing a few more bats and begin keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate.
Last year, Kelly played shortstop in the Arizona Fall League. That was an agreement made between Kellyís representatives and the Red Sox. He was permitted to play shortstop during the two-month fall league with a determination of his future to be made following that experience. It has been agreed that Kelly will stick solely to pitching for a living.
There is no doubt Kelly has the velocity, the pitch repertoire and the command to become a very good starting pitcher in the major leagues. However, he has had a tendency to be very hittable and he doesnít have the right location yet to put hitters away. So while he can command the strike zone with ease, he isnít commanding locations of hitter weaknesses that get the hitter out successfully.
When he does locate, Kelly can induce ground balls. His pitches sink and he throws both a two-seam (sinker) and four-seam fastball. He has a very good changeup that comes off a low 90s fastball.
Kellyís mechanics are extremely sound. He has the ability to repeat his delivery and he finishes his pitches very well. Put simply, mechanics are not an issue. He is smooth as silk, but because he pitches from a full, overhead windup, the ball is easy for hitters to see.
Kelly has played two seasons of professional baseball. He has a combined 10-10 record with a 3.69 ERA over 190 innings pitched. He has walked 51 and struck out 155. Minor league hitters have a composite .252 batting average against him.
My overall concern boils down to Kelly facing hitters the second time through the batting order. Thatís when he starts to get hit and hit hard.
The 6-foo-3, 195-pound Kelly is an excellent athlete. He has time to work on sharpening his pitch location. He has time to ďfind himselfĒ on the mound and refine his pitching skills. As a first-round draft pick in 2008 out of Sarasota High School, Kelly will be given time to become the pitcher most people think he will be. I think he will be a big success in the major leagues and it might happen as soon as 2012.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, KAN Ė Hosmer is a big, 6-foot-4, 215-pound left-handed hitting first baseman for the Royals and he's getting closer and closer to making himself the permanent fixture at the position for his big league club.
Hosmer completed an excellent 2010 season, playing at High-A Wilmington in the Carolina League and Double-A Arkansas in the Texas League. He hit .354 in 325 at-bats at Wilmington and .313 in 195 at-bats at Arkansas. Hosmer is the type of hitter that looks very comfortable at the plate. His swing is nice and easy and he rarely looks like heís swinging for the fences. Hosmer generally puts the barrel of the bat on the ball with good mechanics and an excellent finishing extension. His hands are quick through the ball, giving him the opportunity to take pitches where he sees them. Hosmer has enough speed to steal a base when the combination of a pitcher slow to the plate and a mediocre catcher combine to let him run. He isnít fast, but heís a good runner.
Hosmer can be counted upon to put the bat on the ball. Especially with men on base. It would surprise me if Hosmer did not have an outstanding career driving in runs.
To date in the AFL, he is hitting only .184 with no homers and 10 RBI. He is scuffling, but Iím really not worried. Even though this is a hitters league, I have seen enough of Hosmer at the plate to believe he has the ability to go on a nice streak and raise his average. I am reminded about how awful Buster Posey hit last fall in the AFL. Posey was miserable and he has had a fantastic rookie year for the Giants. In the end, if the mechanics are sound and the body is just as sound, a player with the athletic abilities of a Hosmer or Posey will fulfill his potential.
Eduardo Escobar, SS, CHW Ė Since the AFL began three weeks ago I have gone back and forth on White Sox prospect Eduardo Escobar. I am more on than off. Iím more a believer than disbeliever in his potential and upside. However, Iím concerned that Escobar has already hit four home runs and driven in nine runs. He has an average of .317 with an AFL OPS of .949. Why am I concerned? Itís simple. Escobar isnít a home-run hitter. Over five seasons he has hit a total of 10 homers. I donít want him to start swinging for the fences. Thatís not his game.
The 21-year-old Escobar is yet another Venezuelan shortstop with soft hands, quick feet, a great glove and a very good arm. He isnít as polished at short as Alcides Escobar of the Brewers, but heís good. Heís very good. If he continues to hit for average as he is in the AFL, the White Sox will have a top prospect on their hands.
Escobar should be able to hit the gaps and be a solid singles and doubles hitter. In those five seasons of minor league baseball, Escobar has a composite batting average of .271 in 1,671 at-bats. Thatís a solid sampling and it took place across classifications from Rookie through Double-A ball. Escobar has struck out three times (340) to every walks (112) he has taken. To be fair, he really does put the bat on the ball and he runs very well. That ability to make contact will allow him to get some infield hits with the speed as well as bunt his way on base.
I wouldnít be surprised if Escobar sees some time at second base during spring training for the White Sox. The club is set at shortstop with Alexei Ramirez, but from what I see Escobar may be the better defender. Still, second base may be open territory for the coming season and I believe Escobar will hit major league pitching for a good enough average to earn a promotion to the big league club. Once he arrives, he should be able to stick.
Fall Ball Scribbles:
- The Rising Stars Game, the AFLís rendition of an All-Star Game will be held this coming Saturday night in Surprise. Teams playing on the east side of the Valley of the Sun (Mesa, Phoenix and Scottsdale) will face off against the two Peoria teams and Surprise. Players are generally selected by the individual Farm Directors of each major league club.
- Infields in Arizona are very hard, making ground balls a challenge for even the best fielders. It has rained twice in three months in the Valley. In addition the sky is very high and balls get lost in the bright blue above. Net result? Lots of errors in the AFL. Lots of hits that could be called errors. Lots of unearned runs. Hitting statistics as well as fielding errors have to be considered with field conditions and environment in mind.
AFL PLAYERS OF WEEK 3 AS CHOSEN BY THE STAFF:
Cory Harrilchak, OF, ATL
Marc Rzepczynski, SP, TOR
BERNIESí EYES ARE ON:
Juan Carlos Linares, OF, BOS
Johnny Giovotella, 2B, KAN