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Pleskoff's AFL Notebook: Sparkling Rising Stars Game

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.

The Arizona Fall League showcased some of its brightest stars on Saturday night with their annual Rising Stars Game at Surprise Stadium. The game featured prospects from the West Division clubs (both Peoria teams and Surprise) against the East Division teams (Scottsdale, Phoenix and Mesa.)

The game was televised nationally on MLB Network. Former Houston Astros general manager and current chief operating officer of Minor League Baseball Tim Purpura was presented the prestigious Roland Hemond Award prior to the game.

The game was tied in the bottom of the ninth inning when Peoria Saguaros outfielder Leslie Anderson (Tampa Bay Rays) hit a majestic home run over the right field wall to end the game at 3-2 in favor of the west side clubs. I wrote about Anderson in one of my earlier notebooks this season. It was a fine conclusion to a very good game.

Week 4 saw a continuation of good hitting, but the pitching started to come together as well. Here are some players I feel are worthy of watching for future fantasy impact:

Juan Carlos Linares, OF, BOS Ė Linares is one of two Cuban-born Red Sox players in the Arizona Fall League. Last year I featured the other player, shortstop Jose Iglesias who is returning for his second consecutive Fall League season.

Linares has only played a handful of games in the minor leagues since coming to the Red Sox last season. In 17 total games covering 61 at-bats, Linares hit .246 with a homer, five RBI and one stolen base.

During the first month of the AFL, Linares has caused a buzz with good hitting mechanics that result in line drives to all parts of the field. At this writing, Linares is hitting an even .400 with a .690 slugging percentage. He has made each of his at-bats count thanks to a short, compact swing that reflects time spent on learning hitting mechanics while playing for La Habana of the Cuban National League. While playing in Cuba, Linares was a consistent .300 or above hitter with good power.

Linares has a chance to be an impactful player in the United States.
At age 26, Linares is entering his most productive years.

The 5-foot-11 190-pound, 26-year-old outfielder will likely begin 2011 in Portland, Maine playing for the Red Sox's Double-A club. It is likely Iglesias will join him on the same team. If the Red Sox's outfield is crowded at the minor league levels, Linares would make an outstanding designated hitter.

The Red Sox obviously believe in Linares. The club may bring in a high priced free agent like Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford, but they can always use another loud bat in the organization. Linares offers a good hitting, very good fielding outfielder with an ability to put the bat on the ball.

He should be an option for the major league club in late 2011 or 2012.

Johnny Giavotella, 2B, KAN Ė The more I watch Giavotella play, the more I like what I see. Not many people know much about the 5-foot-8 185-pound right-handed hitting second baseman. Giavotella plays much bigger than his size.

Giavotella gives 100 percent on every play. He hustles. He knows how to run the bases and his head is in the game. He makes scouts in the stands give him those second and third looks.

Giavotella hit .322 in 134 games for Northwest Arkansas in the Double-A Texas League. In his 522 at-bats, Giavotella had 35 doubles, five triples and nine home runs while also stealing 13 bases. His walks and strikeouts were about even at 61 walks and 67 punchouts.

In the AFL, Giavotella is hitting .326 with one homer and seven RBI. His hitting has continued. He has a short stroke with good plate discipline. Giavotella is one of those players with good, solid baseball instincts.

If offense were the only thing that mattered, Giavotella would be a cinch to be playing major league baseball sooner than later. However, he has some challenges on defense to overcome. For example, I havenít seen the range that is required of an everyday second baseman. He just doesnít have a quick first step in either direction. In addition, Giavotella doesnít have a strong arm. His arm is average or a tad below. Thatís a concern because it limits him to playing second base Limited range and a below average arm eliminate the possibility of Giavotella playing shortstop. As a consequence, chances are slim that he could make a club as a utility player. He will have to improve his defense to play day in and day out at second base for the Royals, but I think he can do it.

Ryan Lavarnway, C, BOS Ė I saw Lavarnway catch and hit the first day of the AFL. The ball just jumped off his bat. The man brings a big bat to the plate. He can hit with power and has the ability to break open a game with a blast to the wall or over it.

Boston has an ongoing search for catching. Victor Martinez is a
free agent and will likely leave for Detroit or somewhere else. The current 40-man roster includes only the oft-injured Jarrod Saltalamacchia and the unproven Mark Wagner. Obviously the club will be looking for catching in the offseason. However, Lavarnway isnít ready to fill that vacancy. It may happen sooner than later, but not in 2011. Not with his poor defense at this stage of his career.

To be brutally honest, while Lavarnway has an ideal bat for the Green Monster at Fenway Park, he canít play defense worth a lick. Not yet anyway.

The first game I witnessed with Lavarnway behind the plate I was stunned at how many balls he dropped, how poorly he blocked balls in the dirt and how awful his footwork was. In addition, he showed very poor accuracy on his throws to second base. Unfortunately, those characteristics have been evident in each and every game I have seen Lavarnway play. In order to catch in the big leagues, Lavarnway will have to improve tremendously in all mechanical phases of his defensive game. But then, thatís why they call it Player Development.

Lavarnway is a big target behind the plate at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds.
The 23-year-old California native was taken in the sixth round of the 2008 first-year player draft. He has hit for a .281 in two plus seasons of professional baseball. This past season between High-A and Double-A, Lavarnway hit 22 home runs and drove in 102.

To date in the AFL, Lavarnway is hitting .288 with two homers and eight RBI. Those may not be great stats, but the ball makes that ďspecialĒ sound when it comes off his bat. He can center pitches very well and he doesnít get cheated on pitches. His swing can get long and careless, but when he catches himself over-swinging he makes adjustments.

Even though there are three catchers on the Peoria Javelinas' Fall League roster, Lavarnway gets most of the playing time. He is trying to improve his game behind the plate while keeping his hitting at a top-notch level. Iím optimistic that Lavarnway will ultimately be a factor for the Red Sox., but it may take some time. It will depend upon how far he comes defensively, because he can certainly hit the ball.

Scott Elbert, LHP, LAD - Elbert is not a name new to baseball fans. In fact, we have been writing and reading about Elbert since he was a 2004 first-round draft pick of the Dodgers. I have always liked Elbertís arm. Even after he had bouts with arm injuries (shoulder mostly) that cost him almost a year of development. In 2007 he only pitched in three games due to arthroscopic shoulder surgery.

Elbert enjoys a position on the 40-man roster and he still has one option remaining, but there are plenty question marks surrounding him. Can he become the pitcher the Dodgers thought they were drafting? Can he make the conversion from the starting rotation to the bullpen? Can he improve his command? The AFL is a perfect place for Elbert to a) work on his delivery and command and b) be seen by other organizations in the event the Dodgers wish to cut ties with the 25-year-old lefty.

Elbert threw smoke when I first saw him after he was drafted. He was a high velocity, starting pitcher with ďcanít missĒ written all over him. So far, heís missed. He has been slow coming back from those injuries.

Now the Dodgers feel there will be less wear and tear on Elbertís arm if he works solely out of the bullpen. He can reduce his repertoire to throwing fastballs and changing speeds on those pitches if he works in the late part of games. He doesnít have to stress his arm by over-throwing breaking pitches as a starting pitcher. However, Elbert when healthy has a tremendous repertoire of fastball, slider and very tough changeup. It would be great if he gained arm strength and confidence enough to command all those pitches.

Will Elbert have fantasy value? If he can combat the command issues he faces with his fastball, he has enough velocity to set-up or even close for a club in the big leagues. He still throws in the 90ís and can even touch 95 upon occasion. His delivery can almost be termed ďviolentĒ because of the amount of energy and torque he uses. Heís toughest on left-handed hitters, but he can get righties out as well.

This fall, Elbert has no record. He has a 4.32 ERA strictly out of the bullpen in 8.1 innings pitched over seven games.

I like Elbertís chances of becoming a solid reliever in the very near future. Keep him in mind. He could be on the move with either the Dodgers or another club willing to take a chance on a good lefty reliever.

Matt Rizzotti, 1B, PHI Ė Rizzotti doesnít show up on many Top 100 lists and he isnít a household name in the baseball prospect world, but he has put a charge in some balls here in Arizona that make people stop and take note.

Rizzotti is a huge first baseman in the Phillies' organization. With Ryan Howard signed for the long haul, Rizzotti will really have to work hard to get noticed. It wonít be tough to see him, thatís for sure. The left- handed hitter is 6-foot-5 and weighs 235 pounds, but he looks much bigger than 235 Ė 275 is more like it.

As of this writing, Rizzotti is hitting .423 with two doubles and seven RBI during a seven-game hitting streak. Overall, heís hitting .405 for the season and heís hit in 10 of the 11 games in which heís played.

Rizzotti was a sixth-round pick by the Phillies in 2007 out of Arizona State University. In 2010, he played at three levels. He played 31 games at High-A Clearwater in the Florida State League (.358/1/10) and .361/16/62 at Double-A Reading in 77 games. He played 17 Triple-A games at Lehigh Valley and hit .200/0/4 for the Phillies' highest minor league club.

Iím including Rizzotti in my Notebook this week because of the damage he can do with the bat. Heís so strong at the plate and the ball comes off his bat so hard that I think he may have a chance to catch the eye of some big league scouts.

Like many in the AFL, Rizzotti is further advanced as a hitter than a defender. In fact, he really is stiff and has no mobility at first base. He could, however, be attractive as a prospect to watch as time marches along. Good hitters get attention. If he keeps on hitting here, heíll continue to get the attention of an American League club looking for a big bat or a National League club willing to accept Adam Dunn-type work at first base.

FALL BALL SCRIBBLES:

- Astros outfielder Brandon Barnes hit the top of the batterís eye in dead center field. The ball glanced off the very top of the batterís eye and then bounced off the back, never again to be seen. It was one of the highest, longest homers seen in the AFL.

- Minnesota outfielder Ben Revere now has nine stolen bases and 27 hits over 19 games played.

- As of this writing, Andy Parrino (.432) Dustin Ackley (.422) Charlie Culberson (.417) Matt Rizzotti (.405) and Juan Carlos Linares (.400) are each hitting .400 or better. Ackley is on fire. Iíll be highlighting him in my next Notebook.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK AS SELECTED BY AFL STAFF-WEEK 4

Dustin Ackley, 2B, SEA
Daryl Thompson, RHP, CIN

BERNIEíS EYES ARE ON:

Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, MIL
Jason Kipnis, 2B, CLE

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