The Arizona Fall League rosters were announced Tuesday, signaling the approaching end of the minor league season and the kickoff for the exciting offseason for some of the game's best prospects. If you have not been to the AFL before, I highly recommend squeezing some vacation time out of yourschedule to make a trip out to the Phoenix area to catch it or at least set your DVR to record the All-Star Game in early November. I went in 2008 and 2009 with my former employers who had to pull the plug on my trip last year at the last minute much to my displeasure. The only positive spin I could put on it is that it saved me the certain loss of money to Jeff Erickson at the late night poker table.
The games are played in gorgeous stadiums in full of gatherings of people, and by gatherings I mean friends, families, crazy ladies with funny cheers, and old people with nothing better to do. The last game I went to had roughly 170 people in the stands which were all counted up by the end of the first inning. The great thing is you can find a great seat and if you are lucky enough, great conversation with other interested fans or baseball people that are in the stands to scout the games. In 2009, it was fun watching games with good friend of the site Jason Grey of ESPN and I even came across the Rays' Assistant Director of Minor League Operations at the All-Star Game who was a featured speaker at the Baseball Prospectus ballpark event I hosted at Tropicana Field earlier this summer. It is fair to say that a good portion of the people in the stands are being paid to watch the games.
As fantasy owners, you have to come to grips with a few things related to this league. For one thing, it's all about offense, just as the Cactus League is during the month of March. Nearly 30 players hit at least .300 last season while just 12 pitchers, of any variety, had ERA's below 3.00 with Marc Rzepczynski leading the pack last season at 1.16. Secondly, sample size is a major problem here because it is tough to get more than 100 plate appearances or more than 35 innings of work while in this league so simply looking at ERA's and what not is not going to help much. Lastly, some pitchers are sent here to be stretched out as starters or work in relief or even work on a new pitch so their numbers can get a bit scary. After all, Alex Cobb went 1-3 in seven starts with 30 strikeouts and 14 walks in 25 innings along with a 6.12 ERA but was very effective this season before going down with an injury. Conversely, Josh Collmenter's delivery helped him strike out 30 while walking just seven in 26.2 innings while he went 4-0 with a 3.04 ERA.
More than anything watch the secondary stats with these players while you wait to read the visual reports from those watching the games in person, like Bernie will likely be doing since he lives out there. Watch the batters for their walk to strikeout ratio and for the pitchers, the exact opposite. Last season, Dustin Ackley walked 26 times while striking out just 11 times and Ryan Lavarnway had a 1:1 ratio. If a guy has trouble taking walks from young kids in October and November, it is most likely going to be worse in March, April, and May. For pitchers, Brad Peacock gave a peek at his breakout 2011 season as he struck out 17 while walking just three last AFL season while Jeremy Jeffress walking 12 while striking out just 14 in under 12 innings of work showed that he still has a ways to go with control if he is to become Joakim Soria's replacement at some point in his Royals career.
Here are some players on each of the roster to watch once league play begins in Arizona.
-- Marquis Fleming: Only because you have to see his changeup in action. He has worked in relief in Double- and Triple-A for the Rays this season and has 98 punchouts in just 76.2 innings. He throws 89-91 but his changeup is of the Bugs Bunny variety and when I saw him in person earlier this month, he generated a lot of funny-looking swings and misses.
-- Sean Gilmartin: Recent draft pick who is already working at the Low-A level for the Braves. Early results are what you would expect from a polished college pitcher so the competition in the AFL will be a tougher challenge.
-- J.J. Hoover: Another arm from the Braves who has punched out 113 while walking just 38 and giving up five home runs in 103 innings.
-- Tim Beckham: The former top overall pick showed many signs of life this season and given the Rays' current problems at shortstop, Beckham could accelerate a timetable to the big leagues with a good showing.
-- Matt Dominguez: He had a chance at making the club out of camp but an injury didn't help that and he's been down in New Orleans where right-handed power is challenged by a deep left-center field alley. He still has 30 extra-base hits in 335 plate appearances, but is hitting just .256 with a .310 OBP.
-- Clint Robinson: A lot more bat than glove and he and the PCL have been a great match this season as he has 68 extra-base hits and 99 runs driven in with a slash line of .328/.402/.538. He turns 27 in February and has yet to see a major league pitch but with a career slash line of .312/.380/.537, American League teams will be watching him in the AFL since the Royals' 25-man roster is extremely crowded.
-- Wil Myers: The highly rated prospect from Kansas City has been able to tread water statistically while converting from catching to the outfield.
-- Mikie Mahtook: He was a last-minute signee and his action in the AFL will be his first. How he does will likely determine if the Rays send him to Low-A Bowling Green or High-A Port Charlotte to start next season.
-- Trey McNutt: The Cubs' system is thin and they really need McNutt to turn the corner that he's been stuck in while in Double-A as he has been a mess this season. After striking out 132 in 116 innings last season while allowing just 93 hits, he has given up 114 hits while striking out just 63 in 91 innings.
-- Danny Hultzen: The surprise first-round pick by the Mariners will be getting his first taste of pro ball in Arizona.
-- Matt Adams: Incredible year in the Texas Legue with a .307/.365/.578 slash line and a career-high walk rate that was just named the Texas League Player of the Year. Not bad for a former 23rd -round draft pick out of Slippery Rock University.
-- Nick Franklin: He dealt with an injury earlier this season, but took his rather average numbers in the California League to a new level upon his promotion to the Southern League where he has hit .354/.373/.538 so far. Plate discipline is still an issue but his fantasy potential at shortstop is quite intriguing as he will only be 21 at the start of next season and will already have nearly 100 at bats at Double-A and a season in the AFL under his belt.
-- Jedd Gyorko: He tore up the Cal League with a .365/.429/.638 slash line but life in the Texas League has been a more normal .280/.360/.415 line. Still, 71 extra-base hits, 113 runs, and 107 runs driven in this season has been fun to watch.
-- Chih-Hsien Chiang: Chang was enjoying his breakout seasons in Double-A which led to a invite to the Futures Game and shortly thereafter, was traded to the Mariners. Since leaving Boston for Seattle, his numbers have disappeared as he is hitting just .211/.269/.275 through 119 plate appearances in the Southern League. That, coming off a .340/.402/.648 line in the Eastern League.
-- James Darnell: Darnell is up with the Padres already after doing extremely well in Double- and Triple-A to the tune of a .310/.404/.552 slash line with 65 walks and just 76 strikeouts. His trip is more fine tuning than anything else.
-- Tyson Ross: The A's were converting him to a starter again after having him work in relief last season and the transition has been anything but smooth. I like Ross' stuff, but the oblique injury earlier this season and the transition to starting has not been smooth.
-- Yasmani Grandal: He has hit .298/.390/.494 while splitting time between the Cal League and Southern League but he will still have Devin Mesoraco in his way unless some kind of trade takes place. I would be more excited about his fantasy potential without that speed bump in his way.
-- Michael Choice: Choice has fully taken advantage of the California League with a .547 slugging percentage, but 131 strikeouts with just 59 walks is a problem. He has been hot hitting .344/.423/.608 since the minor league All-Star break making much better contact than he did in the first half. Watch for how he does there in Arizona.
-- Anthony Gose: Gose is blazing fast, yet has just 19 doubles this season. His combined triples and home-run totals are higher than his doubles which is rather befuddling. He is 66-for-81 in his stolen-base attempts but is hitting just .252 this season as he has struck out 147 times already which is worse than last season. He has struck out at least 110 times in three consecutive seasons while walking no more than 60 times. He has some exciting fantasy potential, but learning how to take more walks would take him to another level. He is only 21 so there is still plenty of time.
-- Grant Green: His power numbers have taken a hit in the Texas League and his same impatience at the plate has continued. Yet, he has still managed to hit .294 despite the lack of plate discipline but has just eight home runs in 557 plate appearances.
-- Casey Crosby: Control has been a big problem for him in Double-A this season as he has walked 73 in just 125 innings of work (5.2 walk rate). He turns 23 in a few weeks so hopefully this wildness is temporary.
-- Nolan Arenado: He has just 46 walks in 557 plate appearances this season, but has also struck out just 49 times. He has driven in 114 runs in the Cal League with 50 extra-base hits, 30 of which are doubles. He has played in two power-friendly environments and still has not topped 20 home runs, but he owns a .301 career average with just 119 strikeouts in 1,182 minor league plate appearances.
-- Alex Castellanos: He was having a big year for the Springfield Cardinals before being traded to the Dodgers and he has had a better time in the Southern League. On the season, he has hit .325/.388/.579 but has a 1.049 OPS in the Southern League since the trade. That said, he is 25 and still in Double-A so if he is going to have a future, he needs to press the issue with the Dodgers.
-- Tim Wheeler: His contact did not improve this season as hoped, but 77 extra-base hits are tough to turn your nose up at. If you want to get nitpicky with Wheeler, the fact he is just 42 for his last 60 in stolen-base attempts is concerning if fantasy owners are hoping he runs a lot as a big league level. He has seen his power numbers improve greatly from last season, but with more pull power comes the spike in strikeouts. He turns 24 before next season and has hit just .233/.316/.407 against lefties this season so there are concerns there as well.
-- Derek Norris: He probably cannot wait for 2011 to end. You don't often see a guy with an .800 OPS hit .207 on the season, but that's Norris this season. He has just a 13% line drive rate and has a 14% infield flyball rate this season so solid contact has been a problem. When he does square it up, it travels as he has 18 home runs this season, but he has just 15 doubles.
-- Will Middlebrooks: He has played at three levels for Boston this season and has a .294/.340/.519 slash line with 21 home runs and 85 runs driven in. His issue is a 1:4 BB:K as he has just 25 walks compared to 102 strikeouts in only 432 plate appearances. That must improve.
-- Jean Segura: Segura hit .313 in the Midwest League with a .464 slugging percentage and 50 steals last season so hopes were high as he went to the Cal League. Unfortunately, he left the hot bat back in Cedar Rapids as he has hit just .266 this season with 18 steals. He did change from playing second base to shortstop so he has to be given some forgiveness for having to learn a position he had not played anywhere in his professional career.
-- Bryce Harper: I hear this guy is really good.
-- Mike Trout: I hear this guy is really good too.
Editor's Note: Harper and Trout will be on the same roster for this AFL campaign as Angels and Nats prospects will be members of the Scottsdale Scorpions.