This week featured the Rising Stars Game in the Arizona Fall League.
The Rising Stars Game is not an All-Star Game. Rather, it is designed to feature those players (selected by a vote of representatives from all baseball organizations) that represent "some of baseball's brightest prospects." In fact, several players having outstanding fall campaigns or enjoying high prospect profiles were not to be found on the rosters. Those players included such notables as Rays shortstop and former overall No. 1 draft selection Tim Beckham, former A's first-rounder Grant Green, the Cubs' Josh Vitters, Andrew Cashner, D.J. LeMahieu, and recently acquired Mariners outfielder Chih-Hsien Chiang, to name a few. I have learned that Beckham was not in the game because his organization was concerned about current health issues-whatever that means. It should be noted that Beckham played in the game I attended the following Monday.
What to make of those omissions? I'm not sure. Maybe they're tired. Maybe they didn't want to play another game. Maybe the club just didn't want them in the Rising Stars Game. Maybe the outfields were so crowded with stars there wasn't room for some left off. Whatever the reason, those are some notable names and we should not discount the fact they were not voted by the baseball organizations as being among "some of the brightest prospects." Nor should we make more of it than it was. The players I noted above were not voted in to the game, for one reason or another. But I'm going to watch spring training carefully to see if there was any particular reason those players were not on the field Saturday night. I want to know if there's any fantasy impact in the Rising Stars roster omissions. Each of the players I listed is high profile on their respective club's prospect list.
There were some amazing performances in the Rising Stars Game. For example, Mariners shortstop of the future Nick Franklin had an AFL-record four hits in the game, including a homer. He was a triple away from the cycle. Two of his hits were doubles, while he knocked in four runs.
Braves first base prospect Joe Terdoslavich had three hits in the game. Like Franklin, Terdoslavich homered and fell a triple away from the cycle.
East Division starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, the first overall selection in the June 2011 draft by the Pirates really struggled in the game. He was throwing his standard high-90s fastball, but he was getting far too much of the plate, pitching up in the zone. At times he over-threw the fastball, losing command and falling behind hitters. He was touched for four hits and five earned runs in just two-thirds of an inning. He gave up two home runs, walked one and struck out one. He did show the outstanding change-up that makes his fastball more effective. At one point he got ahead in the count to Terdoslavich by using off-speed pitches. Then he came in with a fastball and Terdoslavich took him deep. Frankly, I thought Cole was trying to hit 100 mph on the radar gun and it altered his command. Just a theory.
Basically, Cole is a work in progress. He has to refine his pitch repertoire, pitch location and pitch sequencing. I have little doubt the Pirates' coaching staff will take the raw talent inherent in Cole and create a top of the rotation stud. It may take some time and repetition. He has at least three quality pitches and a bulldog mound demeanor. He pitches with no windup and there aren't any real moving parts. However, he doesn't always finish his pitches with proper arm extension.
Cole looks to be a late 2012 or 2013 season arrival in the big leagues. Much depends upon how quickly the 21-year-old righty can learn what the Pirates' staff will impart. He'll have to bring his fastball down in the zone and out of the eyes of the hitter. He has to keep the ball down or on the corners to be effective. That was not the case in the Rising Stars Game. Put quite simply, the opposing hitter's eyes lit up when the ball was elevated in the strike zone. Put the ball at the letters of quality hitters and they'll pound it most of the time. That's what happened in the Rising Stars Game.
If you have followed my articles all fall, I have been very bullish on Mariners lefty prospect Danny Hultzen.
Hultzen pitched extremely well in the Rising Stars Game. He showed the repertoire I believe will take him to success in Seattle. Using a mid-90s fastball and slider pretty exclusively, Hultzen mixed in an average looking change-up to keep hitters off balance. He threw strikes. In fact, he struck out the side in the first inning.
I don't see Hutlzen as a strikeout pitcher. Rather, I see Hultzen using his repertoire and using his defense as hitters make contact with his pitches. He's smart enough to know that command and control, moving the hitter's eye levels and keeping hitters off balance will be his tickets to success. I look for the soon to be 22-year-old Hultzen to be in the major leagues in September 2012.
- Mike Trout looks tired and uninspired. He hasn't hit well, and he has a sore shoulder. He's better than what we have seen, but I think he should go home and rest. He's a heck of a talent at only 20 years old.
- I can't say enough about Bryce Harper's overall game. He's a major talent. He just turned 19 and he should be playing for Washington in September.
- Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford was another player not on the Rising Stars roster. He has had an outstanding defensive fall. Offensively, I've really noticed improvement. He has shown an ability to use the entire field with a solid swing that continues to get better. Unless they dip into the free agent market, I think he'll be the Giants' shortstop next season. But why wasn't he in the game?
- What do the Royals do with Wil Myers? They have Lorenzo Cain as well. Both got a boost on Monday with Melky Cabrera being traded to San Francisco. Myers is hitting very well in the AFL. I've been very impressed with his plate discipline and pitch recognition. He's accepting a high number of walks when he doesn't get the pitch he can drive. He's taking pitches to the opposite field and he's making a case to become a big leaguer. The problem? He doesn't look comfortable in the outfield. Not at all. Myers won't be 21 until December. He has time to further develop both his hitting and certainly his defense. But the Royals have a great chip in Myers (or even Cain) if they want to trade either for further pitching help. I look for Myers to be in Kansas City later in the season even if Cain succeeds as the primary center fielder.
- Christian Colon looks like he has enough defensive ability to play second base for the Royals. Colon is only 22, and he needs more minor league seasoning. He should be ready for prime time by 2012. He doesn't have a power bat, but he should hit in the .250 to .260 range initially and get better with time. I do think his bat will eventually play. For now, however, he's learning a faster more aggressive game than the one played when he went to Cal State-Fullerton.
- I think I've been wrong about the Giants' No. 1 draft pick from this past June. Initially, I didn't think Joe Panik looked very athletic at second base. Most of the balls I've seen him pick up have been hit right to him so I haven't had lots of opportunity to view his range. As fall has progressed I have changed my thinking. Panik has shown some pop in his bat, he's hitting for high average and he's playing well. The 21-year-old from St. Johns University is probably at least two seasons away from the big leagues. He has to get used to professional baseball, but given the Giants' lack of second base prospects, Panik could be on a faster track.
AFL Players Of The Week as determined by AFL staff:
IF Mike Olt (Texas) and LHP Sammy Solis (Washington)
Bernie's Player Of The Week: Bryce Harper (Nationals)
Harper had an incredible week, hitting .500 with two more homers. He has a total of six for the season, and was clobbering the ball all week.
Get ready for an exciting offseason. I have a blog on the site about the hot stove. I'd welcome you stopping there and sharing your thoughts.
Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff. I will be communicating on twitter before and during every AFL game. Follow me on MLB.com by finding my articles under "other opinions" when they aren't on the home page. I always welcome comments and questions.