Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!
The 2011 edition of the Arizona Fall League came to an end Saturday, November 19th with the team representing Salt River defeating the highly favored Surprise team by a score of 9-3. Diamondbacks prospect Charles Brewer was the winning pitcher with Alex Sanabia taking the loss. Nolan Arenado (Rockies) and Cristhian Bethancourt (Braves) each hit a home run in the game.
Prior to the game, Rockies third base prospect Nolan Arenado was named the league's Most Valuable Player. Other players receiving votes were Kevin Mattison (Marlins), Wil Myers (Royals) and Mike Olt (Rangers).
I had an opportunity to see at least one game a day for the entire AFL season. The league provided an outstanding perspective on the emerging talent in professional baseball. In this last notebook of the AFL season, I am going to provide some final thoughts on a number of players. The players are listed in no particular order.
I hope this is the most comprehensive evaluation of AFL players you will find anywhere.
Gary Brown, OF, Giants (Bats R)
Brown was another disappointment for me. He failed to generate any real offense and left the league early. After having a fine 2011 season at High-A San Jose in the California League (.336/14/80 with 53 stolen bases) Brown regressed in Arizona. He was trying to hit with his hands far too close to his body, making his extension and plate coverage problematic. He can fly on the bases, and he's a good defensive center fielder, but he needs mechanical correction at the plate. I see the 23 year-old at least two seasons away.
Dan Butler, C, Red Sox (Bats R)
I was very impressed with this relatively unknown catcher from the Red Sox system. He is outstanding behind the plate, calling a good game and displaying very good mechanics. His arm is strong and accurate and his footwork is average as well. Butler's offensive game is still a work in progress. He showed he can hit the ball hard and I see promise in his stroke. I believe Butler will be ready as an option for a club within two seasons. His bat has to get louder, but he could serve well as a backup catcher.
Brandon Crawford, SS, Giants (Bats L)
I believe Crawford is ready to assume the role of everyday shortstop with the Giants. He is agile and sure-handed defensively. He can make all the plays and he shows a strong, accurate arm. His range and feel for defense are major league ready. Offensively, he has some gap power and he's cut down on his swing. If the Giants are patient with him offensively, the Giants' pitchers will benefit. If he doesn't fall of a cliff and he has a solid spring at the plate, I see the 22- year-old shortstop starting for the team this season.
Jacob Diekman, LHP, Phillies
Diekman is a strikeout, back end of the bullpen pitcher with an ability to pitch in the major leagues. He was recently promoted to the 40-man roster of the Phillies. He has a chance to be more than a situational lefty and can likely close out games at some point in the future. In the AFL with few, if any bright pitching performances, Diekman was a star, giving up just three hits in 11.1 IP with a tidy 0.79 ERA and 0.79 WHIP. I look for Diekman to be pitching somewhere in the big leagues at some point in 2012 or 2013 at the latest as he'll be 25 in January.
Tyson Gillies, OF, Phillies (Bats L)
I was expecting much more in the way of offense from Gillies. In essence, he has had one good professional year (2009 at High Desert in the California League when he hit .341/9/42 with 44 stolen bases.) Gillies was beaten badly with breaking balls in this league. He is a big guy with a large upper body and he should generate power. His swing is long and he didn't get on base. I'm not optimistic about a bright future. I see the 23-year-old as at least three years away.
Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals (Bats L)
Yes, he's everything we thought he was. He has tremendously quick hands and wrists. Harper has the ability to hit the ball over the wall or to the gaps and he is gaining patience at the plate. He still struggles a bit with left-handed pitching and I think that will be corrected in time. He can run, steal bases and put pressure on the defense, and can hit for average. Harper can also take good routes in the outfield and he can throw. He has five tools that he can display every game. The remarkable part? He just turned 19 last month. I see Harper in the big leagues at the end of 2012.
Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox (Bats R)
Middlebrooks left the AFL early. He did, however, show the power and hitting ability most had expected. He scuffled a bit at Triple-A in 16 games, hitting only .161. However, his Double-A season at Portland in the Eastern League was outstanding. He hit .302/18/80. He should be refining his play at Portland or Triple-A Pawtucket this season with a September callup or a 2013 permanent call to the majors. I look for the 23-year-old to have an outstanding coming season that cements his place among the Red Sox's future third-base options.
Derek Norris, C, Nationals (Bats R)
I believe Norris has made enough progress both offensively and defensively to be in the big league conversation this spring. He certainly looks the part of a major league catcher. If he hits better quality pitching in March, look for the Nationals to have a tough decision to make. He has some power in his bat, but he may not sustain enough average to earn a promotion. Norris will just turn 23 in February and I really don't think he'll make the big league club until 2013. As I said however, he will raise some questions among the brass. There is no sense rushing him to the big leagues. However, the Nationals have few options.
Joe Panik, 2B, Giants (Bats L)
Panik is a very athletic young man; he is agile and strong, and he can hit. It's no fluke he was taken in the first round by the Giants this past June. He really struggled at the beginning of the AFL and looked out of place, but he showed his true tools around the mid-point of the season. Panik has some power in his bat as evidenced by his hitting one of the longest homers of the fall. He's fast enough to steal bases and quick enough to move laterally with good range at second base. I like what I see and I think he'll be the future second baseman of the Giants, but I think it will be three years from now at the earliest. Panik is only 21 years old and much development is needed.
Mike Trout, OF, Angels (Bats R)
By all accounts, Trout had a miserable fall and he really shouldn't have been here. He looked and played like he was worn out. I believe he played with a sore shoulder that impacted his swing and throwing. While I still like Trout's tools, I don't think he is the super prospect many have labeled him to be just yet. I believe he needs considerable work on hitting breaking pitches down and away. I think he needs better pitch recognition and a better sense of the strike zone. For those reasons I would return Trout to the minor leagues for the start of 2012, but I'm not the Angels. Spring training will be telling for the 20-year-old.
Tim Beckham, SS, Rays (Bats R)
Beckham has to be frustrating the Rays. He frustrated me watching him at-bat to at-bat. Sometimes he just gives up on pitches, and he doesn't really approach at-bats with any consistency. The skills are evident, but he just hasn't mastered pitch recognition. I think he'll be able to hit, but he needs lots of work on mechanics and repetition against breaking balls. Defensively, Beckham makes all the plays at short. I don't look for Beckham to be in Tampa until 2013. It could be some time in 2012 if he has a great spring training and/or a fantastic start to the season in the minor leagues. The club has a big investment in Beckham and he'll be a major leaguer. The question is when? He'll be 22 in January, so there's still plenty of time for his game to come alive.
Christian Bethancourt, C, Braves (Bats R)
Bethancourt is a terrific prospect. He is agile and athletic, and the man can really hit. He hits with power and for average. You may want to target him as an up and coming catcher in a keeper league. I've written about him all fall and I'm still very bullish. Bethancourt won't be denied once he gets more experience. For now, he's still a bit raw behind the plate. His defense will get better with repetition. I look for him to be somewhere in the major leagues by 2014 at the latest. He's a very solid player at just 20 years of age.
Christian Colon, 2B, Royals (Bats S)
There are some who feel Colon will be playing shortstop for the Royals as soon as some point in 2012. Interestingly, he played at second base exclusively in the AFL. He did well defensively and he held his home at the plate. Colon has sound mechanics, although at times I felt his range was limited going to his left. I'm not as sure as others about his future and I think bringing him up in early 2012 would be a mistake. He's a year away in my book. Colon is only 22 and he's already played at Double-A Arkansas.
Miguel De Los Santos, LHP, Rangers
De Los Santos can throw an awesome change-up. It's his fastball that is my concern. His command and control of the fastball allows hitters to sit on the change-up. No matter, they still have difficulty hitting him. I like him, but I'm not sure he has enough of a repertoire to start game after game or go deep into games in the big leagues. I believe De Los Santos can dominate inexperienced breaking ball and change-up hitters. He needs to repeat his delivery and gain some command on all his pitches. He's 23 with lots of upside. I look for him more in 2013 than next season.
Sean Gilmartin, LHP, Braves
Gilmartin really came around in the second half of the AFL. The Braves selected him with the first round in 2011 and he got his feet wet in Rookie ball and Low-A Rome after the draft. He has lots of work to do gaining experience in professional baseball. Gilmartin went to Florida State and he's faced strong hitters, but not the class he's seen in the AFL. He's raw and needs work on pitch sequencing and pacing himself on the mound. I look for the 21-year-old prospect three seasons from now.
Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, Royals
There is no question about Jeffress' arm strength. He can throw his fastball in the high-90's. He has added effective breaking balls to support the heat. When he misses, however, he gets way too much of the plate and he gets hit. He can tend to be very wild at times as well, almost aiming the ball to get it over the plate. I'm not a Jeffress fan. I don't think he repeats his delivery and I don't think he knows enough about pitching to be the closer for the Royals anytime soon. Perhaps with at least one more full season behind him at Double- or Triple-A he can be more effective. Jeffress is 24 and he has to impress at spring training and in the minor leagues to stay on the Royals' radar. I fear they'll rush him and bring him up in 2012 and that could be a mistake.
Leury Garcia, INF, Rangers, (Bats S)
Garcia is of interest because he has an ability to put the bat on the ball and make things happen. He's a high average hitter with little to no power, and he hasn't advanced beyond High-A so there is little evidence of his ability to hit high quality pitching. I saw lots of him in the AFL and he held his own. He's only 20 so there's lot of time for him to develop. I see him at least three seasons away.
Leonys Martin, CF, Rangers (Bats L)
I really looked forward to seeing Martin when he was added to the taxi squad during the AFL season. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. I was underwhelmed by the lack of energy I saw in his game. The Cuban defector has a similar skill set to other current players on the Rangers roster like Julio Borbon, Endy Chavez, Craig Gentry and David Murphy. Martin's (pronounced MartEEn) presence tells me the club thinks Borbon and the rest are either too expensive or don't have the skills that warrant moving forward with all of them. Borbon is the most vulnerable, but he wasn't on the big league club anyway. I think Chavez is at risk with Martin around. Yes, Martin can hit a fastball to his pull side. He doesn't use much of the field and he shows little power, although his first at-bat resulted in a home run. He'll be on the Rangers club in 2012, but he won't be on my fantasy team.
Mikie Mahtook, OF, Rays, (Bats R)
Mahtook will be a good offensive player when his development is complete. He has huge shoulders and a strong, strong upper body. He can drive a ball out of the park on his pull side or spray the ball to any part of the field. Like many other new prospects, Mahtook improved as the fall progressed. I like everything I saw about his approach at the plate. He has good knowledge of the strike zone and he doesn't try to kill every pitch. Watch him closely. Although the Rays don't move prospects quickly, Mahtook will force the issue in three more seasons. The 22-year-old Mahtook went to LSU and he lives and breathes his alma mater.
Kevin Mattison, OF, Marlins (Bats L)
Mattison is one of my favorite stories of the AFL. He is 26 years old and he knows he's behind other players in his development, but he's a bulldog that doesn't give away at-bats. He puts the bat on the ball with some power. His game centers on his ability to beat out grounders to the infield and use his speed to steal bases. He's the type of guy that will beat the opposition with his bat, his glove and his legs. This past season, Mattison hit .260 at Double-A Jacksonville where he stole 38 bases. I hope Mattison gets a good spring training look from the Marlins with an opportunity to earn a bench spot. He was added to the team's 40-man roster, which may bode well for his future.
Wil Myers, OF, Royals (Bats R)
Myers will have a place on the Royals' roster once he shows the brass he can hit quality pitching on a consistent basis. He had a rough 2011 at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, but his AFL season was outstanding. He has a good eye at the plate, he accepts walks, and he can hit for average and power. I see a problem for him as a defender in the outfield. He looks unsure of himself and looks like he needs lots of repetition gaining confidence after having been a catcher most of his life. Myers won't be 21 until December. He's been a household name as a prospect for a long time, but he is just now beginning to heat it up with his bat.
Mike Olt, 3B/1B, Rangers (Bats R)
Olt showed tremendous power in the AFL. He fell one home run short of the all time league homer record that was set when Brandon Wood hit 13. Is Olt another Brandon Wood? Yes, there are similarities. They both can hit the ball out of the park and they both strike out a ton. For some reason, I think Olt will be a much better major league hitter than Wood became. Olt has not had much experience playing professional baseball and we're going to have to see this power over and over again until we anoint him ready for prime time. Olt is big and strong, but he can play defense and appears to be fairly agile. At 23, he has time to continue his momentum, and I don't think he'll be in the big leagues for another two seasons.
Neil Ramirez, RHP, Rangers
Ramirez is very advanced in his development. He may need some more minor league innings to refine his repertoire and smooth out some little kinks in his delivery. He throws very hard, has good secondary pitches and he can command his pitches. Ramirez left the AFL midway during the season, probably to protect his once sore shoulder. I see him as a major league quality starter at some point in late 2012. He could arrive earlier if the Rangers feel he can fill the last spot of their rotation. He's 22 years old, but he pitches like he's much older. Watch Ramirez carefully and follow his progress. He could be a great keeper pick. His shoulder strength and health will be the primary issue.
Alex Sanabia, RHP, Marlins
I may be in the minority here. I'm not a big Sanabia fan. He started the AFL Championship game and he went 4.2 innings allowed three runs on five hits while striking out two and walking one. Not bad, but not good, and he could have been lit up. Sanabia pitched for the Marlins in 2011. He had a 3.73 ERA in 15 games, 12 of which he started. I just haven't seen enough consistency from start to start in the AFL, but he's only 23.
Kyle Skipworth, C, Marlins (Bats L)
Skipworth is an athletic catcher with a good, strong arm. I still can't understand why the Marlins made him a No. 1 pick (6th overall) in 2008. He just hasn't shown me the bat that deserves that high selection, and Skipworth really hasn't shown much at the plate. He hit .207 at Jacksonville in 2011, although he has some power in his bat, having hit 11 homers in the Southern League. He didn't show much at the plate in this season's AFL. So far, he's been a disappointment. Since he was drafted out of high school he is just 21 years old and it's much too soon to write him off, but don't look for him in the bigs any time soon. Maybe 2013.
Joe Terdoslavich, 1B/3B, Braves (Bats S)
Here's a guy few people knew much about. The Braves must have known, for sure. Terdoslavich slammed the ball from the beginning of the fall until the end. He hit for average and he hit for power while showing good plate discipline. His final stats were .321/3/14 and he struck out only 15 times. Obviously, with Freddie Freeman at first base for Atlanta, the most obvious option for him as at third base when and if Chipper Jones ever retires. Spring will be crucial for the 23-year-old Terdoslavich. If he can show that fall was not a fluke, he has a chance to be in Atlanta in 2013 at the latest. He can hit. But can he hit big league quality pitching?
Xavier Avery, CF, Orioles, (Bats L)
Avery has speed and an ability to pound the ball into the ground, bunt to get on base and steal. He appears to be pretty much a pull side hitter with a bit of potential to hit the ball in the right-center gap. When he gets out in front of pitch and he hits it down the right field line and can often stretch a double to a triple. He will have to make contact, accept walks and get on base any way he can to stay in the lineup. I see him having a chance to break camp with the club after spring training, but he has to show he can hit. He's not a sure thing, but he was on the radar screen of the former Orioles management. He'll be 22 in January and he's already played two seasons at Double-A. His time may be on the way.
Chris Carpenter, RHP, Cubs
Carpenter will be 26 in December and he pitched in relief for the Cubs in the big leagues at the end of 2011. He held his own in 10 relief appearances covering 9.2 innings. The opposition hit .316 against him and he had some control and command issues, walking seven while also gave up 12 hits. I didn't see much in the AFL that separated Carpenter from a number of mediocre organizational pitchers. He really shows only two pitches; a high velocity fastball and a high velocity slider. If he can improve his command and control he'll make a difference, but if he still has issues throwing strikes, he'll remain at Triple-A. In short, I don't see anything really special here.
Andrew Cashner, RHP, Cubs
I have tried very hard to really like Cashner. So far, I see the 100-mph fastball and it's impressive, but it also gets hit and hit hard. It's a fairly straight pitch without much late life. Cashner is huge at 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds. He doesn't pitch downhill as much as his height would suggest. Coming off a rather flat plane, Cashner's arm action is solid. I think he would benefit from perfecting a change-up and using it to keep hitter's off balance. The Cubs like him, and I think he'll probably make the club in the bullpen in 2012, but the 25-year-old will have to improve to stick.
Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pirates
Believe it or not, Cole did not make the All-Prospect Team determined by the staff of the AFL. He's a top prospect in my book and in that of every scout I have questioned. Cole can throw 100 mph, and he also has a slider and change-up that make the fastball more effective. In the Rising Stars Game, Cole tried to break the radar gun by over throwing his heater. He doesn't really know all the nuances of pitching yet and I think he believes that he's more advanced than he really is at this point. Just 21, Cole is huge at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. Still, he's a top of the rotation starter with a likely arrival in Pittsburgh at some point this coming season at the earliest and 2013 at the very latest.
Terry Doyle, RHP, White Sox
Doyle repeats his delivery, throws strikes, has excellent mound presence and knows how to pitch. He doesn't waste time or fool around between pitches. He gets the ball and throws it. A pitch-to-contact type pitcher, Doyle has the ability to take his team deep in games. I really believe in his full repertoire and I think he has an outside chance to pitch in Chicago this coming season, especially if the team loses a starter or two. He's 26 years old and has the ability to win in the big leagues now.
Brian Dozier, 2B/SS, Twins (Bats R)
Dozier is one of the few bright spots in the entire Twins organization. He knows how to play the game and appears to be on the doorstep of becoming the full-time second baseman beginning as soon as the coming season. Like many other fall league hitters, if he can show his bat is ready, the Twins need him on the big club. Dozier is 24 and he hit at two classifications in 2011. He's a .307 lifetime minor league hitter over four seasons. Dozier can also steal some bases and hit an occasional home run. I like his defense and I think he's an upgrade over the existing options at Minnesota. This could be his time.
Robbie Grossman, RF, Pirates (Bats S)
Grossman was by far one of my favorite AFL players to watch. Like many others, Grossman gave 100 percent very single game. He can hit for power and he can hit for average, and is usually selective enough to take a base on balls despite his fair share of strikeouts. Grossman is fast enough on the bases, but he has to work on his jump off first base. When he gets thrown out, it's because he gets a late start. Grossman is probably two seasons from being the Pirates' starting right fielder. He may accelerate that if he continues to show what he did in the AFL. Grossman is 22 and hasn't advanced beyond High-A to this point.
Chris Herrmann, C, Twins (Bats L)
Herrmann showed fine mechanics behind the plate all season. He has a strong and accurate arm, good footwork and an ability to shepherd his pitcher through a game. Offensively, he's about a .250 hitter. Since he hits left-handed it will help him get noticed around baseball. It's unknown how much Joe Mauer will catch for the Twins in the future, but Herrmann can certainly spell him on a day when Mauer is the designated hitter or takes a day off. He's a 24-year-old and he has to show up in spring training and let his bat and defense carry him along.
Aaron Hicks, OF, Twins (Bats S)
Hicks looked awful in the first half of the AFL. Just awful. He was fooled at the plate and he couldn't buy a hit. He came on in the second half with some hard line-drive hits and much better plate coverage. He began to spray the ball and take pitches where they were thrown. I'm not optimistic Hicks can sustain any amount of consistent major league quality hitting. I am anxious to see if Hicks can repeat his second AFL half. He's been in professional baseball for four seasons and he has a career average of .266 with a total of 21 home runs. His bat is a concern. I see him being at least two or three years from cracking the Twins' lineup. At only 22, he still has a chance to improve.
Junior Lake, SS, Cubs (Bats R)
Lake is an interesting prospect to follow. He can certainly run, having stolen 18 AFL bases, the most this past season. He has to get on base more consistently. The problem? He's similar to probably 80 percent of the 21-year-old prospects in baseball. He chases sliders down and away and breaking balls get him out. Actually, he gets himself out. His bat isn't as loud as it will be when he fills out, but for now, he needs much more plate discipline. Recognizing breaking balls well enough to know when and how to swing and when and how to back off is crucial to success. He's young, but he's fun to watch. Defensively, he improved in the short time he was in Arizona. He'll be fine in time, but he's several years away.
DJ LeMahieu, INF, Cubs (Bats R)
LeMahieu played 30 games for the Cubs last season and hit a respectable .261. He had no homers and one double in 46 at-bats. That isn't much of a sample, but it did tell the Cubs that he isn't a major power threat. In his entire three-year career, he has only seven homers, and that isn't nearly enough for a corner infielder. I did like the way he handled the bat, hitting for contact and putting the ball in play most of the time. Breaking balls don't fool him and he can stand in against quality pitching. I think he'll return to the minor leagues for more refinement of his hitting and fielding. but with the new Cubs management staff, he could stick after spring training. Watch carefully. He's 23, but he has more to learn and a bat that has potential.
Joe Mahoney, 1B, Orioles (Bats L)
There is something about Mahoney's bat that is intriguing. I think he is just on the verge of breaking out as a power hitter. I saw some of his home runs that came on nice, easy swings. He can hit and hit for power. He had been hurt this past season and at the beginning of the fall, but he came on with some very big games in the second half. Defensively, he's extremely challenged. In two consecutive games he made errors. In one game he made two errors on one play. His stone hands and stone glove will not help him advance. He appears to be a designated hitter, but that may be enough to propel his career. His emergence to the big leagues will depend upon how well Chris Davis does this spring. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Mahoney will turn 25 in January.
Trey McNutt, RHP, Cubs
I'm not a McNutt fan. I know there are numerous scouts who feel McNutt is a top prospect, but I didn't see anything overpowering or worthy of excitement in the numerous times I saw him start this fall. He got hit very hard using a fairly wide repertoire with a mid-range fastball. McNutt pitched as high as Double-A this past season. In 2011, he threw 95 innings but gave up 120 hits. That's a bunch, and the same thing happened this fall. Lots of hits per innings pitched. I don't see him in the major leagues until he can get more movement on his pitches and add some deception or change of eye levels, but he has some time after turning 22 in August.
Tyler Saladino, INF, White Sox (Bats R)
Saladino is a line drive, barrel of the bat hitter. He can center the ball and take it up the middle consistently. He's probably a guy that can hit .270 to .280 as a middle infielder. He's far from a singles hitter, as his stroke and quick hands offer some power from a 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame. Saladino, 22 years old, is not close yet to a big league job. With refinement and time, I like his future chances in about two seasons.
Brandon Short, OF, White Sox, (Bats R)
Short is a capable outfielder with some power in his bat. I have seen him hit some amazingly long home runs in batting practice so I know the power exists. I don't know that he'll be able to consistently recognize breaking balls well enough to hit in the big leagues. Right now he's a guy to watch. He may be able to play center field in the future, but he has to return to Double- or Triple-A and do it day in and day out. He has to learn pitches and pitchers and not give away any at-bats. He's 23 with a nice future ahead.
Josh Vitters, 3B/OF/1B, Cubs (Bats R)
Vitters may force the Cubs to make a decision regarding his future. If I had to guess, I would say he's going to play third base in Chicago at some point this coming season. He can hit, and while he has looked very lazy at times, at other times he comes to play. Maybe he was bored? Whatever the case, he started out slowly and turned on the jets later. I saw a ton of his games and he never played third base, instead playing in the outfield or at first. The Cubs need help at both corners, and I have confidence Vitters will hit major league pitching and hit it well. He's 22 and his time is coming.
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies, (Bats R)
Arenado has a chance to be a super player. A star. He won this season's AFL Most Valuable Player Award. That in itself isn't that significant because some of the past winners were never heard from again after their great AFL season, but this guy has power to spare. He centers the ball on the bat and he can punish pitchers, hits breaking balls as well as fastballs, and is built for power even though he hasn't yet completed his growth or development. He's 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, and can play third base well. He needs some work on his range, but his arm is strong and accurate. I just think Arenado is made for Coors Field. He will be a natural and I don't think he'll fail. He's only 20 years and my prediction of a 2012 arrival may be far too soon, but it could very well happen.
Charles Brewer, RHP, Diamondbacks
Brewer won the Championship by throwing an effective, late-moving fastball and changing speeds. He knew before the game he was facing the best hitting team in the league. He decided to keep their hitters off balance. It was a great strategy and he executed perfectly. I like Brewer as a back of the rotation option for Arizona. He'll be an organizational arm in 2012, ready to step up if needed. A local guy from Scottsdale, Brewer is 23 and he has enough of a repertoire to command a game.
Adam Eaton, OF, Diamondbacks (Bats L)
There's a lot to like with Eaton. He can hit and hit for power, while he can also run and steal bases. He's the type of guy that gets his uniform dirty every game he plays. He goes first to third all-out. He can steal bases, knock an infield hit or hit the ball out of the park. He played in Double-A last season and hit .302 with four homers. Eaton is far advanced for his short professional life of two seasons. I look for Eaton to continue to raise eyebrows and his own stock in Arizona's system this season. If someone like Collin Cowgill falters, Eaton is the type of guy Kirk Gibson loves. He'll be 23 in December and he has a great career ahead.
Brad Boxberger, RHP, Reds
Boxberger should make the Reds at some point in 2012. He has an electric arm with a wide repertoire. He has the ability to throw his fastball in the mid-90s and then knock hitter's off balance with a slider, curveball and change-up. He's a pitcher that can work in the rotation or in the bullpen. I like him as an eventual closer for the Reds. He had an outstanding season at Triple-A Louisville where he had a 2.93 ERA with seven saves. He threw 27.2 innings and he walked 15 while striking out 36 and opponents hit just .167 against him. Those are numbers that translate to a major league arm. I think the 23-year-old has a chance to make a difference this year for a Reds roster in need of quality arms.
Michael Choice, OF, A's (Bats R)
Choice has some kind of power. He can flat out bring rain with towering flyballs that sail out of the park. He's very young and very raw at only 22. He has the ability to spray the ball to all fields, but he has to cut down on his strikeouts to be an impact player sooner than later for the A's. The team needs outfielders badly, and Choice may be an option by early 2013 if he can show he's ready to hit big league pitching. Like many other hitters, his spring training at-bats will be crucial. He has more raw power and upside than other recent A's prospects like Chris Carter and Michael Taylor. While Carter and Taylor are further along in their ultimate development, they both still have huge holes in their swings that do not bode well for success. While Choice does miss some pitches, he seems more disciplined than either of the other two.
Anthony Gose, OF, Blue Jays (Bats L)
Gose started out hitting very well and showing what he can do on the field. He regressed a bit during the season. Gose has talent – he can hit with some power and he can play quality defense. He has a cannon for an arm, as he was a pitcher at one point with a high velocity fastball. Gose looked me in the eye and told me he's the best defensive player in baseball. I like his confidence, but I'd like to see more at the plate. He has to learn to recognize pitches much better before he can say he's ready for prime time. He also has to improve his ability to steal bases. There isn't much question about his athletic ability. The Blue Jays may be counting on him to arrive in the big leagues ready to run. I think it will be late 2012 unless he shows more offense in spring than he did in the AFL. He's 24 years old.
Grant Green, OF, A's (Bats R)
Green showed an ability to hit the ball to all fields with a nice, short stroke. He called attention to the fact that his bat will ultimately play against big league pitching. I have to question his defense. A converted shortstop, Green didn't look very comfortable yet in the outfield. That will come with time. He's got a strong arm and he's learning how to take routes on balls. The Arizona sky is tough to play; it's high and very bright. He didn't fail miserably, but he did show that he needs more time to get used to playing outfield. I like him to challenge for a job in Oakland very, very soon. Much depends upon what he shows in spring training. Green is 24 and he continues to show he can hit.
Adeiny Hechavarria, SS, Blue Jays (Bats R)
The Cuban native had an outstanding defensive season, as expected. He's very talented with the glove and very challenged with the bat. If he can show he can hit, Hechavarria is the Blue Jays' shortstop sooner than later, but that's a big if. Hitting takes time to develop. He has a longish swing and he doesn't recognize pitches well yet. He's still swinging at pitchers' bad pitches and he has little plate discipline. He's trying very hard, but the results are mixed. He has speed and agility, that's for sure. In one game this fall, Hechavarria had three triples, a very difficult feat. While he shows little if any power, if he hits a gap like he did in the game with the three triples, he can run forever. Hechavarria is only 22.
Ronnier Mustelier, 3B, Yankees (Bats R)
Some of you may remember Walter “No Neck” Williams of the Chicago White Sox. Well, when you see Mustelier, you'll think Williams. He really hit the ball well in the AFL and he played some very fine defense, making scouts take notice with quick hands, both on offense and defense. He has tremendous reactions and agility. A Cuban native, Mustelier is relatively new to the professional game in the United States, having played only 36 games in America, hitting .356. He doesn't have much power, but he puts the bat on the ball, making solid contact hitting up the middle. I like him a great deal, but it will be awhile before the 27-year-old lands in the Bronx. He's a bit raw and he needs at-bats against big league pitching, but he's a talented guy that can be a real sleeper.
David Phelps, RHP, Yankees
Phelps was inconsistent in his AFL starts. Once named Player of the Week by the AFL staff, Phelps had some very good outings and some very mediocre as well. Phelps can hit the mid-90s with his fastball, a very good pitch for him. He also throws a mid-70s curveball and he's working on developing a change-up. Phelps was hurt when he got the ball up in the zone. If he mixes his pitches well and if he can develop that change-up, he can be a winning American League pitcher. For now, however, he gets too much of the plate. His control and command are above average, as he's able to repeat his delivery well. Phelps is a work in progress, but I liked what I've seen from him most of the time.
Matt Adams, 1B, Cardinals (Bats L)
Adams is a pure pull hitter with awesome power. He can hit a ball a long way, and he reminds me of Matt Stairs. Adams is a big, big guy at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds. He isn't very agile at first base and I think he will continue to be challenged defensively. I saw two balls that he missed because he couldn't bend over to get them. That said, he can still play. His offense may be good enough to compensate for mediocre (at best) defense. If he were with a club using the designated hitter he would advance more quickly to the big leagues. All that said, Adams will have his day in the major leagues. He's too strong and has too much power to be ignored. If Prince Fielder can hit rocket shots in the big leagues, so can Adams. Adams is 23 and he hit 32 home runs last season at Double-A Springfield. That's saying something.
Anthony Bass, RHP, Padres
Bass is a high velocity pitcher with a slider as his secondary offering. Probably to stretch out his arm and to get him some innings, Bass started in the AFL. The Padres' management team including new general manager Josh Byrnes and manager Bud Black witnessed him on the mound. He can throw strikes, but he doesn't have much of a repertoire, however. That's why I think he fits best at the back end of the bullpen, possibly as a closer. Bass pitched in relief for San Diego last season. He is an accomplished arm with a big future at age 24. I like him to make the staff in San Diego in some role this coming season.
Chih-Hsien Chiang, OF, Mariners (Bats L)
Chiang began the AFL season hitting everything in sight before he cooled off a bit. He struck out too much, but he didn't chase bad pitches, he just missed breaking balls. He really does look like a “dead red” hitter. I still like Chiang, and I see a lot of the Indians' Shin-Soo Choo in his approach at the plate and on defense. I trust Chiang in that I believe he will learn how to hit breaking balls and be disciplined enough to lay off pitches he can't handle. He's got a great arm from right field and his routes are fine. He'll make the club at some point, maybe in late 2012. Chiang, from Taiwan, is 23 years old. He went to the Mariners in the trade that sent Erik Bedard to Boston in July.
Nick Franklin, SS, Mariners (Bats S)
Franklin should be ready to assume the Mariners' shortstop position at some point in 2012. He will have to show that he can gain some strength from a body that lost weight during time off with a concussion and food poisoning. Franklin does have some power. He can hit the ball to all fields, but he's better hitting against right-handed pitching. I saw a quick bat in his time at the AFL and I liked his overall approach. He got better as the season progressed. Defensively, Franklin has good range, a strong arm and good overall footwork. He's ready defensively, although he isn't as good in the field as incumbent Brendan Ryan, but he's on the verge of being successful at just 20 years old. Look for Franklin to add some pounds and some strength in the offseason.
Scooter Gennett, 2B, Brewers (Bats L)
It would be very difficult to have negative feelings about the way Gennett plays baseball. He's exciting to watch with the energy and enthusiasm of a Dustin Pedroia type. He's a gamer. He comes to the park to beat the opposition and runs with reckless abandon. Gennett hits for average, can hit for gap power, and is young and electric. I feel the Brewers will play out the longevity of Rickie Weeks and then they'll have very little problem turning the second-base job over to Gennett. Only 21 and with two seasons of professional baseball behind him, Gennett hit over .300 both years while hitting nine homers each season. He also stole bases each year and put the bat on the ball consistently. Remember the name Scooter Gennett. He's a winner. He will force himself onto the Brewers' big league club in less than two seasons. That's how good he is.
Jedd Gyorko, 3B, Padres (Bats R)
I think the Padres have found their third baseman of the future. Possibly the present. This guy opened up plenty of eyes in Arizona, including those of his management. Gyorko hit every day, he was consistent at the plate, centering the ball and driving in runs. He hit .288 with seven homers during the AFL. Don't look for him to hit for much power when he plays in San Diego, but he can put the bat on the ball. He needs more at-bats against quality pitching to show that he's for real and could use time at third base to make plays naturally and without over-thinking. Gyorko looks like a player; he hits like a hitter and is only 23 with an outstanding future ahead.
Danny Hultzen, LHP, Mariners
The best overall pitcher I saw in the AFL was Hultzen (he was even better than Gerrit Cole.) Why? Because Hultzen showed a complete repertoire of pitches and an ability to trust his stuff, mix his pitches well and command the strike zone. He was surgical in his approach. If that translates to Seattle, he'll be a big winner in the middle of the rotation behind Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda. Hultzen is advanced in terms of mound presence and command, as well as his secondary pitches. And he's a great young man. I look for him to arrive in Seattle this coming season. Maybe they'll give him half a season to put innings on his arm and settle into professional baseball in the minors, but he's that good.
Logan Schafer, CF, Brewers (Bats L)
Schafer has the ability to play center field for the Brewers right out of spring training. He can hit for average and play stellar defense. His routes in the outfield are outstanding. He has a strong and accurate arm and he knows how to play defense. Offensively, Schafer puts the bat on the ball and he can run (he's quick as well as fast). I look for him to bunt some and get on base any way he can. Schafer looks to have the ability to compete with Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan for a spot on the Brewers' Opening Day roster. If not Opening Day, he'll get that chance at some point during the season. He's 25 years old and ready for prime time.
Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals (Bats L)
Taveras is still very raw, but I want to mention him here because he has had some outstanding years in minor league baseball. He hit .386 at Low-A Quad Cities last season and had eight homers as well. Taveras hit .307 this fall but he didn't walk once. That showed his youth and the fact he still has a way to go regarding his ability to be a big league hitter. Make no mistake, from what he flashed in Arizona, Taveras is going to be a confident and competent outfielder for St. Louis. He has quick hands and he hits the barrel of the bat with a sweet swing. He just looks very comfortable at the plate. In time he will show some power and an ability to hit for average consistently. I like what I have seen, and he's just 19 years old.
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.