This is my third edition of my Arizona Fall League Notebook.
I have been highlighting players that have caught my eye.
Here are this week's profiles:
Nick Castellanos, OF, DET – Castellanos has been converted from being drafted as a third baseman to being an outfielder. Third base is tied up for a few years with the presence of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder on the infield corners while Victor Martinez is the DH. Initially, I was very disappointed with Castellanos, but I have seen him come alive with more juice in his bat recently.
He is struggling to get his swing straightened out. In fact, his bat appears very slow – I saw one game when he struck out five times. Castellanos is too good an athlete to scuffle for very long. I watched Buster Posey, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper really struggle last year in the first half of the AFL. I think he'll rebound.
I don't think he is going to be in Detroit this coming season as many have predicted and it might be a while. He has adjustments to make to a new position and he has to refine his hitting.
James Paxton, LHP, SEA – Paxton has had one good outing so far in the AFL. In his other outings he struggled with command. For me, Paxton is still a work in progress. He has a very solid arm and a good overall repertoire, but he loses command quickly. Paxton isn't overwhelming on the mound. He's a mid-90's guy with solid secondary pitches. I see him as a starter behind Felix Hernandez and maybe even Danny Hultzen when he does eventually make the club.
Paxton had a very good season at Double-A Jackson where he went 9-4 with a 3.05 ERA and 110:54 K:BB in 106.1 innings pitched, further evidence of the aforementioned control issues.
Jonathan Schoop (pronounced: scope), SS, BAL - With Manny Machado fairly well adjusted at third base, the Orioles may be looking to the right-handed hitting Schoop as their shortstop following the J.J. Hardy Era. Schoop doesn't hit for average, but he can put a charge in a ball. He has home-run power and the ability to hit to all fields. I've seen him drive the ball to the gaps with ease. He also has some speed.
Schoop played at Double-A Bowie last season where he hit only .245. He did manage to blast 14 homers and drive in 56 runs. He has a lifetime batting average of .266 over parts of four seasons.
Bryce Brentz, OF, BOS – The right-handed hitting Brentz is a former first-round draft pick of the Red Sox. It took me three weeks to warm up to his ability. Initially, I saw some very empty at-bats. Lately, however, he has shown much more confidence and a better overall approach at the plate.
He had an outstanding Double-A season at Portland where he hit .296 with 17 homers and 76 RBI. When he was promoted to Pawtucket for the end of the season he hit only .118, but he also played in only five games.
Brentz has power and a quick bat. I think he will emerge as an impact hitter. He has a stocky upper body with good strength. He should not be ignored - and his arrival may be forced by the Red Sox need for power. With the Red Sox's outfield in a state of flux, Brentz may get a look in spring training. He's 23 years old and a year at Triple-A is probably in his immediate future.
Luke Putkonen, RHP, DET – Putkonen is a huge, 6-foot-6, 210-pound downhill pitcher. At 26, he is one of the oldest players in the AFL, although it's worth noting that he lost a year in his development after having Tommy John surgery in 2005. He got a sniff as a big league starter late in the season and he pitched rather well. He threw 16 innings and had a 3.94 ERA but he walked 4.5 BB/9IP.
He spent last season at Triple-A Toledo where his ERA was almost 5.00 in only 56.2 innings pitched. Putkonen is throwing well here in Arizona and I would guess he'll get a look as a starter.
Stefen Romero, INF, SEA – Romero, a right-handed hitting infielder, is a former 2010 12th-round selection by the Mariners. This guy is a real sleeper. He hits line drive after line drive. He's still raw at age 24, but he has real pop in his bat.
Romero plays primarily at second base. He was a DH for some of his time at Double-A Jackson where he hit a robust .347 with 12 homers and 50 RBI. He also stole six bases. Romero's bat can't be ignored.
Nick Franklin, 2B/SS, SEA – Franklin has made outstanding adjustments since I last saw him. He's healthy and he's now playing second base instead of shortstop, where he had played since signing with Seattle. Franklin is a former first-rounder, so the Mariners have some money invested in him. That said, I think he will get a chance to make the big league roster and push incumbent second baseman Dustin Ackley (also a first-round pick).
Franklin has some true power. I like his bat and I like his attitude, although I'm a bit skeptical about his range. That may be why he was moved to second base, but Romero (see above) is also available, giving the Mariners a number of quality options in the middle infield.
Mike Zunino, C, SEA – Zunino was the third overall pick in the first round of the 2012 draft. He has a very loud bat. In fact, the ball makes that "special sound" coming off that bat. He has home run power - no doubt about it. This past season, his first, he hit .360 with 13 homers and 43 RBI over two classifications, Double-A the highest.
Zunino has lots of work to do behind the plate. His blocking is weak. He indicated he is working hard during the AFL with coaches to improve his defense. There is a buzz that Zunino may, in fact, break camp with the club after spring training. I'm not so sure, but believe me, his bat is ready. This guy can hit. He's a name to remember.
Tyler Chatwood, RHP, COL – I wondered why the Angels traded Tyler Chatwood. Now I know for sure. He has a great arm. He can throw at 98 MPH. That's fine, but it doesn't help when the ball straightens out and he gets clobbered. Like he did in the AFL. He got clobbered. In fact, he has left the league and returned home.
Chatwood has a problem. He gets the ball up in the eyes of hitters. That's a death sentence in Coors Field. I write this as a warning. Chatwood pitches in Coors. In Triple-A and Double-A, Chatwood had a combined ERA of 4.70. He had a WHIP of 1.549. For me, that says it all. Draft at your own risk.
Kolten Wong, 2B, STL – Wong is a left-handed hitting 22-year-old native of Hawaii. He was a first-round pick in 2011 by St. Louis. He's only 5-feet-9 inches tall. Wong has a nice line-drive bat. Many of hits go right over the second baseman's head. I have seen him hit that area consistently. Wong had a very nice rookie season in 2011 when he hit .335 with five homers and 25 RBI at Low-A Quad Cities. This past season, Wong played at Double-A and hit .287 with nine homers, 52 RBI and 21 stolen bases.
I like Wong's bat but I have concerns about his inconsistent defense. I have not seen range to either side. I think he has a great deal of work to do on his first step quickness. While Wong's bat may play, he isn't anywhere near ready to assume a role on the major league club.
Kevin Quackenbush, RHP, SD – Quackenbush is a power-pitching closer type. I have really liked what I've seen so far from Quackenbush this fall. This past season, he had 27 saves at High-A Lake Elsinore. That's no small task, given that Lake Elsinore and most other parks in the California League are launching pads. Quackenbush struck out 70 and walked 22 in 57.2 innings pitched.
I like the command and mound presence I have seen from Quackenbush so far. I think he has a chance to be a good back end of the bullpen reliever. He's got development remaining at age 23-soon to be 24. I look for a very bright future for Quackenbush. He is a pitcher to remember.
Follow my observations of the Arizona Fall League on Twitter during every Arizona Fall League game @BerniePleskoff.