The 2013 postseason got a little more interesting Sunday night during the eighth inning in Boston, when Big Papi homered in grand style off of Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit. The grand slam tied the game at five apiece and awakened all of New England from their slumber.
In quite the contrast, about 2,500 hundred miles southwest of Boston proper, there are several minor leaguers honing their skills. They play before a crowd of a few hundred, but they play knowing that one day they might be lucky enough to hear Joe Buck call one of their own round trippers during the October dance.
These games are home to the 22nd annual Arizona Fall League played throughout the Phoenix metro area and surrounding cities. Games for these prospects began October 8th and in their honor, I have compiled a list of "sleepers." These are players who aren't your rank and file "number one type prospects," but rather a handful of guys who could be helping MLB and fantasy teams alike in the next nine months or so.
Jake Lamb, 3B ARI
Put this guy on your radar under the "can flat out rake" category. The Diamondbacks drafted Lamb out of the University of Washington in the sixth round in 2012. Based on his physical tools and ability to hit, the Snakes stole one this late in the draft. Lamb was a beast in his first full season in the California League and it was not due to the rare air and small ballparks. He was perhaps the best hitter in the league before he went down with a hamate injury, missing all of June and most of July. The Fall League will be a good chance to make up for some lost at-bats and could ultimately determine if he's ready for the jump to Double-A. The hamate did not seem to affect him upon his return, as he hit nearly .350 when he came off the DL. As a left-handed hitter, one immediately wonders if he will have to be platooned but that doesn't appear necessary, as he has hit .290 in his career against same-siders. Lamb is a hard nosed player who plays with grit and is fundamentally sound. He has a well above average arm for third base and should be a plus defender at the hot corner. Offensively, Lamb could hit .300 in the major leagues and pepper the gap with doubles. He's not much of a base stealing threat but he doesn't clog the bases either, running decently once underway. A middle of the order threat with plus defense and a chance to hit .300 with 20-25 home runs a year is Lamb's ceiling.
Taylor Lindsey, 2B LAA
I am fully prepared to state that I have complete bias for Taylor Lindsey. He is probably one of my favorite guys in baseball because of the quality of his makeup and the way he goes about his business on the baseball field. The Angels drafted Lindsey in 2010 out of an Arizona high school. A shortstop as an amateur, he was immediately moved to the keystone as his arm and actions don't play at short. He has the same swing path and plane every time he approaches the baseball. While his set up and load are a bit unorthodox, he gets himself in the right hitting position and his timing is impeccable. He has a knack for tracking the baseball and should prove to be a fine hitter in the big leagues. Lindsey hit over .300 with 10 home runs on the road this year in the Texas League. His home stadium in Arkansas is where flyballs go to die and it's actually very encouraging that he hit 17 home runs in total this year. He gets good leverage in his swing and while he doesn't project to hit for a ton of power, 12-15 home runs annually is possible. He could hit .300 and compete for batting titles. He doesn't run very well and won't steal any bases, but could be a nice fit as a No. 2 hitter. Lindsey could also find a nice career driving in runs from the fifth spot on a championship caliber team. Defensively, he is still a work in progress and his range is limited. He works hard though and reminds some of Adam Kennedy, who was known as a below average defender and ultimately, turned himself into a Gold Glove caliber player. Lindsey is not ready for the show and he'll get a chance to prepare some more in Triple-A this year. Watch and see if the Halos deal incumbent Howie Kendrick this offseason for pitching. That will be a sign that they feel Lindsey is close.
Ryan Brett, 2B TB
I first saw Brett when I was with the Angels. He came to our pre-draft workout in 2010 and put a smile on everyone's face. He's a little guy, standing no more than five feet, nine inches off the ground. He's physical though and has quality major league tools. His arm is playable at second base, but a tick below average on the left side of the infield. He can run very well and should be a base stealer as a big leaguer. However, what is most exciting about Brett is his style of play. He's ultra aggressive and plays with a big chip on his shoulder. Everyone is looking for the next Dustin Pedroia and this guy fits the criteria for what Dustin brings to the table. Brett shouldn't be confused as the next Pedroia as his defensive prowess is not nearly the same and his power isn't as projectable. However, he squares balls up and has been known to put on his own "laser shows."
It should be noted that Brett was popped for a 50-game suspension in 2012 for taking the prescription drug Adderall. Three other teammates were caught using the banned substance so perhaps he was just caught in the wrong clubhouse. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt as he bounced back nicely as a clean and productive player in 2013. He was great in a half-season last year in the Florida State League and the Rays pushed him up to Double-A as a 21-year-old, where he struggled. He has on-base skills and could be a dynamite No. 2 hitter, racking up about 20 bags a year with close to 100 runs in the right offense. He should be at least a .270 hitter and with a .330 to .335 OBA. He might drop about 10 home runs a year but power won't be his game. Expect him to begin the year back in Montgomery with a chance to arrive in Tampa in 2015. Most likely, we'll see him in 2016 where he could take over for Ben Zobrist, whose contract expires after the 2015 season.
Steven Souza, OF WSH
Another state of Washington native on this list, Souza was drafted in the third round by the Nats in 2007 and has been disappointing ever since. Souza is extremely athletic and physical, and looks like a free safety standing in the batter's box. Souza is another PED user who was suspended earlier in his professional career in 2010 after he broke his thumb. He took a pill commonly used to treat ADHD called Concerta. I certainly don't condone the use of drug users, and it's actually quite to the contrary. However, Souza and Brett are two players who have shown a commitment to righting their wrongs and have the chance to carve out productive major league careers. Souza is the best athlete in the Nats' system and word from within their front office is that he has completely altered his mindset and turned a corner. He struggled mightily his first four years of his career, concerning himself more with chasing off-field interests rather than chasing down flyballs. It wasn't until he found faith that his career totally changed for the better. Souza was only able to pick up 273 at-bats due to a shoulder injury in 2013, but the 24-year-old hit .300/.396/.557 with 15 home runs. He fits best in right field where he could be a 20/20 guy. Don't let the fact that he's going to be 25 years old next year deter you. The Nats like him and they are going to give him a chance in the next two years to be a middle of the order threat.
Let's get to the rapid fire portion of our report...
Eduardo Rodriguez, BAL, LHS
Rodriguez is a definite sleeper to be a frontline starter. He works in the 92-93 mph range and has a developing slider. His changeup should be an average pitch and the separator for him will be if he turns his slider into a plus pitch. He shows good command and throws strikes. If the slider is just an average pitch, he'll be a mid-rotation guy, but if the slider becomes a punchout pitch, he will be a number two. Keep an eye on this one. He'll head back to Double-A next year and is on the O's radar for a big league callup in 2014.
Garin Cecchini, 3B, BOS
Boston has another guy that is going to hit in the big leagues in Cecchini. He's a better defender than Will Middlebrooks and a better hitter with less power. He'll probably push the incumbent Middlebrooks over to first base in two years, or out of Boston entirely. Cecchini has a great approach at the plate, taking his walks and working counts. He could hit .300 with 35 doubles and plus defense at third. He won't hit many home runs, but he can probably be counted on for double-digit stolen bases. He makes for a very high quality No. 2 hitter that could easily score 100 runs in a good Boston lineup.
Mookie Betts, 2B, BOS
Betts doesn't have a lot of physical projection and stands about even with Ryan Brett in height. He has solid average tools but nothing plus. Oh, except for that one all important tool that separates the men from the boys. The wood. As a 20-year-old across two A-ball levels in the Sox system, Mooooooooo-kie (you can hear it now from the Boston faithful) hit .314 with 15 home runs, 39 bags and an on-base percentage of .395. You know what else you're going to like? He walked 81 times and only struck out 57 times. Did I mention he's only 20? His major league tools are at least average, he's not a burner but he has great instincts and he might hit 15 home runs at Fenway. He is the exact type of player that fits in well with the Red Sox culture, however he is relegated to second base and is obviously blocked by Dustin Pedroia. Pay attention to this one and monitor what the Sox do with him. He could be a great trade chip or the Sox may try him out in the outfield. The Sox used their "A-ball exception" on Betts to send him to the Fall League against better competition. This probably means he's ticketed for Double-A to start 2014.
Carson Smith, RHR, SEA
Smith works anywhere from 92-97 mph from a low, three-quarters arm slot (he's a slinger). His slider is devastating and wreaks havoc on righties. He should be more than just a right on right guy, and he reminds me somewhat of Jeff Nelson from the Yankees of the mid-90s. Smith gets a ton of sink on his fastball and his fastball/slider combo should provide plenty of holds and maybe even some saves for the Mariners. A 2014 big league audition is expected.
Jake Barrett, RHR, ARI
Barrett is a power-armed righty out of Arizona State University. He has found a niche as a minor league closer and he may be the rare minor league closer that becomes a big league closer. The Sun Devil has the mindset to close out games and he pitched to a 1.19 ERA in the Arizona system this year. The biggest concern with Barrett is that lefties get good swings off of him. He is going to have to add a wrinkle in the form of a changeup or cutter to keep lefties honest. Otherwise, he won't be anything more than a short, middle relief type. I always felt Barrett would have been a great candidate to stretch out as a starter so he could work on developing his pitches more, but it appears the D-Backs are in a hurry to get him to the big leagues.