A day after the Giants beat the Royals in Game 7 of the World Series, while most of the baseball world was mourning the end of the 2014 season, I was lucky enough to travel to Phoenix to watch some of the game’s top prospects showcase their skills in the Arizona Fall League.
The Fall League, now in its 22nd year, is referred to as a “graduate school” for the game’s best young talents, but it’s also a way for players to make up development time lost due to injury or other reasons, and for scouts from around the league to get a look at players they weren’t able to see live during the regular season.
Some of the bigger names in the AFL, specifically Byron Buxton (finger), Addison Russell (personal), Kyle Zimmer (shoulder) and Rusney Castillo (thumb), all left the league in the week leading up to my arrival, but that didn’t deter from what was a tremendous learning experience.
I was able to see, with my own eyes, many of the top prospects that I had only been able to read about previously. It was a great way the gauge the raw tools of these athletes.
Let this serve as a sort of appendix to Derek VanRiper’s excellent ‘Wheelhouse’ article, which you can read for FREE here. There will be some overlap, but I’ll hit some prospects that he didn’t go into great detail with or simply didn’t touch on, ones that made an impression on me for one reason or another.
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Tony Cingrani, P, CIN – The warning signs were obvious; extreme reliance on the fastball (81.5 percent), low BABIP (.241) and below average command. Cingrani was, however, outstanding as a rookie, posting a 2.77 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 over 18 starts in 2013, while setting a major league record for most consecutive starts with five hits or fewer allowed. He got off to a decent enough start this season, with a 3.34 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 32.1 April innings, but a bout of shoulder tendinitis sent him to the shelf in early May. The 23-year-old would be shut back down in June with what was labeled a shoulder strain, and his attempts to start back up with a throwing program were halted by renewed soreness in the region. Full disclosure, I’m a Reds fan, but I saw Cingrani as a $12-16 player this past spring, putting him in SP3-4 territory in leagues that start nine pitchers. It clearly didn’t work out, and long-term, I’m not sure Cingrani is much more than a late-inning reliever, though the team figures to stretch him back out this coming spring given its lack of organizational starting pitching depth. The shoulder remains a concern, and he scrapped his curveball from an already-thin repertoire (0.2 percent), after throwing it 7.2 percent of the time in 2013. Even if he’s back at full health and manages to earn a rotation spot in spring training, I would be hesitant to throw more than a couple bucks at him in auction.
Justin Verlander, P, DET – A return to Cy Young form seemed unlikely following Verlander’s lackluster (by his standards) 2013 campaign, but I still thought he was a lock for 200+ strikeouts, a number he had reached in five consecutive seasons entering 2014. Verlander finished strong last year, with a 2.27 ERA, .231 BAA and 4.8 K/BB over his final 39.2 regular season innings, and was dominant in the postseason (0.39 ERA over 21 innings), but he disappointed from start to finish this season, averaging 6.9 K/9, his lowest rate since 2006. Still just 31, Verlander has lost a full two miles per hour on his fastball over the past two seasons (from 94.3 to 92.3), and his swinging-strike rate plummeted to 8.7 percent this season, from 10.5 percent in 2013. His line drive rate actually improved this season to 19.8 percent, but he didn’t even end up returning positive value according to the RotoWire Inseason Values tool, making the $34 I spent on him in Staff Keeper League 2 (inflation and scarcity people!) seem downright laughable.
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