This article is part of our John Sickels' Column series.
Players to Watch in the Arizona Fall League
Here is a look at some intriguing players in the Arizona Fall League. The emphasis is on players who have something to prove this fall, and who could provide a fantasy impact in 2009 or 2010.
Kyle Blanks, 1B, San Diego Padres
A 6-6, 270 pound physical monster, the 22-year-old Blanks had a solid year at Double-A San Antonio in the Texas League, hitting .325/.404/514 with 20 homers. A right-handed hitter, he features excellent power potential, but is not just a pure slugger, having shown a compact swing and reasonable strikeout rate for such a big player. He has a good glove at first base, but is blocked by Adrian Gonzalez in San Diego, and doesn't run well enough to play the outfield. A good performance in Arizona will position him well for Triple-A in 2009 and will enhance his trade value.
Aaron Poreda, LHP, Chicago White Sox
Drafted in the first round from the University of San Francisco in 2007, Poreda had a strong '08 season at two levels, posting a 3.31 ERA with a 46:18 K:BB in 73 innings for High-A Winston-Salem, then a 2.98 ERA with a 72:22 K:BB in 88 innings for Double-A Birmingham. A power lefty, Poreda's 93-96 MPH fastball and nasty slider are a potent one-two punch. His changeup needs work, and it is a bit unclear if he will start or relieve at the major league level. He has been used in relief so far in Arizona, though his long-term role is still up in the air. He has one of the highest ceilings among all minor league southpaws.
Brett Wallace, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals
Drafted in the first round this past June, Wallace was a star at Arizona State and continued to mash in pro ball, hitting .327/.418/.490 for Quad Cities in the Low-A Midwest League, followed by a stunning .367/.456/.653 run in 13 games for Double-A Springfield. Wallace has a tremendous bat and will hit for both power and average as he moves up. Really the only question here is defense. He is blocked at first base, but some scouts still doubt he can be anything more than adequate defensively at third. But even adequate defense will be enough if he continues to hit like this.
MESA SOLAR SOX
Jason Donald, SS, Philadelphia Phillies
A 24-year-old, Donald had a breakthrough season for Reading in the Double-A Eastern League, hitting .307/.391/.497 with 11 steals and 14 homers. The University of Arizona product has an effective glove, but has developed more offense than originally anticipated, and his plate discipline is sound. Strong performance in Arizona will only make an audition sometime in 2009 more likely. Indeed, he is off to a hot start for Mesa, hitting .452/.511/.738 in his first 13 games.
Tommy Hanson, RHP, Atlanta Braves
The 22-year-old Hanson broke through in a big way in '08, posting a 0.90 ERA with a 49:11 K:BB in 40 innings for High-A Myrtle Beach, then a 3.03 ERA with a 114:41 K:BB in 98 innings for Double-A Mississippi, including a 14-strikeout no-hitter. His low-90s fastball, strong curveball, and impressive changeup give him a three-pitch arsenal. His command needs a bit more polish, but he fits well into Atlanta's traditional emphasis on pitching talent. Expect to see him in the majors sometime in '09, though probably not to begin the season.
Logan Morrison, 1B, Florida Marlins
Morrison didn't turn 21 until August 25th, but the left-handed hitter dominated the High-A Florida State League, slamming circuit pitching for a .332/.402/.494 mark for Jupiter. Although he hit just 13 homers, his 38 doubles are testament to his power potential and very impressive considering his difficult home park. He will face the Double-A transition in 2009, but most scouts believe he truly tapped into his ability this year, and is now among the elite first base prospects in the game. A good performance in Arizona will do nothing but confirm this.
Clay Buchholz, RHP, Boston Red Sox
Buchholz entered 2008 as the best pitching prospect in the game according to many experts. He continued to pitch well in the minors this year (2.30 ERA with 61/18 K/BB in 59 innings between Double-A and Triple-A), but struggled badly in Boston (6.75 ERA with 72/41 K/BB in 76 innings, 93 hits allowed). Red Sox officials believe that Buchholz just needs more adjustment time, learning to mix his pitches more effectively, and are giving him a post-regular-season refresher in Arizona. He's started with eight shutout innings in his first two appearances before getting hit hard in his last outing.
Shelby Ford, 2B, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates need players, and a possible sleeper is second baseman Shelby Ford. The 23-year-old Oklahoma State product hit .285/.338/.458 with 19 steals in 81 games for Double-A Altoona this year, and is off to a strong start so far in Arizona, hitting .357 with six walks in his first eight games. A switch-hitter, Ford might fit best as a super-utility player, but there might be enough pop in his bat for him to move beyond that if everything pans out. A good Arizona performance can only help him of course.
Chris Pettit, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Injuries limited the 24-year-old Pettit to just 61 games for Double-A Arkansas this year, and he hit just .248/.320/.401. This was a far cry from his 2007 A-ball campaign, where he hit .327/.411/.538 with 30 steals between Low-A and High-A. A good performance in Arizona would help him shake off the bitter taste of his 2008 season and restore some of his prospect status. He is off to a fast start, hitting .364/.432/.545 in his first nine games. Pettit's physical tools aren't great, but his approach to the game and hustle are highly rated.
Greg Halman, OF, Seattle Mariners
The 21-year-old native of the Netherlands is a 6-4, 200 pound tools monster. A right-handed hitter and thrower, Halman hit .272/.326/.528 with 29 homers, 31 steals, 32 walks, and 142 strikeouts combined between High-A High Desert in the California League and Double-A West Tennessee in the Southern League this past season. He is one of the best athletes in baseball, but is still raw at the plate, particularly with the strike zone. He's showing the same range of skills in Arizona, hitting .282/.333/.538 through 10 games, with four steals, but striking out 16 times in 39 at-bats. He needs to work on his approach against breaking balls, but his ceiling is enormous.
Austin Jackson, OF, New York Yankees
The 21-year-old Jackson is a right-handed hitter and thrower. Like Halman, he's a fine athlete who has made progress converting his tools to skills. He hit .285/.354/.419 with 19 steals this past year for Double-A Trenton in the Eastern League. Ticketed for Triple-A to begin 2009, a strong performance in Arizona may help indicate how quickly Jackson can help the Yankees outfield situation. It may also enhance his trade value if New York goes that route. He is currently hitting .265/.302/.449 in 12 games for Peoria. Originally an eighth-round pick in 2005 out of high school in Texas, Jackson's overall ceiling is not as high as Halman's, though he should still be an impressive player.
Chris Valaika, SS, Cincinnati Reds
Drafted in the third round out of UC Santa Barbara in 2006, Valaika is a right-handed hitter who projected as a possible utility player pre-season. He hit .301/.352/.443 this year for Double-A Chattanooga in the Southern League, performance strong enough to possibly indicate a future as a regular. His plate discipline needs work, and it is still unclear if he will be a shortstop or second baseman if he gets to play regularly, questions that good performance in Arizona could help answer. He's hitting .286/.314/.449 thus far for Peoria.
PHOENIX DESERT DOGS
J.P. Arencibia, C, Toronto Blue Jays
A first round pick from the University of Tennessee in 2007, Arencibia is a 22-year-old right-handed slugger with plus power. He hit .315/.344/.560 with 13 homers in 59 games for Dunedin in the High-A Florida State League, then .282/.302/.496 with 14 homers in 67 games for Double-A New Hampshire in the Eastern League this past season. He also combined to hit 36 doubles. His power is extremely impressive, but he's got strike zone problems, with just 18 walks against 101 strikeouts in 510 at-bats. He has made a lot of progress on his defense, but is in Arizona to work on his plate discipline. Hitting .275/.326/.475 thus far, he should see Toronto sometime in '09.
Eric Young, OF, Colorado Rockies
The son of former major leaguer Eric Young, Young Jr. is similar to his father: a speed demon with decent on-base ability. He hit .290/.391/.392 with 46 steals this year for Double-A Tulsa in the Texas League, and is off to a huge start in Arizona, hitting .405/.479/.476 with eight steals in his first 15 games. A 23-year-old switch-hitter, Young's on-base abilities and speed are positives, but he's had trouble finding a position, spending time at both second base and the outfield. His best spot may be as a super-utility man.
Danny Valencia, 3B, Minnesota Twins
A University of Miami product, Valencia is a 24-year-old right-handed hitter. In an ideal world, he would seize the third base position in Minnesota in 2009 or 2010. He's improved defensively, but there are still some unanswered questions about this bat. He hit .336/.402/.518 for Fort Myers in the High-A Florida State League in the first half last year, then transitioned well to Double-A with a .289/.334/.485 mark for New Britain. But he fanned 70 times in 69 games there, and doubts persist about his ability to hit for average at the highest levels. His early Arizona numbers aren't great, just .211.262/.263 in 15 games.
Dan Cortes, RHP, Kansas City Royals
The 21-year-old Cortes is one of Kansas City's most advanced prospects, after a 10-4, 3.78 campaign with a 109:55 K:BB ratio in 117 innings for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. There's been some question about how much Triple-A he will need, but his early Arizona performance hasn't been great yet, with a 11.42 ERA and 19 hits allowed in 8.2 innings. Cortes features a 90-95 MPH fastball and an excellent curve, but his changeup needs work, and his command can waiver at times. He should see KC sometime in '09, but likely not until the second half.
Ivan DeJesus, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Just 21, DeJesus is a right-handed hitter who had a breakthrough season for Double-A Jacksonville, hitting .324/.419/.423 with 16 steals and 76 walks. He is highly-regarded as a defensive shortstop, and has good bloodlines as the son of former major leaguer Ivan DeJesus. Junior has a bit of pop in his bat, but his on-base abilities and speed could make him a good fit at the top of the order. His Arizona experience has not gone well, with a .231/.333/.282 offensive mark and six errors in 10 games. The Dodgers paid a price for rushing Chin-Lung Hu into a utility role this year, and a more cautious approach with DeJesus seems wise.
Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore Orioles
The best prospect in baseball, the switch-hitting 22-year-old former Georgia Tech star put up ridiculous numbers in 2008, hitting a combined .355/.454/.600 between High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, with 82 walks and just 76 strikeouts in 437 at-bats. He also played well defensively. He is in Arizona tuning up for a full shot at a major league job in '09, and the early results are strong: .333/.463/.455 in 10 games. It is hard to find any real flaws in Wieters' game, and he's a pure Grade A prospect if there ever was one.
Article first appeared 10/26/08