The Arizona Fall League is now a week old. Already there have been some interesting players to watch and some roster changes that have had an impact. Each week I will share my thoughts, my concerns and my opinions on players I see personally. Unfortunately, I won't write about every player in the league. That would be impossible.
I believe the Arizona Fall League is critically important to the overall development of prospects. This is where I get to see tomorrow's players and I get to know them personally. There are only six teams, so I get to see them over and over and over. First impressions can be confirmed or change during the course of the season.
Each week I will provide bits and pieces from the previous week in the league. I will also offer a couple of quick profiles on players that have caught my eye.
I will be sharing information from interviews I have held with players and information I learn from speaking with other individuals.
I will be providing my Player of The Week at the conclusion of the column every week. These will be players I believe will have success in the major leagues at some point. I will then offer a list of guys I am watching closely. Those are guys that made me sit up and take notice. They are guys I want to evaluate after more scrutiny. After viewing them again and again I will confirm my opinion or change my mind and share those thoughts with you.
Let's get started:
After tearing up AFL pitchers the first few days, A's outfielder Michael Choice is taking a week off while his wife gives birth to their first child.
Tigers infielders Will Rhymes and Danny Worth were scratched before the season began. However, shortstop Dixon Machado has shown an extremely polished glove, excellent range and a plus-plus arm as one of the team's replacement players. If Machado hits, he will be a big league shortstop. He reminds me of the Royals' Alcides Escobar. I saw Escobar in his early days when he played in the AFL. Machado is very, very similar to Escobar defensively. He is young and he still has projectable growth. He'll be a major factor in the future and you should remember his name. He's still learning to hit quality pitching, but this guy is a magician at shortstop.
Angels outfielder Mike Trout is here, but he is playing sparingly. I would imagine he'd continue to get some spot starts. He's looking very good at the plate and on the bases.
Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is struggling a bit at the plate. He has taken some pitches to the opposite field, but left-handed pitching is giving him fits. That's an issue we have to keep an eye on. He is not as polished yet against southpaws. Harper didn't finish the season because of injury. He appears to be 100 percent healthy, but I'll be watching.
Reds catching prospect Yasmani Grandal was warming up a pitcher in the bullpen when he hurt his middle finger from an errant throw. He's out of action for a while. He told me he still hopes to play in the AFL but it all depends upon how quickly he heals. Grandal is a top prospect with the Reds.
Anthony Gose of the Blue Jays is opening some eyes (including mine) with his bat, his arm and his speed. He has an absolute rifle from the outfield. He also has two homers and five RBI as I write this. Gose is a flashy type player that will find his way to the Blue Jays' lineup. I'll be profiling him in more depth later this AFL season. At this early point in the season, I have a bit of concern about his demeanor. More on that after I get to watch him more.
Brewers center fielder Logan Schafer is already an accomplished outfielder. He takes outstanding routes to balls and makes things look easy. His defense will help get him to the Brewers. As long as he can get on base and steal, he'll have a future. I like what I've seen so far. I profile him below.
Padres pitcher Anthony Bass has looked sharp. He has excellent velocity and he can command all of his pitches. I saw him in relief, but he's also starting here in the desert. Bass got a look in the big leagues at the end of the 2011 season. He certainly has a future pitching for the Padres. So far I've liked what I've seen. So far.
Mariners catcher Adam Moore has shown difficulty blocking the plate. His mechanics do not look clean as he attempts to return to top prospect status after injuries have slowed his career. I'm not optimistic.
Oakland's Grant Green is working hard on his transition from paying shortstop to becoming an outfielder. He's playing CF here in the AFL. So far, he hasn't looked very confident or secure in the outfield. He is tentative. His bat was supposed to be a liability. His defense at shortstop was to be his strength. Ultimately, the A's determined he hits better than he fields. I'm pulling for Green, but he has work to do.
Robbie Grossman of the Pirates looks very comfortable at the plate and in right field. I think his hitting mechanics, his speed and his defense are top quality. He struggled initially as a professional and he repeated High-A this past season. A switch-hitter, Grossman is working hard on his left-handed swing. It's his first priority this fall. To date, he is a much strong hitter from the right side of the plate. I profile him below.
In a new procedure, umpires here take a pill before the game to control their body temperature and they get their temperature taken between innings in games when the temperature exceeds 80 degrees. Officials are watching for over heating and fatigue in the sun of Arizona.
AFL Players of the Week in Week 1 (chosen by the staff) were Diamondbacks infielder Ryan Wheeler (10-for-18, five doubles, four RBI) and A's outfielder Michael Choice (8-for-17, double , three homers, four RBI, seven runs scored). No pitcher was named.
A total of 32 first-round draft choices are playing in the AFL. The players from the recent 2011 draft:
RHP Gerrit Cole - Pittsburgh
LHP Danny Hultzen - Seattle
LHP Sean Gilmartin - Atlanta
IF Joe Panik - San Francisco
OF Mikie Mahtook - Tampa Bay
2010 First Rounders include:
OF Bryce Harper - Washington (1st)
IF Christian Colon - Kansas City (4th)
OF Michael Choice - Oakland (10th)
C Yasmani Grandal - Cincinnati (12th)
OF Gary Brown - San Francisco (24th)
IF Mike Ott - Texas (49th)
2009 First Rounders include:
OF Grant Green - Oakland (13th)
LHP Matt Purke - Texas (14th)
OF Mike Trout - Angels (25th)
INF Nick Franklin - Seattle (27th)
C Josh Phegley - White Sox (38th)
OF Kentrail Davis - Brewers (39th)
OF Tim Wheeler - Colorado (32nd)
OF Kentrail Davis - Milwaukee (39th)
RHP Brad Boxberger - Cincinnati (43rd)
IF Ryan Dent - Red Sox (62nd)
2008 First Rounders include:
IF Tim Beckham - Tampa Bay (1st)
C Kyle Skipworth - Florida (6th)
OF Aaron Hicks - Minnesota (14th)
RHP Andrew Cashner – Chicago Cubs (19th)
OF Jaff Decker- San Diego (42nd)
2007 First Rounders include:
OF Josh Vitters – Chicago Cubs (3rd)
RHP Casey Weathers - Colorado (8th)
IF Matt Dominguez - Florida (12th)
IF Kevin Ahrens - Toronto (18th)
LHP Nick Schmidt - San Diego (23rd)
RHP Neil Ramirez - Texas (44th)
2006 First Rounders include:
RHP Jeremy Jeffress - Milwaukee (16th)
C Hank Conger - Anaheim (25th)
RHP Caleb Clay - Boston (44th)
Player Profile - Robbie Grossman, RF, Pittsburgh
Grossman is the son of a career military father. He was born in San Diego, but he moved to Houston when his dad was deployed in that area.
Grossman was the sixth-round selection of the Pirates in the 2008 first-year player draft. His first full season was 2009 when he played A-ball in the South Atlantic League. He hit .266/5/42 with 35 stolen bases. Last season, his third in a row at High-A, he hit .294/13/56 with 24 stolen bases. Grossman is ready for an assignment to a higher classification and a chance to face better pitching and stiffer competition.
This past season at Bradenton, Grossman walked 104 times in 134 games. He led all of minor league baseball with 127 runs scored. He gets on base and steals bases. Grossman knows the strike zone and he's selective at the plate. The Pirates' major concern is Grossman's inability to hit left-handed as a switch-hitter. He is far better from the right side. Grossman is dedicating his AFL season to improving his left- handed hitting.
Grossman's on-base percentage of .418 this past season would have been better if he would have cut down his strikeouts. He struck out 111 times.
I like Grossman because he takes charge of his at-bats and as he told me, he “plays with a chip on my shoulder.” Nothing wrong with that. When I reminded him that pitcher's want to take food off his table, he smiled and said, “I won't let them.” He means it.
In the AFL, Grossman is working on his swing, trying to make consistent contact and taking pitches where they're thrown. He loves being in Arizona and he feels honored to be playing in the league. Grossman is “putting everything into it” to use his words.
Grossman is a few years away from being a viable fantasy option. He has to prove his worth to the Pirates, but his style of play makes him a player to watch for the future.
Player Profile - Logan Schafer, OF, Milwaukee
Schafer was the Brewers' Minor League Player of the Year in 2009.
He was a third-round selection of the Brewers in the 2008 first-year player draft. Schafer went to junior college in California and then on to Cal. Poly to play college ball.
Schafer is still coming back from a sports hernia in 2010, and a broken foot and a broken thumb early in spring training this season. It's been a year and a half of injuries for him.
Schafer can run. He has the ability to get on base from the leadoff position, steal bases and score runs. His fantasy value will not include the power categories, but he will help as a top of the order type scrappy, “tough out” hitter.
Schafer should be knocking on the Brewers' door soon. He can flat out play center field. He takes outstanding routes to balls and closes very quickly. He picks up balls in the air and simply outruns the ball in the air. His arm is strong and accurate. He's an outstanding option in that for the Brewers.
At the plate, Schafer has the ability to get on base. His pitch recognition is advancing. He's working on getting his timing down as he faces increasingly better pitching. He's also trying to take pitches the other way and getting a better “jump” on the ball at the plate. As he told me, he wants to force the Brewers “to make a tough decision” regarding his future. He was not being arrogant or cocky in any way. He's confident of his abilities. He wants to be noticed.
I like Schafer's chances of wearing a big league uniform at some point in the near future. As is the case with most fall league guys, scouts from every organization are watching him play. If he doesn't make it with the Brewers there are certainly clubs that can use a speedy, plus-defender in center field with an ability to get on base.
Schafer played at four classifications in 2011, including a stint with the Brewers. He hit over .300 at each of his minor league stops. While he doesn't have much power, he has the ability to be a pest with good pitch recognition that serves him well.
I believe in Schafer and I think he'll find a big league job within a season or two. Keep him in mind when you're looking for that fast outfielder capable of getting on base, stealing bases and scoring runs.
BERNIE'S PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Chih-Hsien Chiang, OF, Seattle
Chiang came to the Red Sox in the deal for Erik Bedard. I think he will be a quiet steal.
Every time I see this guy at the plate I like him more and more. He has outstanding pitch recognition and he makes solid contact. He's a gap type hitter with an excellent eye for the strike zone. He has the ability to steal bases with quickness and speed.
Chiang plays an outstanding outfield with a solid arm and good defensive ability going after the ball.
I believe Chiang will be in the Mariners' outfield at some point. He shows no fear hitting AFL pitchers and no fear of the game itself. As a native of Taiwan, Chiang is only 23 years old. I have every intention of watching him closely the rest of the season. He's a top-flight prospect and reminds me of Shin-Soo Choo.
Here are the guys I'm watching closely*:
Chih-Hsien Chiang - OF Seattle
Matt Adams - 1B St. Louis
Danny Hultzen - LHP Seattle
Neil Ramirez - RHP Texas
*I will be writing a profile on each of these players in the coming weeks.
Follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. I will begin tweeting from the AFL this week.