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Pleskoff's AFL Notebook: Down the Stretch They Come

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.

The Arizona Fall League enters its final week. The Championship Game will be held Saturday, November 19th at Scottsdale Stadium. The Salt River Rafters and Surprise Saguaros will be the participating teams and MLB Network will televise the game.

In this edition of the notebook, I want to take a look at some of the players I haven't mentioned much in previous articles. Some are high profile. In my final edition next week, I'll review the AFL and share my thoughts about the 10 or 15 best prospects I've seen in addition to commenting about high profile players.

For now, however, here are some of my thoughts for the week:

Catchers of Interest (not previously covered or profiled)

Dan Butler, C, Boston Red Sox

We don't read or hear much about Butler because Ryan Lavarnway is the future catcher in Boston. Butler has gotten my attention.

He is an excellent defensive catcher with a very strong and accurate arm. He moves well behind the plate. Butler is a prototypical catcher at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds. He's really solidly built and nobody will mess with him.

Butler is hitting well in the AFL. At this writing he's at .326/1/6 with 12 walks and only 6 strikeouts in 43 plate appearances.

If the Red Sox can't use Butler, there are plenty of teams in need of his services. I think he can hit .250 with about 10 homers a season.

Derek Norris, C, Washington Nationals

There are scouts who question Norris' bat. (He hasn't hit well in the minor leagues-only .210 in 334 at-bats at Double-A Harrisburg this past season.) There are scouts who question Norris' defense. So far, I've liked what I've seen in both aspects of his game.

He can drive the ball with some power to the gaps. In the light Arizona air and against tired pitchers, Norris has hit .304/2/11 walking 12 times and striking out 12 times in 69 at-bats. The low strikeout rate is impressive. He isn't going up to the plate hacking. He's seeing pitches well and being patient. I like his approach and I think he'll be in Washington at some point in late 2012 or early 2013 at the latest.

Rob Brantly, C, Detroit Tigers

Still a young prospect for the Tigers, Brantly just completed High-A Lakeland. It's difficult to project him because of limited playing time here in the desert. He has had only 42 at-bats and I may have seen half of those. He is hitting very well for average in the AFL at .381. He hasn't shown power or an ability to drive the ball consistently.

I mention his name here because Brantly looks every bit the part of a top-notch prospect at a scarce position. Keep him in mind. As he gets more experience he will grow into his body and his stats will reflect that development. He's not close yet to a big league job.

Jason Castro, C, Astros

Castro has been injured and is beginning to get his timing back, but it hasn't been pretty. I have always felt Castro to be overrated as a hitter. Here in the AFL, Castro has had only 30 at-bats because he arrived a bit late and he's sharing at-bats with other catchers. He is hitting only .233 in a league that mashes mediocre organizational pitchers. He has no homers and only four RBI. Those statistics are hard to live with for a full-time catcher. He has walked seven times and struck out on eight occasions. I want to see more of Castro, but so far I admit I've been underwhelmed.

Kyle Skipworth, C, Miami Marlins

Skipworth shares the catching duties on the Surprise club with the Braves' Christian Bethancourt (who is one of the best prospects I've seen in the league this fall.) The Marlins thought enough about Skipworth to make him the sixth overall selection in 2008. He is on his way to becoming a flop. He hit only .207 at Double-A Jacksonville over 396 at-bats this past season. Overall, in his professional career, Skipworth has hit .220 in four seasons. He does have 40 home runs.

This fall, Skipworth is hitting .296/2/6 and the Marlins must be pleased. He really looks more comfortable at the plate this fall as compared to last, when he also played in the AFL.

Skipworth is a good defensive catcher. He calls a good game and his mechanics are sound. I still question if he will ever consistently hit major league pitching.

Other Position Players

Tim Beckham, SS, Tampa Bay Rays

I can see why the Rays may be frustrated with Beckham. Frankly, he doesn't look like the same guy from day to day, game to game. He is inconsistent in his approach at the plate. When he's aggressive, he drives the ball. When he's more passive he takes good pitches. He's still very young and the talent is definitely there.

He's a good shortstop with a solid arm and good range, but he isn't anything spectacular.

I think he needs much more repetition and seasoning at the minor league level. He can't be rushed. He needs patient coaches who will allow him to grow at his pace while pushing him to find that pace (if that makes sense.)

Jean Segura, SS, Los Angeles Angels

Segura has really played well of late. He looks like he belongs in the Angels' infield. He isn't very tall and he's carrying around a rather um....large back end, but he's still smooth and capable at short. He has a solid arm and he can play the position well. My surprise has come with his bat. He's shown an ability to punish the fastball and hit breaking balls as well. He's hitting .315 with no homers and eight RBI. Over 73 at-bats, Segura has walked only five times but he's struck out 14 times. He has five stolen bases while getting caught stealing three times. My point with those stats is that he is both good and bad. He does some things well and he does some things poorly. He needs lots of at-bats and time at the plate against quality pitching to refine his approach. He has to learn the strike zone .

Leury Garcia, INF, Texas Rangers

Garcia is another major prospect of the Rangers organization. He has surprised me with his both his offense and his defense, while he's a much more accomplished player than I had anticipated. In fact, he's hitting .356 at this writing along with three homers and nine RBI in 73 at-bats. I'd like to see him take more walks, but he has excellent pitch recognition and he puts the bat on the ball. In addition to making contact and hitting for average, Garcia can run and steal bases as he has seven stolen bases so far.

I am trying to determine if Garcia's offense holds up over time and against quality pitching. I'm not so sure. He has a career .251 minor league average. He's hit a total of seven homers over his four seasons of pro ball. His highest level of play has been at High-A Myrtle Beach.He has a future with Texas. But it may be 3 seasons away.

Scooter Gennett, INF, Milwaukee Brewers

To watch Gennett play is a joy. He hustles. He makes things happen. He's a force at the plate. And he's an adequate, average defender at second base. Gennett is hitting .423/2/11 with 10 walks and 13 strikeouts. He's also stolen two bases.

Gennett's strength is putting the bat on the ball and centering pitches. He is just beginning his career, having signed with the Brewers in 2009. At High-A Brevard County in the Florida State League, Gennett hit .300 with nine homers. He had been promoted from Wisconsin in the Midwest League (Low-A) during the season. He hit .309 with nine homers there as well. In all, his 2011 season looked like this: .304/18/106. Now that's a great first year.

I do think Gennett will improve defensively. That's the quality the Brewers have to have in their second baseman. For now, however, Gennett is a guy to watch for the future. He can hit.

Xavier Avery, OF, Baltimore Orioles

After a slow start, Avery has come on strong in the past couple of weeks. I think he'll be given a long look by the new Orioles brass as a potential center fielder on the big league club. He is fast, and has a strong enough arm to play in the big leagues. I don't always like the routes he takes on balls or his lack of energy in the outfield. Avery will steal bases. He's got a quick first step as well as excellent overall speed.

His bat is inconsistent. I've seen some very good at-bats and I've seen some wasted opportunities. With his speed, Avery can bunt for base hits. He'll become a speedy center fielder, and a top of the order hitter.


- Top Velocity from a starter this fall at Peoria and Salt River Fields where TrackMan measures such things has been Anthony Bass (Padres) at 96.6 MPH. Top reliever has been Aroldis Chapman (Reds) at 100.1 MPH.

- Longest hit ball at Peoria and Salt River Fields where TrackMan measures such things has been Bryce Harper with a 462-foot home run.

- Rangers 1B/3B prospect Mike Olt has hit two grand slams. He is the leading candidate for Most Valuable Player.

- Jedd Gyorko (Padres) and Wil Myers (Royals) each have had a five-hit game.

AFL Players Of The Week as selected by the AFL staff:

Rangers 1B/3B Mike Olt
Yankees RHP David Phelps

Bernie's Player of the Week: Texas Rangers 1B/3B Mike Olt

Olt has had a magical fall. He's hitting everything thrown his way. He's especially strong at his “home” park in Surprise. Olt has played both at short and at third, and his loud bat cannot be ignored.

Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff. I will be communicating on twitter before and during every AFL game. Follow me on by finding my articles under "other opinions" when they aren't on the home page. I always welcome comments and questions.