The Arizona Fall League features an amazing array of players that are highly rated by their organization and on the cusp of either advancement in the team's system or promotion to the major league club.
Through the years I have had the opportunity to watch players perform in the AFL that are in the final stage of their development.
This year's roster of potential high quality players is among the best I've seen in a while.
I will be filing my Arizona Fall League Notebook each week on the site.
I will be your eyes at a different AFL game every day for the entire season.
You can also follow my daily AFL comments on Twitter @BerniePleskoff. Please feel free to ask me questions during the games I'm attending.
This first edition of my Notebook includes players that are NOT ON EVERYONE'S RADAR. These under the radar players have caught my eye already and I need to share their names and a bit of their profile with you.
I think each is worthy of watching carefully for future fantasy ramifications. We will get a leg up on the competition.
NATE FREIMAN - 1B - PADRES - 8th-round selection by Padres in 2009
This may be the best hitter few people have heard of. Let me introduce you. You will be hearing about him in the coming years. You may want to remember the name.
Freiman is a mammoth 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds, but that's just where it begins. He has tremendous power. I've seen it for myself, as he homered on an effortless swing. The ball may still be traveling.
Freiman is not a fluke. He hit .298 with 24 homers and 105 RBI at Double-A San Antonio this season. In 2011, he hit .288 with 22 homers and 111 RBI. So, he's done it at two classifications.
Freiman struck out 95 times in 516 plate appearances this past season. Imagine - a power hitter striking out less than 100 times. That number jumps out at me. He struck out 93 times during 2011 in 548 at-bats. He walks about 50 times a season.
Of course the Padres have Yonder Alonso pretty firmly in place at first base. Alonso's experiment in the outfield at Cincinnati did not work out. I think he has to stay at first base for the Padres. So where does that leave Freiman? Frankly, I don't know. With a .294 career minor league batting average in parts of four seasons, he has shown he can hit for average consistently. He has hit 71 minor league home runs and that can't be overlooked.
So what does a team do when they are stacked with quality players at one position? They make every effort to deal for their roster weaknesses from their area of strength. If Freiman continues to rake, he is a more viable hitter for the Padres than the line drive hitting Alonso, but that decision won't have to be made for a while. What do the Padres need most? A power hitter and pitching.
Freiman is now on my radar. He will not be a secret after this AFL.
RONNY RODRIGUEZ - SS - INDIANS - Free agent from Dominican Republic
Rodriguez is my second under the radar guy to tell you about.
I was shocked to learn that Rodriguez was in the AFL and not his teammate Francisco Lindor. Lindor was the first-round draft choice of the Indians in 2011.
My Indians sources have indicated the front office likes Rodriguez an awful lot. They like his bat, size and athletic ability. He's 6-feet and 170 pounds, but he looks bigger.
The Indians are loaded with prospect shortstops. In addition to Rodriguez, they have Lindor and a prospect named Tony Wolters in line to play in the middle infield.
They can trade shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and get the right-handed hitter or pitcher(s) they need. If they go that route, they could end up rushing either Rodriguez or Lindor to the big league club.
Keep your eye on Rodriguez. He can force his way on to the club by late 2013. The team targeted him when he became eligible in the International draft.
ROBBIE ERLIN - LHP - PADRES - 3rd-round selection by Rangers in 2009
Erlin may not be under the radar. I know that I've certainly liked him for a long time, but he isn't as high a profile player as many, many others.
Erlin is a crafty left-handed starting pitcher. He isn't a huge guy at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. He may eventually be able to help your fantasy team as a quality starter in the huge San Diego ballpark.
This season, Erlin started 11 games at Double-A San Antonio and threw to a 2.92 ERA with a 3-1 overall record. He came to the Padres along with pitcher Joe Wieland for pitcher Mike Adams. A great deal for both clubs.
Erlin may give up some hits, but he won't get himself in a tremendous amount of trouble. His command and control are exceptionally good. Unless they fortify their pitching elsewhere, I am looking for Erlin to wind up in the Padres' rotation as early as some point next season.
CODY ASCHE - 3B - PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES - 4th round selection in 2011
Asche is a fairly athletic guy at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds. He's agile at third base and he has a fairly quick bat. I like his defense a great deal and I think he'll be able to hit quality pitching.
Asche had a very bad first year as a pro. He only hit .192 in 268 plate appearances. He then rebounded in a big way. He hit a combined .324 in two classifications of Phillies minor league baseball, High-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading. He also hit 12 home runs. He drove in 72 runs-a number illustrating major production.
So far in the AFL I have seen the ball jump off his bat and I've seen him struggle with a few breaking balls. I like his future. He has a long way to go to be ready for prime time. However, his beginning is good. We know that the Phillies are relatively weak at third base.
He's a guy to watch as we go forward. So far, he's under the radar.
Jeudy Valdez - 2B/SS - SAN DIEGO PADRES - International Free Agent - 2006
Who is Jeudy Valdez? Is he the guy that hit .225 this past season at Double-A San Antonio? Or is he the guy that hit .295 at High-A Lake Elsinore? Or is he somewhere in between?
All I know is I saw Valdez absolutely crush three balls to the deepest part of the outfield. I saw the Valdez that hit the barrel of the bat on each of those swings. I also saw him fly around the bases. Valdez can hit with power and steal bases. But it looks like he might be a “dead red" fastball hitter. We'll soon see. I'll be watching for more.
I'm not sure what his immediate future holds. He will be a long, long shot. But he's in the AFL. He's getting real at-bats. I do know I'm going to be watching for the remainder of the fall and into spring training. He's an interesting guy.
Chris McGuiness - 1B - TEXAS RANGERS - 13th round by Red Sox in 2009
While people like me have been focused on the Rangers' highly rated prospects like Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar to name a couple, McGuiness has raised some eyebrows among Rangers front office personnel.
McGuiness has power to spare. He can get loft on the ball and drive it a long way. He hit 23 homers this year at Double-A Frisco and drove in 77 runs. Those are impressive power numbers.
He is already an offensive force in the AFL. He can hit and he can play some defense.
To be sure, I think the Rangers need a new first baseman. I'm not sure they'll go into next season with Mitch Moreland, but Olt can play both corner-infield spots and Michael Young is still part of the mix.
McGuiness is a guy to watch for sure. My best guess is that he'll be promoted to Triple-A next season. Then it will be up to him.
TYLER BORTNICK - 2B - ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS - 16th round by Rays in 2009
You may recall that Bortnick was the player traded to Arizona for Ryan Roberts this past season. The D-Backs liked Roberts very much…in 2011. They kind of soured on him when he began to swing from the heels and tried to hit the ball all the way out of the state. So they traded him.
They traded him for what appears to be a “defense first" second baseman.
I saw Bortnick last fall when he played for the Rays. This year I've seen him play with his double-play teammate D-Backs shortstop prospect Chris Owings. Bortnick is a magician at the keystone. He has outstanding range to both sides. He has soft hands and a very strong arm.
But we're interested in hitters, right? Right. Here's the thing. We don't know if Bortnick can hit.
He has a combined .283 minor league batting average in parts of four seasons. That's not bad. However, after being traded to the D-Backs he was assigned to hitter friendly Reno in Triple-A. He hit a weak .212 in 151 plate appearances.
This will be his year to prove he belongs. If he hits, we get another nice second-base option for our fantasy teams. We won't know for a few months at the minimum.
T.J. HOUSE - LHP - CLEVELAND INDIANS - 16th round in 2008
This guy intrigues me. When I'm intrigued I need to see more.
House is a big 6-foot-2, 215-pound lefty starter with good command and a snappy fastball. He has an ability to throw strikes and change eye levels.
I actually see a future (possibly even 2013) for House.
The Indians are desperate for pitching. This guy does more than walk and chew gum at the same time. He can actually get guys out. I think he'll be very tough on left-handed hitters.
This past season at Double-A Akron, House had an 8-5 record with a 3.98 ERA and a 1.271 WHIP. He was even better at High-A where he threw 25 quality innings. He struck out 6.5 hitters per nine, but walked 3.2 at Akron. The walks are a problem, but he may have been nibbling. He hasn't nibbled when I've seen him.
House has 549 innings behind him so far. That really isn't enough development time to work on pitch repertoire, control and command. And he hasn't really faced tough hitters.
AFL PLAYERS OF THE WEEK FOR WEEK #1 (as selected by Fall League staff):
1B Chris McGuiness (Rangers) and 1B Jonathan Singleton (Astros)
Next Week: Higher Profile Players
Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff. I will be tweeting from a different Arizona Fall League game every day.