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Behind the Backstop: AFL All-Star Team

Tory Hernandez

Tory's experience in the baseball industry includes a four-year stint as the Manager of Baseball Operations for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, where his responsibilities were comprised of contract negotiation, advance scouting, and the development and implementation of the organization's statistical research methods and use of analytics. Most recently, Tory served as the Director of Pro Scouting & Recruiting for Boras Corporation.

The 2013 Arizona Fall League concluded last Saturday with the championship game between the Surprise Rafters and Mesa Solar Sox. The Rafters took home the trophy in a pitcher's duel with a 2-0 victory, shutting down the Sox and holding AFL MVP Kris Bryant to a 0-for-4 night with two punchouts.

This week's column will focus on the All-Stars at each position. These are the best performers from the AFL in 2013 and not necessarily the "best prospects."

C - Jorge Alfaro (TEX)

This was a difficult call between Alfaro and Giants catcher Andrew Susac. They both had very good Fall Leagues, but the edge goes to Alfaro. What I saw in his defense this fall was tremendous as he was able to impact both sides of the ball a bit better than Susac. Alfaro hit .386 with 11 steaks (RBI) and played in 19 games behind the dish. I've written up Alfaro in this column already so you should have a familiarity with him. He has tremendous skills behind the plate and will be a plus defender at the big league level. He carries a lot of raw power and his bat should be a very capable one in Arlington. He's still a ways away though and he's only ready for High-A ball in 2014. He could be on the Rangers' radar in 2016 and he's definitely their catcher of the future. General manager Jon Daniels and company are in the market for catching and they re-upped with Geovany Soto already, but they'll be looking for someone to hold the fort down for the next two to three years before Alfaro is ready.

1B - C.J. Cron (LAA)

The case could be made that Red Sox first baseman Travis Shaw deserves to be listed here, but the edge goes to Cron, who hit .413 with five homers and 20 RBI. There were many who felt Cron should have been named the MVP over Bryant so it would be impossible not to anoint him the best first baseman in the league. Shaw hit .316 with five homers and 19 RBI so he gets an honorable mention. Cron is a better prospect than Shaw as well and after a bit of a “down year” the Angels are hoping that Cron is on the cusp of reaching the heights that they anticipated when they drafted him 17th overall in 2010. I put "down year" in quotes in the last sentence because he went from hitting .293 with 27 homers and a remarkable 123 RBI in 129 games in the Cal League in 2012 to .274 with 14 homers and 83 RBI in 2013 in the Texas League. This comes with a bit of perspective when factoring in the two leagues and ballparks, however. Cron will head to Triple-A Salt Lake in 2014 and is a future everyday first baseman in the big leagues. Cron could make Mark Trumbo very expendable but he's not quite ready for big league pitching. He should hit for 20-plus home-run power at the next level, but don't expect high batting averages. Think Mike Napoli type of numbers without the high on-base average or plus defense at first base.

2B - Tommy La Stella (ATL)

La Stella is another guy I wrote up recently but he's very deserving to be listed here. He hit .290 with 16 walks and just four strikeouts this fall. This continues a trend we have seen throughout his career as he's a career .327 hitter with a 111:88 BB:K. It's not a matter of whether he'll hit in the big leagues, it's just a matter of when and at which position. He's a little rough at second base, but he's showing improvement and it wouldn't be entirely out of the realm of possibility that he is the starting second baseman in Atlanta by the end of the season. La Stella is one of my favorite under the radar prospects in the minor leagues.

3B - Kris Bryant (CHI)

Bryant was named the MVP of the league and deservedly so. Not only that, but he's probably the best prospect in the league and a top-five prospect in all of baseball. Bryant hit .364 with six homers and 17 RBI in 20 games. I wrote about Bryant in an earlier column and stated that he'll probably shoot up to Double-A to begin the 2014 season. Depending on the Cubs' timeline, it's possible they will wait to expose him and his service clock to the big leagues until the second half of 2015. The North Siders will want to maximize their possession of Bryant and they are most likely not going to compete for postseason play until 2016. It wouldn't behoove the Cubs to "waste" part of 2014 and all of 2015 with him accruing service time even if he proves he's ready to handle big league pitching next summer. Whenever Bryant does reach the major leagues, he's a budding superstar and future MVP candidate.

SS - Cristhian Adames (COL)

Adames barely beats out Oakland shortstop Addison Russell for this spot and it really comes down to the fact that Russell is going to be written up a ton over the next couple of years as a former first-round pick and a current top-25 prospect overall. It's Adames that I'd like to uncover a bit here in this exercise. Adames is a switch hitter signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007. His best skill is his defense at shortstop but he's not a bad hitter either. He held his own as a 21-year old in Double-A last year with a .267 batting average. He has a career .271 average in the minors, and he hit .293 with 16 RBI in 16 games this fall. He has a little bit of pop and may grow into 10-homer power in the big leagues. He won't be an impact type in the major leagues but he has some upside as an everyday shortstop (some think he's getting too big for the position but I think he sticks because of his defense). Adames could start the year back at Double-A, as the Rox have the luxury of time with his development. As long as Troy Tulowitzki and Nolan Arenado are in the picture in Colorado, Adames is looking at trying to fix the revolving door at second base or he could begin his major league career as a utility player. He's on the 40-man roster so he could get a callup this summer.

LF - Henry Urrutia (BAL)

All this Cuban import does is hit. He followed up a shortened season in Triple-A in 2013 where he hit .316 by hitting .377 with three homers, 15 RBI and a 7:8 BB:K. He'll play at 27 years old in 2014, but don't let the age discourage you as he's a definite prospect. If the O's can't re-sign Nate McLouth , Urrutia could be more than capable of filling his role. Urrutia's cup of coffee in 2013 didn't go very well and he won't hit for much power, but he looks like he could be a Michael Brantley type without the big stolen-base numbers. He has the arm to play right field, but with Nick Markakis around, he could settle into left field in the near future with the Orioles.

CF - Jared Mitchell (CWS)

Mitchell was the toughest name to add to this list but he was very deserving after an impressive Fall League. The reason it's not easy to enter Mitchell's name is because he hit .167 in a combined 356 plate appearances in the upper minors last year. Turning to the Fall League this year though, he hit .304 with five homers and six steals while adding 12 runs for good measure in 20 games. He also had 14 walks to give him a .425 OBP. Mitchell was a first-round pick in 2009 by the White Sox but his upside as an impact player at the highest level is a forgone conclusion at this point. He swings and misses too much, but he has some value due to his plus defense in center field and plus base running ability. Expect Mitchell to begin the year at Triple-A Charlotte where he'll be given a chance to prove his Fall League is more his temperature than his poor regular season. I see Mitchell as a valuable fourth outfielder, and he could get his first taste of Chicago in 2014.

RF - Stephen Piscotty (STL)

Piscotty is another name I wrote up recently and he's another Cardinal college hitter that will probably fly under the prospect radar. The bay area native hit .371 with 18 RBI and added seven steals this fall after compiling a .295/.355/.464 line between two levels of the minor leagues in 2013. He'll probably start the year where he finished the summer back in Double-A. He's going to have to push himself onto the Cardinals' roster like Matt Adams did, and while he doesn't possess Adams' power; he is a better pure hitter and defender. Expect Piscotty to reach the big leagues by 2015 and he could ultimately be a nice complement as a good No. 5 or No. 6 hitter in a championship caliber lineup.

RHS - Aaron Sanchez (TOR)

Sanchez is one of the best pitching prospects in the game and he demonstrated why this fall. He had a 1.16 ERA in his six starts and only allowed 11 hits in 23.1 IP. He works at 95 mph with a devastating sinker and the only thing holding him back at this point is his command of the pitch. I'd like to see him develop his breaking ball a bit more as well. He'll be 21 years old in Double-A next year and could be a full-time starter in Toronto in 2015. Sanchez is a premium prospect with No. 1 or No. 2 starter upside.

LHS - Andrew Heaney (MIA)

Heaney has been written up in this column before, so I will just briefly touch on him. Heaney racked up a 1.95 ERA in 27.2 innings in the AFL. He'll start the year back at Double-A, but the Marlins are aggressive and they don't have a lefty in their rotation right now. It's only a matter of time before Heaney gets a look and it will most likely come in 2014.

RHR - Derek Law (SF) [honorable mention to Chad Wittgren (MIA) who I recently wrote up]

Law was impressive this fall as he has been throughout his minor league career. The funky righty posted a zero ERA in 12.1 IP to take home the honor of best right-handed reliever in the AFL. Law's numbers are unreal considering he had a 45:1 K:BB ratio in the California League this year. Furthermore, he has a 2.57 ERA in 140 career innings with a 12.09 K/9 rate versus only 2.38 BB/9. Law isn't a flamethrower but he's no soft-tosser either, as he hit 94 mph consistently in the AFL. It's not the most ideal delivery in the world as he shows you his back and opens up his front side. He's a max effort guy but he's able to work downhill and somehow, has found consistency in an otherwise difficult delivery to reproduce. It's his funk that works for him though, and coupled with his pure stuff he has the makings to be a good setup man. He should head to Double-A to begin the year, but don't be surprised if he's pitching in San Francisco later next summer.

LHR - Mike Montgomery (TB)

The most difficult position I had trying to fulfill was the left-handed reliever role. After I saw Montgomery in the Rising Stars Game I never would have thought he'd end up here. After talking with some scouts though, I'm comfortable with him holding down this spot. Montgomery was part of the Wil Myers/James Shields trade last year as has been kind of an afterthought the last couple of years. To this day, Montgomery is one of the best high school lefties I've seen and I'm not proud to say that I may have whiffed on him. His fastball is up to 93 mph right now and he's touched 95 in the past. He has been a starter throughout his career but the Rays are hoping they can find success out of him in a relief role, like they did with Alex Torres. It is somewhat inexplicable why this guy hasn't had more success as his delivery is sound and his stuff is there. Mainly, I believe his curveball hasn't developed as expected and his location/command has been very poor. In the Rays' organization, Montgomery could compete for a short relief role next spring but he's still young enough and the upside is still big enough that I would keep him in that starting role for one more year.