5 Other MLB Prospects Who Should Have Been Sent to the Arizona Fall League
While most people associate the month of October with the MLB postseason, here at Prospect Pipeline, we tend to associate it with the start of the Arizona Fall League.
The AFL is comprised of six different teams divided into an East and West division, and each team features prospects from five specific organizations. In total, the AFL allows a maximum of 180 players, six from each team.
As the regular season begins to wind down in August, a draft is held to finalize which prospects will participate in the AFL. Typically, a majority of the players selected are housed in either Double or Triple-A. However, each organization has the option to send one lower-level prospect—a player yet to reach Double-A for their respective organization—to the league.
The AFL is as a great way for a player to make up for lost time—usually stemming an injury—during the regular season. Therefore, a slew of prospects, both pitchers and hitters, participate in the AFL every year as a means of logging additional experience. For other prospects, the league offers an opportunity to refine one specific skill, tool or pitch, while others use it as an opportunity to demonstrate value at a new position.
So, today I thought that I’d look at five intriguing prospects whom I believed were AFL-bound, but were ultimately not included.
Tyler Austin, OF, New York Yankees
Reaching Double-A in first full professional season at age 20, Austin played most of the season at Low-A Charleston but received a promotion to High-A following the All-Star break, as well as one to Double-A just in time for the league playoffs.
Playing in 110 games between those three levels (including a two-game rehab appearance at the rookie level), Austin batted .320/.405/.598 with 58 extra-base hits, 80 RBI and 98/51 K/BB. This past season was also his first as an outfielder after playing both corner infield positions in 2011.
Considering that he played in only 110 games—he missed three weeks in June after taking a pitch to the head—and is still learning the intricacies of a new position, I had him pegged as a possible Yankees representative.
Travis d'Arnaud, C, Toronto Blue Jays
Regarded as one of the best (if not the best) catching prospects in the minors, d’Arnaud was expected to reach the big leagues at some point during the 2012 season after opening the year at Triple-A. Not only does the 23-year-old hit for both average and power, but his defensive skill set has vastly improved over the last two seasons.
Unfortunately, d’Arnaud suffered a torn PCL in his left knee towards the end of June and never returned to action. At the time, the right-handed hitter was batting .333/.380/.595 with 93 hits, 39 extra-base hits (16 HR) and 59/19 K/BB in 67 games.
Although the injury didn’t require surgery, it was expected to take anywhere from 6-to-8 weeks to heal. Rather than trying to accelerate his return during the last month of the season, the Blue Jays proceeded cautiously with their highly-touted backstop. I thought this possibly indicated that he was headed for the AFL—but alas, I was incorrect.
Eddie Rosario, 2B, Minnesota Twins
Rosario suffered a potentially career-threatening injury in early June when he was struck flush in the face by a line drive during batting practice. I know, it's a gross image that comes to mind. The 21-year-old subsequently underwent surgery where a metal plate was inserted into his face near his nose/lip area, and he was held out of action until the end of July.
However, the injury didn’t prevent Rosario from enjoying a strong season at the plate for Low-A Beloit, as he batted .299/.347/.499 with 52 extra-base hits, 74 RBI and 71/32 K/BB in 100 games.
An outfielder headed into the 2012 season, the Twins moved the left-handed hitter to second base this season where he’s drawn rave reviews for his work ethic. However, there is growing concern that he may not have the hands or actions for the position. And after missing nearly two months this season on the disabled list, the AFL seemed like the perfect environment for Rosario to make up for lost time and improve his defense.
Zack Cox, 3B, Miami Marlins
Selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round (No. 25 overall) of the 2010 draft, Cox was regarded as the most advanced college bat in the draft class after an impressive career at the University of Arkansas.
Opening his first full professional season in 2011 at High-A Palm Beach, the left-handed raked as expected (.819 OPS) and was promoted to Double-A after only 42 games. He finished the campaign with a .306/.363/.434 slash line, 40 extra-base hits and 98/40 K/BB in 135 games.
Headed into the 2012 season, it seemed as though Cox could conceivably reach the major leagues with another strong performance. However, the Cardinals assigned him to Triple-A out of spring training where his bat and plate discipline were both unimpressive.
In the minutes before the July 31 trade deadline, the Cardinals shipped their former first-rounder to the Marlins in exchange for Edward Mujica. Cox was demoted to Double-A Jacksonville after the trade was finalized and struggled there as well. He finished the season batting .254/.301/.409 with 90/22 K/BB in 108 games.
As was the case with both Wil Myers and Nick Franklin, the Arizona Fall League is a great place for young players to prove themselves after a dismal regular season. And while there are plenty of candidates given that criteria, the 23-year-old is definitely toward the top of that list.
Tim Wheeler, OF, Colorado Rockies
Wheeler was highly impressive for Double-A Tulsa in 2011, as the then-23-year-old batted .287/.365/.535 with 105 runs scored, 77 extra-base hits (33 HR), 21 stolen bases and 142/59 K/BB in 138 games.
Given the rarity of a 30-20 minor league campaign, the left-handed hitter set the bar high for himself as everyone expected big numbers in 2012. Before posting a .900 OPS at Double-A, his previous career-high was .725 at High-A in 2010. However, I don’t think anyone anticipated he’d have this poor of a season: .303/.357/.412, 33 XBH (2 HR), 7 SB, 69/29 K/BB in 92 games.
In his defense, Wheeler did miss most of April and May with a broken hamate bone—which could account for his drop-off in the power department. However, anybody can hit two home runs in the Pacific Coast League and that still doesn’t explain why he only swiped seven bases this season.
Even though he would have been one of the older players in the league, an extra month of games against younger pitching in a hitter-friendly atmosphere could have provided a boost to his confidence—something that I imagine is needed after a disappointing regular season.
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