After reviewing the Arizona Fall League's top hitting and pitching performances earlier this week, I thought that I'd share my thoughts on some of the league's more impressive prospects and tools.
While some players were a clear favorite for specific awards, other categories were seemingly a toss-up between a host of players.
So, as a means of coping with severe AFL withdrawal, here's a look at the league's top performers.
MVP: Nate Roberts, OF, Minnesota Twins
Twenty-three-year-old outfielder led the Arizona Fall League with a .446 batting average, .565 on-base percentage and .662 slugging percentage in 19 games. Left-handed hitter profiles as a top-of-the-order bat with excellent plate discipline, above-average speed and impressive bat-to-ball skills.
Cy Young: Kevin Siegrist, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals
The 6’5” southpaw dominated in five of six outings and steadily improved through the fall, as he registered a 1.62 FIP, 12.79 K/8 and .214 BAA over 19 innings. As a result of his strong showing in the AFL, the Cardinals added the 22-year-old to their 40-man roster.
AFL Top Prospect: Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds
Although there is a solid list of candidates for the league’s top prospect, I don’t see how it can go to anyone but Billy Hamilton. His game-changing speed is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and he has the potential to impact a game in a variety of ways.
Breakout Prospect: Slade Heathcott, OF, New York Yankees
Twenty-two-year-old has never played in more than 76 games in a season over his four-year pro career. However, Heathcott built upon a solid finish to the 2012 season with an eye-opening performance in the AFL. Over the final 10 games of the season, the left-handed hitter batted .500/.596/.895 with 19 hits (10 extra-base hits), 12 RBI, four stolen bases and seven walks.
Top Power Hitter: George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
Springer’s bat didn’t heat up until the end of the fall and he finished with only three home runs, but his .314 ISO was tops among non-taxi squad players. However, his plus raw power ranks among the best in the minor leagues, as he’ll frequently hit tape-measure shots to both left and center field. Now he’ll need to work on trimming his strikeout total without sacrificing pop.
Best Pure Hitter: Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins
The 6’4” outfielder has a smooth and effortless left-handed swing that should result in a plus hit tool by the time he reaches the major leagues. He was clearly fatigued, as so many AFL players tend to be, but still batted .301/.343/.387 in 25 games.
Best Speed: Billy Hamilton, Reds
After setting a new professional mark with 155 stolen bases this past season, Hamilton added 10 more in the Arizona Fall League to raise his 2012 total to 165 swipes in 149 games.
2013 Breakout Candidate (Hitter): Rymer Liriano, OF, San Diego Padres
With an incredibly athletic but physical frame, Liriano was one of the big stories of this year’s Arizona Fall League. The tools and raw talent have always been apparent, though he’s struggled to make adjustments at higher levels. After hitting only eight home runs in 127 games between High and Double-A last season, the 6’0", 210-pounder dropped four bombs in 22 AFL contests.
2013 Breakout Candidate (Pitcher): Chase Anderson, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
The undersized right-hander showcased arguably the best changeup among starters, which grades as a legitimate plus pitch. He showed a better feel for his breaking ball but will need to throw it with more consistency. Could reach the major leagues toward the end of the 2013 season.
Best Mustache: Nate Roberts, Twins
I mean, come on! Just look at that thing. It’s beautiful.
Top Bounce-Back Performer: Kyle Gibson, RHP, Minnesota Twins
Missed a majority of the 2012 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but returned in time for several late-season starts at Triple-A. Enjoyed an excellent start to AFL and lost some steam down the stretch, but still showcased a plus fastball-slider combo and above-average changeup. Don’t be surprised if he breaks camp as a member of the Twins’ rotation.
Most Frustrating Prospect (Pitcher): Jarred Cosart, RHP, Houston Astros
For a 22-year-old with a three-pitch mix of above-average to plus offerings, Cosart’s inability to miss bats is baffling. Furthermore, while his command has improved over the last two seasons, he still has bouts of inconsistency stemming from a cross-body delivery and poor use of his legs.
Most Frustrating Prospect (Hitter): Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
Although he's an excellent defensive shortstop with above-average speed and natural instincts, Lee's lack of development at the plate since reaching Double-A is somewhat disconcerting. This fall, the left-handed hitter struggled as his hands would drift forward and prevent him for catching up to plus velocity.
Best Fastball: John Hellweg, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
A 6'9" right-hander, Hellweg throws absolute gas but doesn't always know where it's going. But the fact that his fastball sits in the high 90s and routinely touches triple digits will at least provide him with an opportunity as a late-inning reliever.
Best Secondary Pitch: Mark Montgomery, RHP, New York Yankees
As I've maintained for some time now, Montgomery boasts one of the best sliders—in my opinion, it's a true plus-plus offering—in the game. He was easily the top bullpen arm in this year's AFL, and he can pile up strikeouts with ease. With little to nothing left to prove in the minor leagues, Montgomery is a strong candidate to open the 2013 season in the Yankees' bullpen.
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