If you love prospects, then it doesn’t get any better than the Arizona Fall League.
With six teams comprised of baseball’s top prospects from all 30 organizations, the AFL provides an opportunity to witness the future of the game on one field.
This year’s crop of talent is especially deep, including 21 players that ranked among our end-of-season top 100 prospects.
After looking at the hottest and coldest pitchers at every minor league level during the regular season, we’ve decided to continue the series into the fall so as to offer insight into the happenings of the AFL.
So, here’s the third installment of the hottest and coldest pitchers in this year's Arizona Fall League.
Keyvius Sampson, RHP, San Diego Padres
2013 AFL Stats: 10 IP, 8 H, ER, 4 BB, 9 K (6 G/1 GS)
Selected in the fourth round of the 2009 draft out of high school, Sampson was limited to only 43 innings in the Short Season Northwest League in 2010 due to several minor injuries. Despite the 22-year-old’s lack of professional experience, the Padres challenged him with a promotion to Low-A Fort Wayne for the 2011 season. The right-hander responded with a breakout performance, registering a 2.90 ERA, .192 BAA and 143-49 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 118 innings (24 starts).
The organization kept Sampson moving up the ladder the following year, assigning him directly to Double-A San Antonio where he struggled against the advanced competition. However, in his second tour of the level this past season, the right-hander fared significantly better (understatement) with a 2.26 ERA and 110-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 103.1 innings (18 starts). And as a result of his success, the Padres bumped Sampson to Triple-A for the final two months of the season, though his performance (7.11 ERA, 29 walks in 38 innings) was nothing to write home about.
After working out the bullpen in his first five games, Sampson impressed in his first AFL start Tuesday, allowing three hits and a walk with three strikeouts over three scoreless innings.
Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
2013 AFL Stats: 13.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 8 BB, 10 K (4 GS)
Coming off a breakout campaign in 2012 at Low-A Lansing, Sanchez appeared poised to take a huge step forward this past season after moving up to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.
Unfortunately, the 21-year-old right-hander spent over a month on the disabled list with shoulder soreness and ultimately logged only 86.1 innings at the more advanced level.
Though Sanchez once again proved to be difficult to barrel with a .202 opponent batting average, his 75-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio and lack of a consistent third pitch left something to be desired.
After struggling with his control in the early going of the AFL, Sanchez has now been nearly unhittable in back-to-back outings, allowing one hit with four walks and eight strikeouts in 8.1 scoreless innings.
Andrew Heaney, LHP, Miami Marlins
2013 AFL Stats: 14.2 IP, 12 H, 3 ER, 6 BB, 16 K (4 GS)
Heaney didn’t take the mound for the first time this season until May 20 after suffering a lat injury during spring training. But once he got going, the 22-year-old was quick to make up for the lost time by posting a 0.88 ERA and .193 opponent batting average with 66 strikeouts over 61.2 innings in the Florida State League.
The left-hander finished the season at Double-A Jacksonville and held his own with a 2.94 ERA in 33.2 innings.
Heaney flashed his mid-rotation potential during his first AFL start Oct. 11, allowing only two hits with six strikeouts over three scoreless frames. While his command wasn’t as sharp in his two subsequent outings, the southpaw bounced back nicely Tuesday night with four scoreless innings that included three hits, two walks and five strikeouts.
Nick Wittgren, RHP, Miami Marlins
2013 AFL Stats: 1 SV, 7.2 IP, 3 H, 12/1 K/BB (7 G)
Selected in the ninth round of the 2012 draft out of Purdue, Wittgren was utterly dominant this year during his full-season debut.
Assigned to High-A Jupiter to open the season, the 22-year-old recorded 25 saves, a 0.83 ERA and a 59-10 strikeout-to-walk rate in 54.1 innings (48 games). As a result of his overwhelming success, the right-hander was promoted to Double-A Jacksonville in late August.
After allowing two hits in his first AFL relief appearance, Wittgren has surrendered only one hit over his last six outings, during which he’s amassed one save and nine strikeouts. Expect him to make an impact out of the Marlins’ big league bullpen in 2014.
Matt Purke, LHP, Washington Nationals
2013 AFL Stats: 15 IP, 11 H, 5 ER, 5 BB, 13 K (4 GS)
The Nationals signed Purke to a major league contract with a well-over-slot bonus as a third-round pick in 2011, despite the fact that shoulder problems limited him to only 11 starts at TCU during the spring.
Unsurprisingly, the injury carried over into the left-hander’s professional career, and he was forced to undergo season-ending surgery in late August 2012.
After returning to the mound in late May 2013, Purke proceeded to post a 3.80 ERA and 82-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 90 innings (18 starts) between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac.
Looking to make up for time missed during the regular season, the 23-year-old opened the AFL on fire with three consecutive starts in which he failed to allow an earned run. However, Purke’s fortune changed drastically Tuesday, as he yielded five earned runs on eight hits and two walks in only three innings. Still, it’s been an impressive bounce-back fall campaign for the once-promising southpaw.
Branden Kline, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
2013 AFL Stats: 7.2 IP, 13 H, 12 ER, 5 BB, 8 K (6 G)
A closer for most of his college career at the University of Virginia, Kline was moved into the team’s starting rotation for the 2012 season and opened eyes with his mid-90s fastball velocity and four-pitch mix.
However, after logging 12 innings during his professional debut in 2012 following his selection in the second round of the draft, the 22-year-old struggled to stay healthy this past season and made only seven starts (35.1 innings) at Low-A Delmarva as a result.
The Orioles are using Kline as a reliever this fall with the hope that he builds significant arm strength for the 2014 season. Through his first six appearances, the right-hander has struggled mightily to get outs, allowing 12 earned runs (14.09 ERA) on 13 hits and five walks in only 7.2 innings. However, all that matters at this point is whether Kline can remain healthy and gain invaluable experience against advanced hitters.
Adalberto Mejia, LHP, San Francisco Giants
2013 AFL Stats: 10.1 IP, 11 H, 12 ER, 6 BB, 11 K (5 G/1 GS)
Mejia enters the AFL fresh off a breakout campaign at High-A San Jose, where he posted a 3.31 ERA and a 89-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 87 innings. While the 20-year-old left-hander has also shown impressive command relative to his age and level of competition, the 2013 season marked the first time that he consistently missed bats.
Appearing in two games already this fall as a reliever, Mejia has struggled in both outings, allowing a combined five earned runs on four hits and two walks over three innings. On a positive note, the left-hander has retired four of the five same-side hitters he’s faced.