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 hitters 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.
However, colleague Adam Wells and I have something special in store for everyone today. Between the two of us, we’ve had eyes on just about every prospect in the AFL. So, rather than focusing on the best and worst statistical performances in this week’s installment, Adam and I instead decided to share some of our scouting notes and videos.
Here’s the latest installment of the hottest and coldest hitters in this year's Arizona Fall League.
Stephen Piscotty, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
2013 AFL Stats: .338/.385/.437, 5 XBH, 9 RBI, 6 SB, 13/6 K/BB (18 G)
Going to Stanford does wonders for your education, but it wreaks havoc on a player’s swing because the coaching staff doesn’t allow hitters to use all their assets. You have to hit for average, at the expense of any power.
Stephen Piscotty is slowly but surely finding the swing that will work in professional baseball. He had a solid season split between High-A and Double-A with a .295/.355/.464 line and 46-37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 427 at-bats.
Playing for the Salt River Rafters in the AFL has shown both the good and bad Piscotty has to offer with a .338/.385/.437 line. He’s still controlling the strike zone well but doesn’t have enough pop in the bat to profile as a first-division starter.
I do, however, think Piscotty is more than fine with the bat to project as an above-average hitter, even if the power is limited to 40-45 grades (on the 20-80 scouting scale). That kind of player will carve out a career as a second-division starter or backup outfielder.
It also doesn’t hurt Piscotty that he plays for the Cardinals, who can do no wrong when it comes to drafting and player development right now. - Adam Wells
Tyler Naquin, OF, Cleveland Indians
2013 AFL Stats: .351/.411/.415, 4 XBH, 17 RBI, 4 SB, 11/9 K/BB (22 G)
Naquin was a surprise pick for the Cleveland Indians with the 15th pick in the 2012 draft. He had a very good college career at Texas A&M that included being named Big 12 Player of the Year as a sophomore in 2011.
However, questions about the kind of professional player he was going to be have hovered over the 22-year-old. He doesn’t have the offensive profile to be a corner outfielder but lacks the speed and quickness to be more than a fringy center fielder.
The “tweener” profile is not something a prospect wants, though a closer look in the Arizona Fall League provides at least some reason for optimism.
Naquin’s still not going to hit for power. He starts with an almost straight-upright stance that prevents him from getting any leverage behind the swing and utilizes a big leg kick that slows his swing down, leading to problems making contact.
The Fall League has given Naquin some much-needed development against (mostly) advanced, albeit limited pitching. He’s still not driving the ball, with just four extra-base hits in 94 at-bats, but at least he’s been able to put the ball in play with an 11-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. - Adam Wells
Albert Almora, OF, Chicago Cubs
2013 AFL Stats: .283/.333/.509, 8 XBH, 9 RBI, 5/4 K/BB (14 G)
Albert Almora’s full-season debut this year was delayed until May 23 after he suffered a broken hamate bone in his hand during spring training that required surgery.
Upon his return, though, the 19-year-old was one of the Midwest League’s top hitters, batting .329/.376/.466 with 24 extra-base hits and a 30-17 strikeout-to-walk rate in 61 games. However, the outfielder’s impressive season came to an abrupt end on August 7 when he was placed on the disabled list with a groin injury.
In my opinion, Almora has the best pure hit tool in the Arizona Fall League. His combination of barrel control and overall feel for staying inside the ball is ridiculously impressive for a player his age. He can turn around inner-half offerings when he chooses too, but the right-handed hitter’s barrel control gives him a smooth, natural stroke to right-center field.
As I sorted through several games of Almora at-bats the other day, I realized that he collected only a few hits over the past week. But had you asked me prior to digging through my game notes and footage, I genuinely would have guessed that he had multiple hits in each game. But alas, I was deceived by the teenager's knack for consistent hard contact.
Almora has the makings of at least a plus hitter at maturity. Honestly, I'm not concerned about his lack of over-the-fence pop at the moment, as he's still young and already handles the bat as well as some major league hitters.
It'll be interesting to see how aggressive the organization is moving forward with the development of his bat.
Yorman Rodriguez, OF, Cincinnati Reds
2013 AFL Stats: .299/.333/.507, 6 XBH (4 HR), 12 RBI, 20/4 K/BB (17 G)
Yorman Rodriguez turned in a long-overdue breakout performance this past season when he batted .259/.324/.427 with 54 extra-base hits—including a career-high 13 home runs—in 129 games between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola.
As I was texting Adam all last week, I think Yorman Rodriguez has nearly as much right-handed raw power as any player in the AFL who’s not named Kris Bryant. The 21-year-old isn’t afraid to show it off, as he launched some of the longest home runs during batting practice prior to the Fall Stars Game.
However, Rodriguez’s impressive raw pop does come with a caveat: It tends to only play in games when he gets a fastball in a fastball count. In the above game video of him from earlier this week, you’ll notice that both of the right-handed hitter’s home runs came against fastballs. Besides that, Rodriguez struggled to recognize spin when I saw him and seemingly took as many ugly hacks as he did fluid ones.
Rodriguez is still very raw with a huge gap between the present and future. However, he has legitimate upside as a prospect given his age and experience.
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
2013 AFL Stats: .212/.288/.404, 4 XBH (3 HR), 8 RBI, 15/5 K/BB (12 G)
Obligatory Byron Buxton Update: Today’s news that Buxton is still dealing with a minor shoulder injury that he suffered early in the AFL explains a lot of the swings I saw last week. In each look, the explosiveness that I came to love this summer was dialed back and slightly tentative at times during games—which normally suggests the hitter is fearful of swinging through a pitch and worsening an injury.
Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
2013 AFL Stats: .155/.222/.310, 5 XBH (2 HR), 10 RBI, 21/5 K/BB (15 G)
After raking in the Pioneer League last summer during his professional debut, Seager was moved up to Low-A Great Lakes for the 2013 season and batted .309/.389/.529 with 33 extra-base hits (12 home runs) and a 58-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 74 games.
Given his overwhelming success in the Midwest League, the Dodgers promoted the 19-year-old shortstop to High-A Rancho Cucamonga for the final month of the season. Somewhat surprisingly given the hitter-friendly environments of the California League, Seager struggled at the more advanced level, batting .160/.246/.320 with 31 strikeouts in 27 games.
After watching him extensively over the last week, Seager’s struggles this fall—and presumably dating back to the California League—stem from a combination of him overstriding at the plate and drifting with his hips. As a result, he’ll fight against his body to keep weight on the backside and in turn becomes vulnerable to quality secondary pitches.
There were times last week when I could tell Seager was actively trying to stay back and pepper the opposite field, however, that ultimately made him susceptible to velocity up in the zone.
With all that said, I’m still a huge fan of the left-handed hitter’s bat-to-ball skills and ability to keep the barrel in the zone for an extended period of time, but there’s definitely some timing issues that will need to be worked out as the pitching improves.
And after a week of strikeouts and countless just-missed balls in play, it was nice to see Seager go bridge for a game-tying grand slam the other day.
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