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 pitchers in this year's Arizona Fall League.
Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
2013 AFL Stats: 13.1 IP, 1.35 ERA, .122 BAA, 10/8 K/BB (4 GS)
One year ago, just before the Toronto Blue Jays made the trade for all of Miami’s big contracts, there were three young pitchers worth mentioning in the organization.
Today, after Justin Nicolino was sent to the Marlins and Noah Syndergaard went to New York, Aaron Sanchez is the only one of that Big Three remaining.
The Blue Jays weren’t going to part with the young right-hander in a deal, which was a wise move at the time. Now, however, based on two appearances I saw in the AFL, I am concerned about what the future holds for Sanchez.
There’s nothing wrong with his stuff. He still has a monster fastball that sits in the mid-90s, a curveball that flashes plus and a changeup that is still in the developing stages but coming along nicely for a 21-year-old.
Sanchez’s issues come when you break down his delivery, as well as lingering control issues that haven’t gotten better after his breakout season in 2012. He’s always been a very good athlete, capable of repeating a simple, solid delivery with ease.
That’s no longer the case, though, as Sanchez no longer drives his 6’4” frame to the plate. He stays almost completely straight through his wind-up and push towards home, which prevents him from getting plane on the fastball and allows hitters a little extra time to see the ball out of his hands.
He’s also been erratic with eight walks to just 10 strikeouts in 13.1 innings. The stuff is good enough that Sanchez can get away with all of these flaws against weaker competition, but he will get eaten alive by advanced hitting.
This was a pitcher who had the upside of a No. 1 starter, and he still flashes the potential to get there. Sanchez’s flaws are more pronounced now than they have ever been, though, making the likelihood of him ever reaching that ceiling slim. - Adam Wells
Dominic Leone, RHP, Seattle Mariners
2013 AFL Stats: 5 SV, 10. IP, 12 H, 3 ER, BB, 11 K (9 G)
Leone may not look like much at 5’11”, 185 pounds, but don’t let his size fool you. Selected in the 16th round of the 2012 draft out of Clemson, Leone hopped on the fast track to the major leagues this year in his full-season debut.
Overall, the soon-to-be 22-year-old amassed 16 saves and posted a 2.25 ERA with 64 strikeouts in 64 innings between Low-A Clinton, High-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson.
The right-hander has been one of the better pitchers so far in the AFL, collecting a handful of saves with 11 strikeouts in 10 innings. Meanwhile, Leone’s average fastball velocity of 95.02 MPH, per MLBfarm.com, is the eighth highest in the league.
Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, Baltimore Orioles
2013 AFL Stats: 11.2 IP, 4.63 ERA, .205 BAA, 12/5 K/BB (4 GS)
Coming off a breakout full-season debut in 2012, Rodriguez has continued to improve this year, despite being one of the younger full-time starters at both the High-A and Double-A levels.
After a strong showing over the first half of the season in the Carolina League, the Orioles promoted the 20-year-old to Double-A Bowie in early July. The left-hander was initially overmatched at the more advanced level, as he registered a 7.02 ERA and 33-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his first 34.2 innings (seven starts).
However, Rodriguez ultimately settled in and went on to post a respectable 4.22 ERA and 59-24 strikeout-to-walk ration in 59.2 innings.
The only chance I had to see Rodriguez pitch was on Saturday in the Fall Stars Game. Although he threw only one inning given the showcase nature of the event, the left-hander opened plenty of eyes during his time on the mound.
Normally someone who works in the low-90s with his fastball, Rodriguez sat comfortably in the 92-95 mph range and even scraped 97 according to several radar guns behind the plate. Having not seen the left-hander since last summer, I was particularly impressed with the ease in which the ball left his hand, as well as the progress he’s made in developing the slider to be a swing-and-miss pitch.
Kyle Crick, RHP, San Francisco Giants
2013 AFL Stats: 9.2 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 9 BB, 14 K (5 G/3 GS)
Although a strained oblique limited Crick to only 14 starts this past season, the 20-year-old was flat-out nasty when healthy, posting a 1.57 ERA and .201 opponent batting average with 95 strikeouts in 68.2 innings at High-A San Jose.
Boasting a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and frequently scrapes 96-97, along with a trio of secondary offerings that can flash plus but lack consistency, Crick has the makings of a front-of-the-rotation pitcher. That being said, both his control and command will need considerable refinement before reaching the major leagues.
Crick showed signs of rust in the early going of the AFL, struggling to command his fastball and work down in the zone consistently as a starter. However, the right-hander did turn in back-to-back scoreless appearances working out of the bullpen at the end of October.
Although it wasn’t the cleanest of innings on Saturday in the Fall Stars Game—though that was partially a result of Kris Bryant’s error at third base—Crick showcased his monster fastball in the game, sitting at 94-96 mph and hitting 97 on several occasions. The right-hander also showed a sharp, late-breaking slider in the game, though his control of the pitch is less advanced.
Ken Giles, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
2013 AFL Stats: 2 SV, 7.1 IP, 7.36 ERA, 11/8 K/BB (7 G)
Signed in the seventh rough of the 2011 draft out Yavapi JC in New Mexico, Giles quickly emerged as one of the more high-upside relievers in the game thanks to a legitimate triple-digit fastball and potentially devastating slider in the upper-80s.
Making his full-season debut last year, the 23-year-old recorded eight saves and posted a 3.51 ERA, .209 opponents’ batting average and 111-50 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 82 innings between Low-A Lakewood and High-A Clearwater.
This past season, Giles was expected to continue his quick ascent up the organizational ladder. However, the right-hander landed on the disabled list twice with a strained oblique and then struggled mightily following a return to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.
Logging only 25.2 innings over 24 appearances at the level, Giles tallied six saves and registered a 6.31 ERA and 34-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
While he’s continued to pitch poorly so far this fall, the 23-year-old turned heads last Saturday during his outing in the Fall Stars Game. Working in the 96-99 mph range and even scraping 100 mph with his four-seam fastball, Giles easily showcased the best velocity in the game, as well as a filthy but largely inconsistent slider in the upper-80s.
I don’t know how else to say it other than: Giles should not be struggling in the minor leagues given his elite velocity and swing-and-miss breaking ball.
If the right-hander hasn’t figured things out by the time he’s eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next year, expect virtually every organization to show interest in his arm strength.