The Arizona Fall League began today, with the first pitch at 12:35 in a matchup between the Surprise Rafters and Peoria Javelinas. The Yankees have seven players on the Rafters, most of whom are worth keeping an eye on. Here's a very quick rundown on which Yankee prospects to watch for in the AzFL:
Ian Kennedy, RHP: Kennedy recovered quickly from an aneurysm in his arm and made it back to the majors for an inning this season. He is much more advanced than most of the prospects in the fall league, so he should put up some gaudy numbers in the hitters' league. The most important thing for him is to get innings so he'll be ready to compete for a job come 2010 Spring Training.
Austin Romine, C: While he's only the second best catching prospect in the Yankees organization, he would be the best in most. I personally ranked him as the fourth best prospect in the Yankees system and Baseball America ranked him as the ninth best prospect in the Florida State League. The Rafters are carrying three catchers, but Romine is the best prospect of the three. It will be interesting to see how Romine does against better competition.
Brandon Laird, 3B: In his first two professional seasons, Laird posted ISOs or isolated power of .238 and .225 while swatting 31 HRs in 684 plate appearances. This season, his ISO has dipped to .149 and he only managed to hit 13 homers. It was encouraging that his walk and strikeout rates remained the same, even with his drop in power this season. If he can find his power stroke, he has the potential to do a lot of damage in Arizona.
Colin Curtis, OF: I'm a little bit puzzled about the Yankees sending Curtis to the Arizona Fall League. I don't really see him as a major league option for the team because he doesn't really have any tools that stand out. His performance hasn't been great either, as he struggled in AAA this season, with an OBA (on base average) of .293. He will be Rule 5 eligible this offseason, so one possibility is that the Yankees want to see more out of him before they decide whether or not they should protect him. I can't see another team picking him up after his AAA struggles, so I don't see the need to protect him.
Grant Duff, RHP: After struggling as a starter earlier in his career, Grant Duff found a home in the bullpen after being promoted to Trenton. The 6'6" RHP was sitting hitters at 96 mph and even topped out at 99. This velocity increase put Grant Duff on the prospect map. In 36.1 innings with Trenton, he struck out 37 and walked 16. Duff will also be Rule 5 eligible this offseason, and if he pitches well, I'm sure the Yankees will retain him on the 40-man roster.
Zach Kroenke, LHP: In the 2008 offseason, the Marlins drafted Kroenke in the Rule 5 draft. He wasn't able to stick with them, and was sent back to the Yankees. On the surface, Kroenke put up some spectacular numbers, with a 1.99 ERA in 72.1 innings pitched. However, he struck out less than seven batters per nine innings and had a weak K:BB ratio of 1.83. While not as amazing as his surface numbers, Kroenke's FIP was still a respectable 3.64. I'm not sure he's secured his spot on the 40-man roster yet, but if he pitches well in Arizona, I expect him to be protected from the Rule 5 the second time around.
Michael Dunn, LHP: Dunn was an outfielder just a few years ago, but he has taken to the mound quite nicely. I ranked him as the Yankees 22nd best prospect recently. He made four appearances for the Yankees this season and really struggled with his control. He walked five in four innings, but struck out five as well. His walk rate in the minors this season was over five batters per nine, and that simply won't cut it in the majors. He averaged 93.5 with his fastball this season. As a lefty with that velocity, he'll get plenty of opportunities. If he can somehow cut down on the walks, he has a future in the majors as a setup man.
I look forward to seeing how all of these guys do and will probably bring you weekly updates. Kennedy, Romine, and Dunn are the best prospects of the bunch, and I'll be keeping a close eye on them. On the other hand, guys like Kroenke, Curtis, and Duff have a lot to gain if they pitch well, so they'll be interesting to watch as well.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!