There have been a lot of AFL top prospect list circulating cyberspace so I decided to do something a little different. This is my “AFL Most Major League Ready” list. In other words, if I were to assemble a team with the sole purpose of winning MLB games in 2018, these are the players I would select. Also considered players are in parenthesis. Performance in the upper minors and my belief in how likely current skills are to play at the major league level were heavily weighted/considered in my thought process.
Today I am posting about the pitchers. Hitters coming soon!
SP1 RHP Mitch Keller, SP2 LHP Max Fried, SP3 RHP Burch Smith, SP4 RHP Tyler Beede, SP5 LHP Justus Sheffield (Alec Mills, Elniery Garcia, TJ Zeuch, Walker Lockett)
RP1 RHP Sandy Alcantara, RP2 RHP Cody Carroll, RP3 RHP Dean Deetz, RP4 LHP Kirby Bellow, RP5 LHP Kyle Regnault (Art Warren, Nolan Blackwood, Zac Houston, Gerson Moreno, Andres Munoz)
Mitch Keller (RHP) Pittsburgh Pirates – This is an extremely polished pitcher. His fastball command was (probably) the best in the league. The curve command was wicked impressive. Keller can use it inside-outside and in-out (of the zone) at will. Keller’s change is not flashy, but it generated a lot of ground balls. I also noticed a high 80s pitch that moved glove side in a couple of Keller’s starts. I think it is a hard slider, but it may also be a cutter. He pitched with purpose and was able to change eye levels and sequence. It’s a well-rounded arsenal that should keep hitters off balance at the highest level.
Max Fried (LHP) Atlanta Braves – Scouts I have spoken with love Fried’s athletic delivery. His arm is sneaky-fast because his delivery starts slowly before catapulting home at full speed. The fast arm is great, but this attribute accentuates instances when his arm speed slows down. I believe these are semi-telegraphed offspeed pitches. In spite of this blemish, I think Fried has what it takes to perform in the majors. The fastball sat 92-94 and touched 95 with cut at times. His mid 80s change was not thrown much in my looks, but I have read it has plus potential. The high 70s curve is devastating when located. In limited action last year, he performed well in the majors making him a seasoned veteran on this list.
Burch Smith (RHP) Tampa Bay Rays – Somewhat of an under the radar guy, I only caught him once this fall but came away impressed. His motion was easy, and the delivery utilized his lower half well. I liked how he pitched with confidence. Smith mostly stayed in the zone and challenged hitters, especially early in counts. The fastball sat 92-95, and Smith seemed to leave a little in the tank for two-strike counts when he would amp it up to 96 or 97. His high 70s curveball missed a lot of bats. Smith tended to use it below the zone after fastballs up. The third offering was a changeup which was effectively mixed in. Arm injuries have derailed Smith’s career to date. If he can stay healthy, it shouldn’t shock anyone to see him in Tampa’s rotation next year.
Tyler Beede (RHP) San Francisco Giants – The depth of Beede’s repertoire stood out to me. I wish got to see more of him. I caught him on 10/31 when he went four innings. His fastball had three distinct variations. There was a mostly straight four-seamer around 93-94 (T95). There was a low 90s cutter that broke glove side late. And there was a low 90s sinker with decent drop and some armside fade. Beede also employed a slider in the low 80s, a curve in the high 70s and a change in the mid 80s. His offerings all had different velocity bands and moved in different directions. Beede peppers the lower third of the zone and strikes me as a pitch to contact guy who should have a high ground ball rate, eat innings, and occupy the back end of a rotation. With 109 AAA innings in 2017, he’s nearly a finished product.
Justus Sheffield (LHP) New York Yankees – I believe his three-pitch mix gives Sheffield enough to start every fifth day. My first looks at Sheffield were this fall. From what I gather, there has been an uptick in his velocity. He sat 93-95 and touched 97. His mid-upper 80s slider may be his best pitch. The changeup feel also exceeded my expectations. He was able to get ks on all three of his pitches, which bodes well for his future success. I think he could fit into the back end of a rotation now, but there is room for more if his changeup can improve to be a league average pitch. (Video of Sheffield also available on my YouTube station)
Other Starters Considered: I almost selected Alec Mills over Sheffield for the fifth spot. Based purely off prospect pedigree, it doesn’t seem like a fair comparison. For next season alone, it’s a lot closer than one may think. Mills doesn’t project to be much more than a fifth starter, but he’s already pitched extensively at AAA. He is the more polished guy right now. His fastball, curve, slider, and changeup all sink in different directions. He can get in trouble when pitches are left up, which results in a shellacking. To some degree, he relies on hitters getting themselves out, but he has a good feel for all his offerings and looks major league ready. Elniery Garcia and TJ Zeuch have more ceiling than Mills, but I would like to see them “do it” at higher levels. I feel like both are high floor (4th or 5th SPs) too. Lastly, Walker Lockett is a really interesting guy. His build is that of a prototype pitcher, 6’5” 225 lbs. This fall his slider (83-87) generated a lot of swing and miss. I was surprised to see he had only a 13% K rate in AAA last season, possibly the result of a rash of injuries including his shoulder, back, and finger. Granted it was only a limited sample, but 22 k in 25 IP this fall feels more indicative of his true talent level. This someone to keep an eye on.
Sandy Alcantara (RHP) St. Louis Cardinals – There are split opinions on whether Alcantara can remain a starter. The consensus seems to be he will move to the bullpen where his stuff can play up and his command deficiencies won’t matter as much. His fastball grazes 100 but doesn’t get as much swing and miss as you may expect, largely due to his poor command and hitters’ lack of respect for his breaking pitches. Having said that, there isn’t much doubt he can occupy a closer role which is perfect for me in this exercise. (Video of Alcantara also available on my YouTube station)
Cody Carroll (RHP) New York Yankees – I am fairly confident you could drop Carroll into a MLB pen next year, and he’d be fine. He uses a leg kick to create deception and has phenomenal stuff to boot. The fastball sits 95-98 and gets good swing and miss. Hitters do not pick it up well out of his hand. His high 80s slider has sharp two-plane break and is an excellent second pitch. His third pitch is a mid 80s splitter with quality drop. I think he will be a high leverage guy with a chance to close.
Dean Deetz (RHP) Houston Astros – Like a fine wine, Deetz grew on me over time. The stuff was always evident. A hard fastball touching 98 jumps off his hand. It’s pretty straight, but it’s hard enough to get swings and misses when located. His slider has nasty break, and he uses it to both sides of the plate or as a chase pitch. At times he will miss with it glove side, but the command is much better than I originally thought. His change isn’t bad either. It’s interesting to note, Deetz was primarily used as a starter in 2017. He walked an absurd 8.2/9 IP in 45 1/3 innings with AAA Fresno as a starter. A ratio of 4 BB in 11 innings as a reliever this fall was a monumental improvement. It looks like a switch to the pen was the panacea Deetz needed. I read Houston added him to their 40 man so it seems likely we will see him in the majors in sometime in 2018.
Kirby Bellow (LHP) Arizona Diamondbacks – Can we get some lefties up in here? Yes, yes we can. Bellow is one of my personal cheeseballs. I wrote about him in more detail earlier this fall. He had excellent command of his fastball and slider, often pounding the zone away against left-handed hitters. I was later surprised to see him on Jim Callis’ AFL best tools list in the “under consideration for best changeup” section. (http://m.mlb.com/news/article/260341206/afls-fall-stars-game-features-top-tools/) Bellow only allowed two hits to lefties in 2017 in over 60 plate appearances. *Promoter drops mic and exits the stage.* (Video of Bellow also available on my YouTube station)
Kyle Regnault (LHP) New York Mets – A 2012 Indy Ball signee out of the Canadian-American Association, Regnault is the walking personification of the cliche “To be greater than the sum of your parts”. His fastball is below average. The change and slider, average maybe? The curve, possibly plus? Add plus location and a willingness to pitch backwards and you get a pretty good pitcher. Regnault has been very effective at painting the bottom of the zone and below the zone in my looks. To satisfy my own selfish curiosity, I am pulling for him to get a shot in the Mets pen at some point next season.
Other relievers considered: There are very legitimate arguments to be made for Art Warren, Nolan Blackwood, and Zac Houston over Kyle Regnault and Kirby Bellow. All I saw Houston do out in AZ was shove. I think he will move quickly through the Tigers system. He’s a big guy with plus extension that helps his stuff play up. Blackwood has done things like strike out Francisco Mejia on three pitches, which made an indelible mark in my lobe. Warren’s fastball/slider combo was among the handful of best 1,2 punches I’ve seen in the AFL. Ultimately, all three were a little too far away to warrant selection (none appeared above High A). Padres’ Andres Munoz is even farther from the majors but had to be considered due to his elite stuff. Lastly, I love what I have seen from Gerson Moreno this fall, but right now his command needs some work.