2017 AFL Most MLB Ready Hitters

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.

  1. CF Victor Robles (Steven Duggar, Charlie Tilson)
  2. DH Francisco Mejia
  3. LF Ronald Acuna
  4. 3B Sheldon Neuse (Lucas Erceg)
  5. 1B Michael Chavis (Billy McKinney)
  6. RF Monte Harrison (Kyle Tucker, Eric Filia, LaMonte Wade)
  7. C Sean Murphy (Will Smith, Tomas Nido)
  8. 2B Luis Guillorme (Luis Urias, Thairo Estrada)
  9. SS Nicky Lopez (Luis Guillorme, Kevin Kramer)

CF – For a fleeting second I thought about Steven Duggar and Charlie Tilson. The latter was among the most polished players in the AFL, but I wonder whether he’s good enough to be more than a fourth OF. The former brings a nice power-speed combo to the table, but there are some holes in the swing. I think we’re looking at a 25% K rate guy who will draw walks, hit for some power, and does enough to be an above average offensive CF.

Having said that, Robles was the clear choice. Since you are reading this I do not think I need to elaborate much. 70 speed, 70 arm, 60 defense, and 60 hit is not much of a stretch. Last season he had a cup of coffee in the majors and spent over a month in AA. In 2018 after a couple of months of procedural service time manipulation, we should see him in the majors.

DH – Since Francisco Mejia only played 3B and DH this fall, I am slotting him in at DH. He would have been the obvious choice at catcher otherwise.

LF – Ronald Acuna

3B – My man crush on Sheldon Neuse grew over the course of the fall. It apexed when I saw him play a passable short on two occasions. He has a plus arm and plays above average defense at third. At the plate he has good strike zone awareness and utilizes a mostly contact-based, opposite-field approach. Having said that, he is also capable of dropping his back shoulder and tapping into his power to all fields at opportune times. There wasn’t much debate in my mind that he is the third baseman I want on this team. Lucas Erceg warranted some thought due to some eye-popping tools. The arm is ridiculous and he showed off prodigious power. Overall, he was less impressive than Neuse, especially at the plate.

1B – The options at first base did not blow me away (cue Shania Twain “That Don’t Impress Me Much”). I ended up settling on Michael Chavis, a pseudo first baseman. Chavis looked below average defensively at third despite his plus arm. I think a move across the diamond is inevitable. I expect Chavis to strike out a little more than his minor league numbers would suggest, but his raw power is 70 grade, and he does well getting to it in games. The power may be enough to carry his profile even at first. It’s worth noting that Chavis has been lauded for his workman-like, blue collar approach to preparation.

Shockingly only 22, Billy McKinney feels like somewhat of a post-hype sleeper. He’s already logged over 1000 PAs in AA and half a season at AAA. The power emerged last year and was on display in the AFL too. Compared to the other 1B options (Naylor, Bradley, etc) I think he would acquit himself well next season.

RF – With Acuna and Robles inked into two OF spots, and that left a few worthy outfielders for one remaining spot.

Astros prospect Kyle Tucker has tremendous bat speed, but he also has also swung and missed a lot this fall. Often times he looked like he just wanted to go home. I heard the Astros asked him to focus on getting more loft in his swing and told him not to worry about about strikeouts. Glancing at his Fangraphs page, the numbers bear this out. Regardless, I think he still needs more seasoning in the high minors. If he were to break camp with the Astros, it’s not hard to envision a long, strikeout-ridden slump at the MLB level.

Eric Filia has looked great this fall, frequently barreling baseballs to all fields and displaying an excellent ability to protect the zone. Extension of his 2017 full-season performance in the AFL has helped to allay concerns about his age. He put up a .362/.407/.434 slash with more walks than strikeouts in High-A, but at age 25 (7/6 birthday), he was old for the level. Unfortunately, he provides little game power. I was surprised to see he had a 3.4% HR/FB rate in the hitter-friendly confines of the Cal League. Defensively, he isn’t too flashy. It’s about average range and a fringey arm. With limited power and a middling defensive profile, there is a ton of pressure on the bat, but thus far he’s been doing it.

Another viable option is Twins OF LaMonte Wade. Like Filia, Wade is a guy who can use all fields and control the zone. He also walked more than he struck out last year. It’s worth noting Wade was about a year younger than Filia and played at AA Chattanooga, a more difficult level and a more pitcher-friendly park. At present, I think Filia is the better hitter, but not by a large margin. Wade has shown more ability to get loft, and Filia has more consistent gap power. Wade is the superior defender, projecting to be a roughly league average.

After lengthy consideration and mental tug-of-war, I landed on maybe the most obvious candidate, Monte Harrison. Filia and Wade appear “safer” and more ready offensively, but I found it hard to ignore Harrison’s tools. I think Harrison would have hefty swing and miss if he were thrust into a MLB lineup now but his skills would also shine through at times. The game power is legitimate, and he would run into some homers. His cyborg arm and overall plus athleticism would be an excellent fit in this hypothetical team’s RF corner.

C – Sean Murphy is a plus defender with a double-plus arm and a bat that could play to average. Will Smith and Tomas Nido were decent alternatives, but for me Murphy is a cut above. I wrote more about Murphy here: https://baseballbellcurve.com/category/teams/al-west/athletics/

2B – Luis Guillorme, Thairo Estrada, and Luis Urias all played full seasons at AA last year, which makes them appear equally qualified to make the jump to the big club. However, they have played 474, 375, 347 minor league games, respectively. Guillorme is two years older than Estrada and three years older than Urias. Guillorme would play the best second base defense among the three. Praise of his hands has been ubiquitous in baseball circles. He makes excellent plays on the periphery of his (albeit limited) range. All three players have question marks with regard to their game power and sported GB:FB ratios around 2:1. Urias has the consensus best bat among the three, but I am having trouble imagining major league success next year due to his lack of power. He’s a very difficult evaluation. What do you do with a 70 hit 20 power player? There’s a chance Urias takes a step forward next year and makes this paragraph look like utter nonsense, but I am not ready to bet on it. In the long term, he is the obvious selection. For 2018 alone, I would give a slight nod to Guillorme due to his defense and the uncertainty surrounding all of their bats. I have to admit this is the selection I feel least confident about.

SS – There was no infielder who elicited more adoration from scouts this fall than Nicky Lopez. He’s a slick defender with good hands and a plus arm. The bat speed is plus, and he can foul pitches off until he gets something he likes. It’s a mostly linear bat path with gap to gap power, but for a shortstop you are taking this alllll day. On top of it all, he has plus speed. The more I watched him, the more I thought every-day player. I considered Guillorme (who played both SS and 2B) due to his defense and overall polish, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered whether Lopez was also the superior defender. The answer is yes. Besides, I had already used Guillorme to fill my second base spot. Pirates Kevin Kramer was given some consideration, but his carrying tool is his bat, and I have some qualms as to how it would play in MLB next season. The defense and overall package from Lopez feels like a safer bet.

 

 

2017 AFL Most Major League Ready Pitchers

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)

Starters:

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.

Relievers:

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.

 

 

11/13/17, 11/14/17 AFL Notes

AFL Notes 11/14/17

Monte Harrison (OF) Milwaukee Brewers – The term tool shed was made for guys like Monte Harrison. A college football recruit at Nebraska, he is a premium athlete. The speed, arm and power are all plus tools. I think Harrison best fits in right due to his arm. It’s an easy 60 maybe 70 from what I have seen this fall. I have Harrison 4.25 home to first, which is plus from the right side. Taking a glance at his Baseball Reference page, he stole 27 bases in 31 attempts last year. This leads me to believe he can read pitchers well and has base stealing acumen. At the plate, Harrison’s approach was somewhat erratic. At times he displayed good plate discipline, working counts by fouling off pitches and taking borderline balls. At other times, he expanded the zone by chasing fastballs up or a breaking pitches down and away. I think there will always be some swing and miss in his game. I was talking to Derek Corr (Twitter: @dcorr82) who brought up the issue of Harrison’s hands when he swings. If you examine the swing, Harrison starts with his hands high and dips them as it begins. The bat speed is plus, but this extra motion adds length to his swing. Despite the swing and miss, Harrison gets to his power consistently in games. It’s easy plus power, generated mostly by his strong hands and quick wrists. Today he crushed a Henry Owens pitch opposite field (the open face home run in the video). I think Harrison has a first-division ceiling and a very good chance to be an every day player. Even if the hit tool lags, the compilation of other tools will buoy his overall profile.

AFL Notes 11/13/17

Estevan Florial (OF) New York Yankees – If Harrison is a tool shed, then I suppose that makes Florial a Home Depot.  I’ll be here all week. The tools are “you need earmuffs loud”, and one scout cited Florial as a top three prospect in the AFL. The speed is elite (70). I have a couple sub-four home to first times and a number at 4.10 or faster. He can reach full speed by his second step, which is really impressive. Defensively, center field is the most likely landing spot. It’s worth noting his arm is also plus. Offensively, there were some concerning trends. Florial has a lot of swing and miss, especially on breaking pitches down. Right now he doesn’t appear to recognize spin, but Florial just turned 20 on Small Business Saturday (11/25) and is relatively raw for his age having come out of Haiti. For this reason many scouts are not worried about him long term. Just don’t expect a rapid Acuna-esq ascent. I think there will be growing pains. Rumors have it he’s shown plus raw in BP, but I haven’t seen it materialize much in games. The bat speed is excellent and his swing has upward plane, neither of which explain his high groundball rate. I suspect poor timing is the culprit. When he does barrel, the results are impressive. It just hasn’t happened much in my looks. Hard contact on barrels combined with his speed should help Florial sustain abnormally high BABIPs, maybe in the .350s. Overall, the raw ingredients are here for a first-division player. As is often the case, utility of the hit tool will go a long way in determining his overall efficacy. I think it’s a potential 50 at maturity.  Having said that, he’s an admittedly difficult evaluation and a high variance player who is far from major league ready.

11/11/17, 11/13/17 AFL Notes

AFL Notes 11/13/17

Kyle Regnault (LHP) New York Mets – Left-handed command specialist is the best four-word phrase I could come up with to describe Regnault. His fastball is not overpowering, but it can be effective due to his array of secondary offerings. He can run the fastball arm side in on the hands of right-handed hitters or straighten it. Regnault’s best pitch is a high 70s curveball with two plane movement and hefty depth. He’ll throw it either at the bottom of the zone or as a chase pitch. The curve gets a lot of swing and miss. Regnault also employs a low 80s slider. It’s not as good as the curve, but it serves as an effective change of pace. The fourth option is a low 80s changeup that has moderate depth and fade. He seemed to reserve this pitch for lefties and would run it away from them. Regnault’s overall arsenal works because he is able to command all four offerings and keep them down in the zone. I think he is polished and ready for a shot at middle relief in the majors.

AFL Notes 11/11/17

Adam Choplick (LHP) Texas Rangers – After losing out to Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson in the casting process for Game of Thrones’ “The Moutain”, Choplick resorted to his backup plan, a baseball career. He is a massive human, listed at 6’9” 250. With his colossal frame and long arms, one might expect natural plus extension, but his use of a high three-quarters arm slot undermines it. On the other hand, his height and arm slot allow Choplick to pitch with significant downhill plane. I can see this having divergent effects on his fastball and curveball. His high 70s curveball already has quality depth, which is augmented by the plane. Hitters should swing over the top or make contact on the top of the ball, meaning lots of ground balls. Alternatively, plane on his 92-95 mph fastball should result in fly balls. I think hitters will gauge its downward angle and respond with an upward-sloping bat path, allowing them to keep their bat in the zone longer. The uppercut path should result in more fly balls.

The curveball has been Choplick’s most-used secondary offering, and he commands it well. I think the command combined with its aforementioned depth make it a plus pitch. His slider was serviceable but below average. Choplick used it inside to jam right-handed hitters. Choplick has posted excellent numbers in the minors but has also been older than league averages. Next season he will be more age-appropriate in the Texas League, which should be revealing. Overall, Choplick looks like a pen piece. I think the stuff falls short of a closer profile, but middle relief or setup are possible outcomes.

11/02/17, 11/06/17 AFL Notes

11/06/17 AFL Notes

Sean Murphy (C) Oakland Athletics – Murphy has a well-rounded game with defensive skills that are likely to play at the highest level, not only giving him a high floor but also a good chance to be an everyday player. The arm is elite. Scout chatter is he threw out a runner by 10 feet with a 1.78 pop earlier in this fall. I have seen him around 1.85, but regardless it is a legitimate weapon and 70 grade tool. Today, I saw Murphy make a smooth back-handed stop and throw out Thairo Estrada from his knees. Murphy’s blocking ability is also quite good, earning plus grades. I can attest to his propensity for making quality blocks on pitches in the dirt. It is a regular occurrence. The jury is still out on the bat, but I am encouraged by what I have seen. Murphy swings really hard and has respectable contact skills. During the 11/02 game, he went oppo on a 98 mph offering from Jordan Hicks, and scouts in my vicinity asserted, “This kid does not get cheated.” Balls on the ground are normally pulled, and fly balls are hit to all fields. I think it is a potential 50 bat at maturity, which would make Murphy a first-division regular. Having said that, 2018 will be a big litmus test as he will have another crack at AA Midland. The struggle was real in AA last season, with a slash line of .209/.288/.309 in 217 PAs. Based on his AFL performance thus far, I am optimistic Murphy can figure out AA pitching and will find himself on the precipice of the majors next year.

11/02/17 AFL Notes

Jordan Hicks (RHP) St. Louis Cardinals – In 2015 the Cardinals used their third round pick on a high school pitcher from Houston, Texas who sat 92-93 and touched 96 with his fastball. That pitcher was Jordan Hicks. Now he’s a 21-year-old that sits 96-98 and can touch triple digits. I think we can throw that into the developmental success bucket! Today the velo did not disappoint, as my gun displayed one hundo. The velocity was sexy, but the pitch missed fewer bats than I expected (between today and my previous viewing). I think the underlying causes were pitch location and lack of movement (i.e. it’s a straight fastball). The secondary offering was a slider in the 83-87 range, which Hicks “played with” to vary velocity. It made sharp two-plane break and missed a fair amount of bats. I think it’s a potential plus pitch. Hitters looked to be geared up for the heat and swung over it. Also, I’m no expert but Hicks’ mechanics appear sub-optimal. Watching him in .25x speed, you can see the front leg and body move toward home well before the arm starts moving forward. I think the result is a disproportionately heavy burden on his arm (relative to many deliveries). Deliveries look more natural when the torso, legs, and arm all move toward home concurrently. The delivery combined with the stuff look like a golden ticket to the bullpen, which is not necessarily a negative. The Cardinals may have found themselves a future closer.

(11/9 Edit – The more I think about it, I wonder how much Hicks’ velocity gain is simply due to throwing shorter stints. I’ve read he was throwing roughly as hard as his HS velo in 2016 when he started games. He began relieving toward the end of 2017. Perhaps this is cause of the spike.)

Arizona Fall League Fall Stars – East Preview

This fall I have attended 27 Arizona Fall League games (and counting!) and have seen most of the players on the East Fall Stars Roster first-hand. My thoughts and opinions are formed by a combination of my own observations, discussions with scouts, and overhearing scout chatter. There were a few players I did not see enough to warrant a write-up. Sorry about those guys!

Pitchers

Yency Almonte (RHP) Colorado Rockies – It’s a loose arm with an easy delivery. His fastball sat 92-95 and touched 97 without much effort. The slider and change were around average. Currently, his command is below average. Some days he will look like a borderline-ace, and other days he will struggle finding the zone. Almonte profiles best as a starter due to the ease of his delivery. I think the most likely outcome is a back-end starter, but there’s a chance he could be a #3 if the command improves.

Adbert Alzolay (RHP) Chicago Cubs – Alzolay works with a quick tempo and controls the pace of play. I like his aggressiveness, but I have also seen instances where it comes back to haunt him when his command is errant. His arm is fast and the delivery is repeatable. The fastball has decent sink and can generate ground balls or strikeouts. It sits 93-94 and touches 96. Alzolay will use it in all quadrants of the zone and will use it to change the hitter’s eye level. His curve features mostly vertical movement with some glove-side movement. It’s a plus offering that is used mostly as a chase pitch or early in counts to steal strikes. The changeup lags behind his other pitches and is used more sparingly. I have seen Alzolay locate it inside on right-handed hitters. The range of probable outcomes here is a #3-#5 starter.

Kirby Bellow (LHP) Arizona Diamondbacks – I want to start with a slash line: .039/.180/.098. That is what left-handed hitters hit vs Bellow in 61 plate appearances last season. Granted it’s a small sample, but it’s not hard to see why. His arm angle and fastball/curveball combo are really tough on lefties. Bellow looks like a middle reliever, with the floor of a loogy. I wrote about Bellow in more detail here:

https://baseballbellcurve.com/2017/10/26/101317-101417-arizona-fall-league-notes/

Brennan Bernardino (LHP) Cincinnati Reds – The curveball is plus and he throws it a lot. The rest of the arsenal is pretty fringey. This tweet sums it up for me. I think the ceiling here is middle relief.

Brennan Bernardino

Tyler Cyr (RHP) Chicago White Sox – The fastball sat in the low 90s and touched 93 in my looks. His offspeed was a slider in the low to mid 80s. The arm speed was noticeably slower for his offspeed pitches. And he grunted audibly at times, suggesting this is a high effort delivery. I think it’s a middle relief ceiling.

James Farris (RHP) Colorado Rockies – I have seen Farris two or three times. He has a fairly pedestrian fastball (sitting in the low 90s, touching 93) and slider (83-85). He’s another guy with a middle relief ceiling for me.

Gerson Moreno (RHP) Detroit Tigers – Moreno is a potential closer whose fastball ranges from mid to high 90s with some natural cut. His slider features mostly vertical drop and his command of the pitch seems to have improved over the course of 2017. I think his floor is a setup guy. I wrote about Moreno in more detail here:

https://baseballbellcurve.com/2017/10/28/102517-102617-arizona-fall-league-notes/

Justus Sheffield  (LHP) New York Yankees – An almost major-league ready guy, Sheffield looks polished. His fastball has sat 93-95 in my looks and has touched 97. He throws a hard slider in the 85-87 range. It’s a plus pitch with good late depth and glove side fade. The changeup was better than I was expecting. It was in the high 80s, and Sheffield likes to use it on the right side of the plate (from batter’s perspective). Overall, I think Sheffield has a good shot to be a #3 starter and an outside shot of being a #2. I wrote more here:

https://baseballbellcurve.com/2017/10/25/101017-arizona-fall-league-notes/

Catchers

Aramis Garcia (C) San Francisco Giants – He is a bat first catcher who could have 50 hit and 50 power at maturity. I think the defense is passable but not special. He has a chance to be a second division player, but I think that is the ceiling. It’s more likely he settles in as a bench guy who fills in at catcher and first base to spell starters.

Tomas Nido (C) New York Mets – Nido has a well-rounded skill set that should make him a high floor player because he is not overly reliant on one tool. As a result, I don’t think there is a large gap between his ceiling and floor. The bat has improved in recent years. He does a decent job controlling the zone and does not strike out much. Also, I think the defense is better than he gets credit for. I have seen pop times in the 1.84-1.90 range, and he has shown an affinity for making solid blocks on balls in the dirt. I believe he can be a second division regular.

Infielders

Yordan Alvarez (1B) Houston Astros – I have only seen Alvarez a couple of times. He has been out due to an injury. He seems to have an advanced bat for his age.  Other than that, I cannot offer up any insight.

David Bote (2B, OF) Chicago Cubs – He been one of Arizona Fall League’s best performers this season. The question everyone should be asking is how legit is it? For me it looks like Bote has good awareness of the zone, but the bat speed is just average. I am putting more credence in his 470 AB slash of .272/.353/.438 at AA than his .357/.429/.607 slash in 56 AFL ABs (as of 11/2).

Thairo Estrada (SS) New York Yankees – The range of likely outcomes for Estrada is somewhere between a second division regular and a super utility guy. I have observed a plus arm and defensive skills that would play at shortstop, second, or third. The bat lacks pop, but Estrada makes a lot of contact and has solid plate discipline.

Luis Guillorme (2B) New York Mets – He has great hands and is a good defender. The offensive profile is limited by a flat swing and a lack of power, as a result he looks like a bench bat and defensive replacement. I wrote more about him here:

https://baseballbellcurve.com/2017/10/28/102317-102417-arizona-fall-league-notes/

Ryan Mountcastle (3B) Baltimore Orioles – As Chris Kusiolek (@calikusiolek) notes, Mountcastle seems to have made improvements at the plate this fall. Earlier in the AFL season, he was struggling vs offspeed pitches. More recently, he is doing a better job tracking spin. This 11/1 clip where he faces Argenis Angulo does a good job illustrating that. I am optimistic this improvement will result in a higher walk rate from Mountcastle next year and a possible step forward in his overall offensive game. I have heard concerns over Mountcastle’s arm, but haven’t noticed it as a below average tool thus far. It is something I am keeping an eye out for.

Chris Mountcastle Tweet

Sheldon Neuse (3B) Oakland Athletics – This is a guy I like who I think is a bit underrated on various prospect lists. Offensively, he can control the zone and has more of a contact-oriented approach than power-oriented approach. He can use all fields but has a tendency to go the other way. On defense, the arm is plus and he has pretty good hands. He’s a bit less agile than the average third baseman, but makes up for it with the rest of his game. I think he’s an everyday regular. I wrote more about Neuse here:

https://baseballbellcurve.com/2017/10/26/101617-101717-arizona-fall-league-notes/

Outfielders

Braxton Lee (OF) Miami Marlins – I think Lee will be a 4th OF / defensive replacement type. He is very fast (timed 3.6 on a bunt) and looks good in center field. He has made a couple of excellent diving catches in my views, one of which he was running full speed toward home. Those are always tough. At the plate, he lacks the power to be an every day regular.

Corey Ray (OF) Milwaukee Brewers – This fall has been a struggle for Ray. He has swung and missed a lot on breaking balls low in the zone. One might expect a more polished offensive approach from a college draftee. Overall, his frustration is palpable. Having said that, scouts still believe in the underlying skill set that made him worthy of the 5th overall pick in 2016.

Victor Robles (OF) Washington Nationals – Most of this will not come as news to followers of prospects. It’s not difficult to see why Robles is considered a top prospect in the game. He oozes athletic ability whether in the field or at the plate. The bat speed is plus, and he can hit for average and power. He can be had with well-located breaking stuff away, but overall this is a really advanced guy for his age. He could make multiple all star games if he reaches his ceiling.

Kyle Tucker (OF) Houston Astros – The bat speed is sublime. It may be the best in the league (Robles and Mejia also are in the argument). He pulled a 99 mph fastball from Jordan Hicks for a double in one of my looks, and he made it look effortless. The bat speed should provide Tucker with some margin for error as he adjusts to pro-caliber breaking balls, a skill that needs refinement at present. Scouts do not seemed worried about it. They believe there is room to add more weight on his frame, which should result in more power. Right now he has more of a Christian Yelich body type. When all is said and done, I see a first division regular with the chance to make occasional all star games.

 

10/30/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

Mitch Keller (RHP) Pittsburgh Pirates – If we are doing AFL superlatives, I think best fastball command goes to Mitch Keller. Today he was surgical. The fastball ranged from 92-97. There was a three-pitch sequence to Thairo Estrada that stood out as an impressive display of command. Keller started with an 85 mph changeup at the bottom-middle of the zone for a swinging strike. Then, he went to the 97 mph heat at the top of the zone. He finished Estrada with a 92 mph fastball that was down and away. I found this to be impressive because Keller appeared to be deliberately changing the eye level of hitters to keep them off balance. The curve was also quite good. It ranged from 78-82, generating some swing and miss and weak ground balls. Keller could use it to both sides of the plate. He left one up to David Thompson, who was not able to take advantage, but for the most part Keller did a good job keeping the pitch down. Overall, it was a dominant outing that displayed what Keller is capable of. This is a polished pitcher who should get a shot in the Pirates rotation at some point next season.

I did not take any video today, but I recorded Keller in his 10/24 start.

Albert Abreu (RHP) New York Yankees – It would not be a stretch to argue that Albert Abreu has better pure stuff than Mitch Keller. The fastball sat 93-95, without much effort in the delivery. The curveball is already considered plus, and Abreu could get swinging strikes with it seemingly at will. It would drop off the table, and hitters swung over it. His changeup had more drop than fade. This pitch was effective largely due to Abreu’s arm speed, which remained constant for fastballs and changeups (1:07 on video). As a result, the timing of opposing batters was thrown off. A scout sitting behind me noted Abreu had more confidence in his offspeed pitches than his fastball. The fastball command was inconsistent. Whether or not Abreu figures this out will go a long way in determining his efficacy at the major league level.

 

 

10/25/17, 10/26/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

10/26/17 AFL Notes

Gerson Moreno (RHP) Detriot Tigers – Having the ability to touch high 90s with his heater, Moreno is viewed by many to be a future high-leverage reliever. Today the fastball was 95-97 with some natural cut. There have also been reports his fastball touches triple digits. I don’t want to sell the arm short, it’s impressive! In my opinion, the delivery is not a thing of beauty, and there is some effort to it. Moreno looks like he is “shot putting” the ball to home. Conversely, he has been athletic enough to repeat his delivery. A low 80s slider is his top secondary offering, and it is another potential plus pitch. He made Braves top prospect Ronald Acuna look bad with one today. The slider features mostly vertical drop, and Moreno commanded it well. From what I gather, Moreno’s command of the pitch has improved throughout the year. The arsenal rounds out with a mid 80s changeup. This pitch needs some work but should be effective if it can get to fringe average, largely due to the disparity in velocity between the change and fastball. Overall, this is a potential closer that Tigers fans should be excited about.

Michael Chavis (3B) Boston Red Sox – My views of Chavis have been a mixed bag. On 10/23, he played first base and scouts remarked, “I can’t believe this guy is a third baseman.” They did not like his range. Additionally, they commented on his subpar foot speed out of the box. The best home to first time I have for Chavis is 4.39 on a max effort play. It is 40 grade speed. At the plate, the swing and miss I have observed is a bit concerning. It strikes me as oddly incongruent with his .282 average and 21% K rate for the year. There are a couple of possible explanations here: 1) I am getting overly influenced by a small sample size of at bats (I have seen Chavis four times). 2) The swing and miss is the result of facing stiffer competition in the AFL. Honestly, I am unsure what to make of it.

On the positive side, the power is legitimate, and it should play in games. Chavis has a muscular build and is capable of hitting home runs to all fields, which bodes well for his likelihood of maintaining power at higher levels. Against Phillies prospect Elniery Garcia, he went opposite field for a HR, not even appearing to “get all of it”. Defensively, the arm is another a plus tool, worthy of a major league third baseman. Overall, I have tepid feelings about the profile, but I still think there is enough for him to be a second division regular.

Michael Chavis

Spray Chart Courtesy of MLBFarm.com

10/25/17 AFL Notes

Henry Owens (LHP) Boston Red Sox – This fall Henry Owens has revamped his delivery, which now utilizes a sidearm slot. It has not been a good look, today included. Scouts behind me murmured his delivery looks rigid. The fastball sat 87-89 and touched 90, and Owens did not appear to have confidence in the pitch. He worked more off of his changeup. It’s still a pitch that will generate decent swing and miss, but it plays down because hitters have no fear of the fastball. The changeup usage was high. I was not charting the game, but would wager Owens threw as many changeups as fastballs. The changeup and slider blended together for me. There was not a significant/discernible difference between them. It looked like opposing hitters were biding their time, waiting for a juicy fastball to attack. Owens’ discomfort was palpable when runners got on base. He would slow to a glacial pace. At one point, I timed a 78 second period between pitches (with no pickoff attempt). Once a top prospect, Owens looks lost. The operative questions are: Where does this leave him? And where does it leave the Red Sox?

10/23/17, 10/24/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

10/24/17 AFL Notes

Kevin Kramer (SS) Pittsburgh Pirates – It has been a popular baseball refrain in recent years that defensive range is becoming less important due to advent of the shift and defensive positioning. Kevin Kramer is the type of player who could benefit from this trend. I see a guy with an average or fringe average arm but quick transfers, smooth defensive actions, and solid hands. Various reports I have read view him as a guy who is likely to move to second base due to his lack of range. I am more optimistic on his odds of sticking at short. I think he has a chance to be a second division regular. The bat is better than most of his middle infield peers. He can protect the zone until the pitcher makes a mistake and then take advantage. The power is nothing to sneeze at either. I think it’s fringe average, which isn’t bad if he can stick at short.

10/23/17 AFL Notes

Luis Guillorme (2B) Mets – There has been a book on Guillorme in recent years. Great defense. Good bat to ball skills. Limited game power. And phenomenal hands. In my viewings this fall, I have seen nothing to dispel these evaluations. He made an excellent diving grab/throw in this game. He reminds me of Dustin Pedroia in some regards because his range is a tick below average, but anything within his range is essentially an automatic out. He will make eye-opening plays on the periphery of his range. Guillorme is a 40 runner. I have timed him around 4.4 from the left side. His universally lauded hands allow him to make frequent contact and limit his swing and miss. Despite the contact, his swing plane has remained flat, resulting in a lot of groundballs. With only two home runs in 2041 minor league plate appearances, it is hard to project him as any more than a bench guy and defensive replacement. The lack of power is not playable, especially in today’s homerun happy hitting environment. If he can make a change that results in better power output, he could be an everyday player. It just looks unlikely at this point because evaluators have been making similar comments regarding his swing plane for years.

10/19/17, 10/20/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

10/20/17 AFL Notes

Nolan Blackwood (RHP) Athletics – There is a lot to like about Blackwood. The 6’5” righty uses his frame to his advantage to achieve deception. He caught my eye in a previous outing when he made Francisco Mejia look ugly in a three-pitch strikeout. The fastball sits low 90s and is thrown from a sidearm angle. Hitters appear to struggle picking up the ball out of his hand, which helps everything play up. His change is in the low 80s, and both of the aforementioned pitches have quality sink. Today Blackwood also busted out a 75-77 mph curveball. It is a pitch he reserves for right-handed hitters. It was not used in his previous outing when he faced three lefties. I was muttering aloud trying to figure out who Blackwood reminds me of delivery-wise. A scout offered up Dan Otero as a comp.

10/19/17 AFL Notes

Yonathan Daza (OF) Rockies – I have seen Daza a few times this fall and have come away impressed each time. Daza is a plus runner posting home to first times around 4.2 from the right. He hits baseballs with authority, and I would love to see his Statcast exit velocity data. Looking at his Fangraphs page, I found he only hit three home runs in 569 plate appearances last year. His physique looks capable of more. Before the AFL ends I am shooting to catch a couple of his BP sessions and get a side look of his swing to gauge swing plane. Even if the home runs do not come, I think Daza is a high floor guy who should be at least a fourth outfielder. It is not hard to envision him launching gappers all over Coors Field.

 

10/16/17, 10/17/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

10/17/17 AFL Notes

Shedon Neuse (3B) Athletics – If the announcer at AFL games is correct, this guy’s name is pronounced “noisy”. Baseball Reference could neither confirm nor deny. Neuse has shown me a lot this fall. He makes frequent loud contact and tends to shoot baseballs opposite field into the right/center gap. He is capable of using all fields though. He has a good feel to hit and awareness of the zone. I think the power will play to average because the approach seems more contact-oriented than power-oriented. I have yet to see him in BP, but I suspect there is more raw in the bat than he has shown in games. Defensively, he does not have the look of a typical third baseman; he is short and stocky. However, I think the industry consensus is he can get the job done there. I was thinking he has an above average arm. Then, a scout informed me Neuse used to touch mid 90s as a pitcher so it’s probably plus. This is a guy I am in on as a possible every day regular. (10/25 Edit – Today Neuse played shortstop and looked good there! He made a solid play on a tough grounder and showed quick hands getting it to first. The athleticism is better than I originally thought.)

Graphic From MLBFarm.com

Sheldon Neuse_HeatMap

10/16/17 AFL Notes

Nicky Lopez (SS) Royals – The Royals made a shrewd selection when they took Lopez in the 5th round of the 2016 draft. He has the look of a second division regular. There are a lot of average or better tools in his proverbial box. Offensively, he can control the zone and foul off pitches until he gets one that he likes. In today’s game he was able to take a Sheffield slider oppo for a double. The bat control is real. Ex post facto, I wasn’t surprised to look at his fangraphs page and discover he only struck out in 9% of his plate appearances this season. One fair criticism is his swing plane will not generate much power. On the bases, I have seen him in the 4.15-4.20 range from the left side, which grades above average. He looks to be a capable defender at short as well.

10/13/17, 10/14/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

10/14/17 AFL Notes

Kirby Bellow (LHP) Diamondbacks – Bellow is a lefty who stands on the far right side of the rubber (hitter’s perspective) and pounds the opposite side of the plate with fastballs and curveballs. He was extremely predictable but effective nonetheless. Bellow’s fastball was mostly 90-91 but one touched 95. His curveball was high 70s and is probably his best pitch. It was generating a lot of swing and miss. When batters were able to make contact, it resulted in weak ground balls. He sparingly used a changeup around 83 as a weapon against right-handed hitters. His arm angle looks really tough on lefties. Curiosity got me, and I looked up his platoon splits. Last season in a 39 2/3 inning sample at AA-Jackson, RHH were held to a .654 ops and LHH were utterly dominated. They only had two hits in 61 plate appearances, resulting in a minuscule .098 ops. Bellow should excel as a LOOGY with the upside of a more conventional middle reliever.

(11/26 Edit – I learned that Bellow’s breaker is actually a slider not a curve as I wrote above.)

10/13/17 AFL Notes

Dean Deetz (RHP) Astros – I really liked Deetz’s three-pitch mix. It’s definitely worthy of a major league pen. His fastball sat 95-96 and touched 98, although it has been somewhat hittable in my viewings. His 83-85 slider had hefty two plane break, but his command of the pitch waivered. His change was 86-87, and he could spot it to both sides of the plate. Overall, the stuff was impressive, but the command was worrisome. I think Deetz a guy who could thrive in a middle relief role. I also think he’s a guy who could cause your favorite team’s fanbase a lot of stress in a high-leverage role, resulting in a myriad of prematurely balding heads.