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.

 

 

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.)