Greetings. I still owe you a "players of the year" report. It's coming. As for now, let's talk about the Arizona Fall League, which commenced a couple of hours ago.
Per the league itself, "each Major League Baseball team sends six top prospects to the Arizona Fall League." Well, not precisely. The AFL is a smorgasbord of truly elite prospects, mid-level guys, organizational fodder and a handful of folks with MLB experience. For example, Mets' phenom Matt Harvey intended to pitch in the AFL until Tommy John surgery was unavoidable. Conversely, some players sent by Texas to the AFL were essentially non-prospects and released within a year.
Nominally, teams are allowed to send one sub-AA player to the league, but that must be more suggestion than rule, because Texas routinely ignores it. Indeed, four of Texas's seven players have yet to reach AA. The league is hitter-friendly, partly because of the environs and partly because teams understandably won't send young pitchers who've already endured full workloads (Luke Jackson, Nick Martinez, Alec Asher, etc). Last year, the league averaged 5.3 runs per team per game. So, while the AFL isn't quite the cavalcade of prospect royalty it's promoted to be, many of its participants are destined for greatness in the Majors.
Much as I appreciate the additional peek at prospects, I wouldn't recommend putting significant weight on how they perform statistically. The season is too short and the talent level too varied to infer much. Last year, barely-20 shortstop Hanser Alberto, batted a torrid .397/.426/.492, aiding his rapid ascent to Frisco (and making room for SS Luis Sardinas, who was almost assuredly bound for Myrtle Beach). Unfortunately, Alberto's fall campaign translated very poorly to AA, where he batted .213/.253/.287. A few years ago, infielder Marcus Lemon shredded the AFL (.343/.389/.647), but the following year he couldn't improve on his lukewarm introduction to Frisco. As for pitchers, I'm mostly interested in their ability to avoid walks and miss bats.
I don't report daily on fall/winter results. Doing so makes the games seem more important than they really are, and, frankly, I use this time to recuperate from writing every day for six months. That said, I do keep track of the proceedings on twitter, so follow me at @scottrlucas if you're interested in more frequent updates. The Texas Contingent Catcher Jorge Alfaro (Age 20.3, rookie / Low-A / High-A, .265/.346/.463, 18 homers, 18 SB)
Easily the brightest prospect of the group, Alfaro turned 20 just a few months ago and has scant experience above low-A. Still raw in most respects, Alfaro is potentially the complete package. He can hit for average and power, gets in the way of enough pitches to mask a mediocre walk rate, and he stole 18 bases. Alfaro also gunned down a respectable 36% of opposing runners at Hickory but lags in other defensive aspects. I'd withhold the Pudge Rodriguez comparisons for now: at Alfaro's age, Rodriguez was in Spring Training in 1992, preparing for his second Major League season. 1B/C Brett Nicholas (Age 25.2, AA, .289/.357/.474, 21 homers)
Drafted in the 6th round of 2010 from Missouri, Nicholas spent two years at short-season levels followed by a .285/.351/.413 line with eight homers in Myrtle Beach. Not bad in and of itself, but well below the desired output for a 24-year-old (mostly) first baseman. In 2013, Nicholas hit more homers than his previous three seasons combined, and unlike ex-Ranger Chad Tracy, he's maintained spot duty at catcher as he's progressed. Similar to Chris McGuiness, who is only two months older, Nicholas doesn't have any leeway; he has to keep producing to stay on the radar. At this stage, I don't think Nicholas is a strong candidate to be added to the 40-man roster. (On the other hand, Texas lacks a high number of must-adds this fall, possibly creating room for 1-2 dark horses.) He'll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft if unprotected.
2B/3B/LF Ryan Rua (Age 23.5, Low-A and AA, .247/.347/.525, 32 homers, 91 BB, 14 SB)
Like Nicholas, Rua was drafted out of college but didn't reach full-season ball until his third season. Rua, however, immediately displayed a staggering increase in power, knocking 29 homers in just 104 games and earning a late promotion to Frisco, where he improved to .233/.305/.384 after a slow start. He's still not a top prospect -- manhandling low-A as a 23-year-old won't suffice -- but now that's he's at an age-appropriate level, we can observe upcoming at-bats with less skepticism. Rua has played everywhere but catcher, center and right field, and a utility role seems to be his best shot at a Major League career.
RHP Ryan Harvey (Age 22.6, 58 IP in High-A, 3.41 ERA, 1.2% HR rate, 16% BB+HBP rate, 22% SO rate)
Not to be confused with Frisco hurler Randy Henry, Harvey offers a low-to-mid-90s fastball and low-80s slider. Texas drafted him in the 18th round of 2012 from Seton Hall. I liked what I saw in person last March, and for the most part, Harvey impressed in Myrtle Beach. On the down side, Harvey's control backslid considerably this season, and he was a punching bag during the final two weeks.
LHP Will Lamb (Age 23.0, 69 IP in High-A, 5.17 ERA, 2.6% HR, 15% BB+HBP, 20% SO)
Although drafted out of Clemson, Lamb wasn't a polished arm because he spent most of his time roaming the outfield. Three seasons in, he and the Rangers are still sorting out his delivery and role. Lamb dropped his delivery around midseason with mixed results. He allowed more hits but doubled his strikeout rate and kept the ball in the park. The new delivery appears to be particularly tough on lefties. Regardless of approach, Lamb badly needs to improve his control. RHP Nick McBride (Age 22.4, 113 IP in High-A / AA / AAA, 5.26 ERA, 0.9% HR, 9% BB+HBP, 13% SO)
Texas drafted McBride in the 5th round in 2009. McBride was promoted to AA in late May. I wasn't enthused, to be honest; he was really just getting by in Myrtle Beach, notwithstanding the 1.96 ERA. But, Frisco needed an arm (as did AAA Round Rock for a day), and he was tagged for a .355/.412/.468 line in 62 innings at the higher levels. Aside from 52 innings in low-A Hickory in 2012, McBride hasn't missed many bats. Here, he gets another shot at advanced competition. Like Nicholas, McBride will be Rule 5-eligible if not protected, a very unlikely event in my opinion. RHP Matt West (Age 24.8, 1 appearance in rookie ball)
I remember seeing light-hitting 3B Matt West scramble around the outfield in a 2011 intrasquad game. I remember thinking he'd be cut within a week or two. Fortunately, Texas instead placed him on the mound, where he showed immediate promise. Alas, three full seasons later, West has thrown only 47.1 innings in real games. Last year's attempt to rest and rehab through a sprained elbow ligament didn't take, and West succumbed to the knife in August 2012. When healthy, West profiled as a high-leverage reliever despite the lack of experience. He reached the upper nineties with his fastball and mixed in an often effective slider plus a changeup. He's already on the 40. Previous AFL Players from the Rangers
2012: SS Hanser Alberto, C Kellin Deglan, 1B Brett Nicholas (2 games), SS Luis Sardinas, pitchers Ben Henry, Jimmy Reyes, Ryan Rodebaugh, Ben Rowen and Joe Van Meter.
2011: SS Leury Garcia, OF Leonys Martin, 3B Mike Olt, C Elio Sarmiento, OF Ryan Strausborger, pitchers Miguel de los Santos, Justin Miller, Neil Ramirez and Johan Yan.
2010: OF Engel Beltre, OF Joey Butler, C Jose Felix, IF Davis Stoneburner, pitchers Fabio Castillo, Adalberto Flores, Danny Gutierrez, Eric Hurley and Corey Young.
2009: C Doug Hogan, IF Marcus Lemon, 1B Mitch Moreland, C Taylor Teagarden, pitchers Brennan Garr, Danny Gutierrez, Matt Harrison and Tanner Scheppers.
2008: OF Julio Borbon, 1B Justin Smoak, C/OF Chad Tracy, 3B John Whittleman, pitchers John Bannister, Willie Eyre, Beau Jones and Andrew Laughter. Michael Point
Yesterday, Dell Diamond fixture Michael Point passed away just three weeks after being diagnosed with liver cancer. He was 63. Michael covered the Express for the Austin American Statesman
in their earliest seasons as Houston's AA affiliate. He also wrote about baseball and music for the Statesman
, Austin Chronicle
and other publications. Michael was among the first to welcome me when I began writing for the Newberg Report back in 2007, and he wasn't shy about letting me know when his opinion differed from mine.
The Express are hosting a memorial ceremony
for Michael at the Diamond's United Heritage Center next Monday at 1:30 PM.