2012 Arizona Fall League Observations
I have returned home from the 2012 First Pitch Arizona Fall League Conference sponsored by Baseball HQ.
As always, it was great to reconnect with friends and colleagues, swap information, and watch some Arizona Fall League games. Here are some initial impressions. Feel free to ask questions and I'll try to answer.
**My impression is that the talent level in the league is down this year. Perhaps this is just in comparison to a stellar 2011 group (which featured Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Gerrit Cole among others), but for the most part I felt that the quality of prospect was a notch lower than I've seen in the past, especially on the mound. That said, there were many players of interest.
**Billy Hamilton: He's the fastest guy I've seen on a baseball field since Vince Coleman or a young Rickey Henderson. Hamilton is more Coleman than Henderson. . .he won't develop Rickey's kind of power. . .but he has better baseball instincts than Vince did. I think he'll be a very good defensive outfielder with more experience. Some scouts still wonder if he'll hit enough for his speed to be a genuine difference-maker, but he does a decent job controlling the strike zone and making adjustments. He's not punchless and doesn't get the bat knocked out of his hands, unlike many speed-only players. Count me among the optimists.
**Everyone I talked to loved Tigers prospect Nick Castellanos, so I guess I'm in the minority. I like him, but I don't love him. I don't think Castellanos' bat is as polished as most people say. He might turn into Josh Vitters if the Tigers rush him too quickly.
**Marlins prospect Kyle Jensen is putting up huge numbers (.365/.429/.629) in the fall league. A 6-5, 255 pound beast, he knocked 24 homers in Double-A but also hit just .234 with 162 strikeouts. General idea I heard is that he was feasting on bad pitching in Arizona. I think he can maintain power as he moves up, but I wouldn't expect much batting average and he's already 24.
**Another older prospect with good numbers so far is Rockies outfielder Kent Matthes, who hit just .214 this year in Double-A (with 17 homers) but is at .293/.379/.569 this fall. He has an excellent throwing arm that fits well in right field. Like Jensen, his track record is mixed, he is unproven against good pitching, and he turns 26 in January.
**Padres outfield prospect Rymer Liriano looked much better than the last time I saw him, handling the strike zone better, while avoiding trying to pull everything. The tools really stand out and at age 21 there is plenty of growth potential. I think I've been a bit too negative about him, and while he needs at least another 500 at-bats in the minors, I am more optimistic that he'll be able to refine the skills to make his tools meaningful.
**Braves prospect Nick Ahmed hit a home run about two hours after I mentioned in a Q/A session that I didn't think he had much power. I still don't think hitting will be his main focus, but the glove looks good to me and he is the type of guy who will have a 15-year career.
**The pitcher who impressed me most was Kyle Gibson of the Twins, who was throwing 93-94 MPH like he did in college, with good secondary pitches and impressive command. His velocity has been up-and-down since the spring of 2009, but I think the Tommy John surgery has restored him to what he was in the months before the '09 draft.
**St. Louis Cardinals pitching prospect Boone Whiting has a great statistical record and has been dominating the fall league (2.08 ERA, 18/6 K/BB in 17 innings). His fastball is marginal and none of his breaking pitches stand out as huge positives, but he keeps people off-stride. He's a smoke/mirrors type and unproven at higher levels, but there's a chance that he can keep it going like Mike Fiers did.
**Diamondbacks prospect Chase Anderson has also had an impressive fall league and his stuff is a tick better than Whiting's. I think he's a good sleeper prospect. I didn't get to see Astros prospect Nick Tropeano, but people who have made positive comments.
**The last time I saw Jarred Cosart in person, his delivery was flying open and he couldn't throw strikes. His mechanics are now smoother and more consistent. . .and he still can't throw strikes. The stuff remains first-class but I'd be wary of expecting a big breakthrough in Houston for him in '13.