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2013 Arizona Fall League Preview: Peoria Javelinas

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Previewing the Peoria squad featuring top catching prospect Austin Hedges of the San Diego Padres.

San Diego Padres catcher, Austin Hedges
San Diego Padres catcher, Austin Hedges

Peoria is next on the list, and they kick off their season facing the Surprise Saguaros. The Javelinas are pulling from the rosters of the Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals. Only the Royals turned in a season better than .500, but Houston, Seattle and San Diego have top 10 farm systems. Lets take a look.

Houston Astros

1B Japhet Amador
SS Nolan Fontana
SS Jonathan Meyer
CF Delino DeShields

RHP Jonas Dufek
RHP Matthew Heidenreich
RHP Andrew Robinson
LHP Alex Sogard

Judging by the lack of quality prospects being sent to the AFL this year, it seems as if Houston is using this time to get looks on guys who could potentially break camp with the parent squad. Japhet Amador is definitely a mystery, as he brings his 6'4 315 lb frame out west. He's breaks the speed scale with a 10 but has put up huge power numbers in his career in Mexico (76 in the last 3 years). Any professional at bats will glean more information about Amador as he only has 43 to his credit so far. Jonas Dufek was a 9th round pick in 2011 and failed as a starter in his first two pro seasons. Converted to relief, he struggled at Lancaster (most pitchers do) posting a 4.28 ERA in 48.1 innings, allowing 9.3 H/9 and 4 home runs. He did strike out batters at a much improved rate of 10.1 per 9 innings while only walking 3.5 per 9. Once promoted to AA he threw 19.1 innings allowing only 1 run and 14 hits with 20 K to just 1 walk. Andrew Robinson was drafted in the 12 round of 2010's draft, plucked out of the college ranks where he pitched at Georgia Tech. He was blasted as a starter in Lancaster in 2011 which prompted a move to the bullpen. He did much better in that capacity and even posted a 3.28 ERA out of the pen in AA this year. Across 49.1 innings he had a 2.64 K/BB and a 1.24 WHIP with only 2.6 BB/9.

Seattle Mariners

3B Patrick Kivlehan
SS Chris Taylor
LF Stefan Romero

LHP Kyle Hunter
RHP Dominic Leone
RHP Brandon Maurer
RHP Carson Smith

Patrick Kivlehan is someone I think could really surprise people. His background is even more remarkable. He spent 4 years playing football for Rugters as a safety and member of the special teams unit before walking on to the baseball team his senior year. He played baseball in high school but gave it up completely to concentrate on football. His senior year he won the Big East triple crown hitting .392 with 14 HR, 50 RBI and 24 stolen bases. The 6'2 210 lb third baseman was drafted in the 4th round in 2012 then hit .301 with 12 HR, 14 SB, 17 doubles and 52 RBI in his debut season in the Northwest League. This year he hit .303 between both A ball levels with 16 home runs, 90 RBI, 15 SB, and 25 doubles. His .303/.366/.464 line was certainly aided by 266 AB playing in High Desert, so AA will be the ultimate test, as it always seems to be with Mariners prospects. Speaking of the High Desert effect, SS Chris Taylor made that transition successfully, bringing up a .293/.391/.383 line to the plate in AA Jackson. He knocked out 8 homers with 28 doubles and 11 triples to go with his 38 steals in 43 attempts. His combined season line between A+ and AA was .314/.409/.455 with an .865 OPS. Taylor was also the next draft pick in the 2012 draft after Kivlehan was selected. All three relievers Seattle is sending to Arizona had excellent years, but the best was RHP Carson Smith. Smith was selected in the 8th round in 2011 out of Texas State, but didn't make his debut until last year. He did so in High Desert and actually saw success as a pitcher, posting a 2.90 ERA with 11.2 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9 with just 7.8 H/9. This year, the 6'6 215 pounder was moved to AA for 2013 and he did even better, striking out 12.8 per 9 innings, walking 3.1 per 9 and allowing just 5.9 hits per 9 innings. In 50 innings he struck out 71 to 17 walks and 33 hits with just 1 home run allowed. Smith won Reliever of the Year for the Seattle organization this year. Jason Cole from Baseball Prospectus noted about Smith "(He) features two present plus pitches, whiffle ball movement on a 91-93 mph (touching mid-90s) fastball, and the ability to manipulate the velocity and break on his slider between 82-88 mph."

San Diego Padres

C Austin Hedges
1B Tommy Medica
2B Cory Spangenberg

RHP Johnny Barbato
RHP Dennis O'Grady
RHP Adys Portillo
RHP Keyvius Sampson

Everyone knows about Austin Hedges, so we'll look at some of the lesser known players. For example, RHP Dennis O'Grady, the replacement for RHP Burch Smith. O'Grady was drafted as a senior in 2011 as a 34th round pick out of Duke. He worked his way into the closer role for A+, posting a 3.86 ERA with 70 innings pitched, 69 K and 29 walks with 70 hits allowed and 10 saves. That translates to 8.9 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 9.0 H/9 and 2.38 K/BB. He will be 25 next year and will more than likely crack the AA bullpen. Johnny Barbato was a 6th round pick in 2010 and has been challenged every step of the way. He broke out with a monster year as a 19 year old reliever in Low A last year, posting a 1.84 ERA, 73.1 innings, 10.3 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 and 6.4 H/9 allowed. Bumped up to the California League at age 20, he regressed quite a bit to a 5.01 ERA in 88 innings with 9.1 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 9.2 H/9 but with a high .339 BABIP. He moved into a starting role in August and struggled in 7 starts with a 5.68 ERA, 6.3 K/9 and 1.83 K/BB. John ranked Barbato at #18 in the Padres Top 20 noting his "blistering fastball (93-96 mph) and good curve". Cory Spangenberg has the draft pedigree, going 10th overall in 2011. He was praised for his plate discipline coming out of the draft but that has since fallen by the wayside with a 26 BB to 72 K in 2012 and 40 BB to 112 K this year. He did post a solid .292/.346/.407 line between A+ and AA with 36 SB in 50 tries along with 6 HR, 9 triples and 23 doubles. Though he hit .289 in AA, he only had a .331 OBP and .366 slugging with 17 BB to 61 K. He's got speed and a good ability to get hits, he just doesn't have much pop behind him.

Philadelphia Phillies

C Cameron Rupp
CF/LF Aaron Altherr
RF Kelly Dugan

RHP Ken Giles
RHP Mike Nesseth
RHP Kyle Simon
LHP Austin Wright

The home of the cheesesteak is sending a pair of promising outfielders but I want to look more at their pitchers. All four are lesser known prospects, with Simon being the highest drafted (4th round, 2011 by Baltimore). LHP Austin Wright was selected in the 8th round of the 2011 draft and is the only starter being sent by Philly. He was fantastic last year in A+ with a 3.47 ERA in 147.2 innings. Promoted to AA this year, he fell flat on his face and produced a 5.92 ERA. The culprit is a 5.63 BB/9, as his control vanished. He allowed 8.7 H/9 and struck out a decent 7.3 per 9 innings, but a 1.59 WHIP is never good. He's got a stout frame, standing atop the mound at 6'4 and 235 pounds and he's a lefty which grants him a somewhat longer leash. Coming into the year his fastball sat around 90-94 and he featured a good curveball, but the control problems that he had in his amateur career came back to haunt him. RHP Kyle Simon came over to the Phillies in 2012 for slugger Jim Thome. Prior to that he was selected in the 4th round out of Arizona in 2011 by the Orioles. Baltimore tried starting him before the trade but Philly decided he would work best in the pen, and he certainly has. He only allowed 6 runs in 39.2 innings last year with the Phillies while striking out 35 and walking just 6 and allowing only 22 hits between A+ and AA. The kicker for him was getting almost 4 ground balls to every fly out. Back in AA this year, the 6'6 220 lb right hander posted a 4.45 ERA in 56.2 innings with 33 K, 22 BB and 58 hits. He also had a 2.91 GO/FO ratio. Limiting his exposure to lefties will be key as they tagged him with a .301 average and .812 OPS this year. Ken Giles is an interesting arm to watch as he is sure to light up the radar guns in the desert. The 7th rounder from 2011 sits 96-98 with his heat and has been known to dial it up to triple digits when he's amped up. There is definitely a counter effect of throwing in his upper ranges; his control is non-existent. The 6'2 190 lb right hander racked up strikeouts, finishing the year with 11.92 per 9 innings, but he walked 6.7 per 9 and an unsightly 6.31 ERA. He missed 2 months of the year with a pair of oblique injuries so he's looking to make up for lost innings.

Kansas City Royals

SS Orlando Calixte
3B Cheslor Cuthbert
CF Lane Adams
RF Jorge Bonifacio

RHP Jason Adam
LHP Noel Arguelles
RHP Angel Baez
RHP Malcom Culver

Jason Adam is the lone starter being sent to Arizona from the Royals contingent, and he worked through some struggles this year in AA, posting a 5.19 ERA (with a 3.97 FIP) with 7.88 K/9, 3.38 BB/9 and 9.6 H/9. The 6'4 220 pound 5th rounder from the 2010 draft was only 21 for most of the year so time is on his side. Zach Mortimer from Baseball Prospectus says that Adam has with "a fastball that works in the low 90s and can touch 94 with good plane, a power curveball in the 70s with solid-average potential, and a potential average changeup." I can't see the Royals pushing him to start in AAA next year after his struggles. He is not in danger of the Rule 5 draft, so it seems the brass just want to see him throw some more innings. CF Lane Adams has made a steady ascension through the minors after being drafted out of high school in the 13th round of the 2009 draft. He was as a stand out hoop star in high school but very raw as a baseball player. He started putting things together last year when he split the year between both class A affiliates and hit .269/.326/.395 with 11 HR, 23 doubles, and 19 SB. This year he continued building on that with a .265/.353/.415 line including 12 HR, 30 doubles and 38 stolen bases in 44 attempts. He has good bat speed and has strength, its just been the repetition and accumulation of at bats that have helped him progress. Malcom Culver is another interesting case. He was drafted as a pitcher but switched to 3B in 2009. He managed a career line of .218/.309/.307 and moved back to the mound in 2011. In 86 innings out of the pen this year, Culver allowed 57 hits, 31 walks and 77 K. He had rate stats of 8.06 K/9, 3.24 BB/9, and 6.0 H/9. He didn't walk the world, but he did throw 12 wild pitches and hit 6 batters, so you could put him in the "effectively wild" camp. Most of his season was spent in A+ Wilmington, but he did make a 2 inning appearance for AA at the end of the year, allowing 2 hits with a walk and strike out. This will be Culver's second trip to the AFL. In his first year he threw 5.2 innings, allowing 6 hits, 2 HR, 4 earned runs, 3 K and 0 walks.

Sources: Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America