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2016 Arizona Rookie League (AZL) Preview

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With the full-season rosters being fully established at the beginning of April, the short season teams are just beginning to take shape.

Gareth Morgan in the AZL in 2015.
Gareth Morgan in the AZL in 2015.
Jake Rashkow

In about five weeks, some new prospects will get their first crack at professional baseball, in many cases giving up the aluminum bat and switching to wood. For others, all restrictions are taken off, and this is their first chance to play in a league where there are games every day as opposed to every weekend. There is another group of guys who are repeating the rookie ball level for either due to injuries or lack of production. Finally, there is the last group of guys, who are in rookie ball for a third or fourth time; they are fighting for their baseball lives.

Three Pitchers set to debut in AZL in 2016

Brady Aiken (CLE) - LHP -I have personally followed Brady Aiken all over the country. He pitched down the street from my grandparents home in San Diego, CA. He was supposed to attend Yavapi Communtiy College about an hour from my home in Phoenix. After being the number 1 pick in 2014, I was certain I would see him in the AZL.

To my dismay, Aiken went through one of the biggest draft gaffs involving the Astros and Jacob Nix. Whether you believe the Astros or Aiken, his arm gave out less than one year later at IMG academy and he was forced to have Tommy John Surgery. In 2015, he fell 16 picks to 17th overall and received a 2.5 million dollar bonus from the Cleveland Indians. This was about 4 million less than if he had signed with Astros.

Regardless of all the tumult I still find him to be an incredibly interesting prospect. He's a lefty, he's 6' 4, 205 pounds and he throws in the mid 90's. He's one of the few prep pitchers to have displayed command of three pitches, all rated in the plus to plus-plus range.

Walker Buehler (LAD)- RHP - Buehler was born in Kentucky and pitched collegiality for Vanderbilt. While there in 2014, he was part of a team that won the College World Series. He was drafted 24th overall by the LA Dodgers in 2015 and signed for a bonus of about 1.78 million. Soon after signing, it was revealed he would need Tommy John Surgery. The one year anniversary of his surgery is right around the time of opening day for the AZL. He should be ready by then, with the possibility for quick promotion based on age and previous pitching experience.

Blake Hickman(CWS) - RHP -Hickman grew up on the south side of Chicago and played for the University of Iowa at the collegiate level. He was drafted 202 overall in the 7th round by the White Sox in 2015. Hickman also participated in youth academies for the White Sox as a young man. Hickman signed with Sox for a $200,000 bonus but, soon after signing it was revealed that he would need Tommy John surgery. Hickman should make a few starts in the AZL before moving up the ranks.

2nd Time Around

Jahmai Jones(LAA) - In 2015, Jahmai Jones played more games for the Arizona League Angels than any other player. He was able to log 160 AB's with a slash of .244/.330/.344. He was able to rack up 16 stolen bases in 23 attempts, while legging out two doubles and three triples. This was not super impressive but, it does show that there is a lot of promise in Jones' legs, if he can get on base.

Ivan Andueza(OAK) - Mr. Andueza was really good in the AZL in 2015. So much so he was 1st Team all AZL, Twice. A pretty common occurrence in the AZL, Andueza started four games in 2015 and appeared in 10 more in relief. Due to his excellence in both roles he was named twice to 1st team as a LHSP and a LHRP. He was lights out in both roles, Andueza logged 46.2 innings with an ERA of 2.51. He struck out 44 and only walked 15 batters. He shouldn't be in the AZL too long, if somebody gets hurt in Single A/Adv. Short Season, he should get promoted.

Amado Nunez(CWS)- SS - In 2014, Nunez signed for a bonus of $900,000 from the Dominican Republic by the White Sox. In 2015, in somewhat of a surprise move Nunez debuted in the AZL. He battled a hamstring injury for most of the year and only appeared in 21 games. He hit .145, with 11 total hits on the year, and only one was for extra bases. He also made 10 errors in the field. I expect him to spend a majority of his season in the AZL.

3rd time is a charm

Gareth Morgan(SEA) -DH/OF - In 2014 Morgan hit .148, in 2015 he .225. He is still ranked as the 18th best prospect in the Mariners system according to mlbpipeline.com. Morgan made strides in 2015 but in 222 AB's he struck out 89 times, a total of 162 since joining the AZL mariners. By my math, Morgan is striking out 40% of the time. However, last season Morgan was able to get 50 hits, 21 of them being of the extra base variety. He was able to show a glimmer of power, that kept many people like myself still interested.

Jose Herrera(AZ) - C - Once a top 20 prospect, Herrera has taken somewhat of hit to his stock. He is still only 19 years old and not many top notch catchers are ahead of him on the farm. He hit .227 in 43 games in 2014, and .304 in 2015 in only 24 games.  He draws a good amount of walks but strikes out way to much. The most impressive thing about him is ability behind the plate. In 2014 he threw out 23 runners on 66 chances with a range factor of 9.1. In 2015, he threw out 10 more on 33 chances with a range factor of 7.48. He has logged 540 innings behind the plate and only given up 12 passed balls. I expect this to be his last season in the AZL if he can continue to flash his plus plus glove.