Yesterday, we began our look at the Arizona Fall League rosters. The rosters, primarily made up of Double and Triple-A players, are a who’s who of baseball’s biggest and brightest prospects. The AFL begins its action on October 12 in a game that features the Scottsdale Scorpions — whose roster we looked at yesterday — versus the Glendale Desert Dogs.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the Desert Dogs.
GLENDALE DESERT DOGS
Who they are: The Desert Dogs are arguably the most stacked team in the AFL this season, with top prospects aplenty. Skipper Aaron Rowand from the White Sox organization will manage a bevy of elite talent from the Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals.
The Astros Francis Martes is the highest ranked pitcher on the squad as he is enjoying a successful run in his first full season at Double-A Corpus Christi. He is third in the league in strikeouts with 131 over 125.1 innings pitched. He has walked a bit too many — 3.38 per nine — but his arsenal continues to improve annually, as his fastball now tops out at 98 after being a high-80s offering just four years ago.
The Los Angeles Dodgers Cody Bellinger and Willie Calhoun bring a lot of power to the Desert Dogs offense. Bellinger saw a minor drop off in his power numbers after a 30 home run breakout 2015, but his strikeout rate (27.6 to 20.2 percent) and walk rate (9.6 to 12.7 percent) have shown tremendous improvements that make him more of an all around threat. Calhoun is becoming one of the biggest second base prospects in the game, despite being just 5-foot-8. (I actually caught up with Willie a month ago if you want more of his back story).
The St. Louis Cardinals Harrison Bader and the Dodgers Alex Verdugo give the Desert Dogs two more exciting Top 100 prospects in their outfield. Bader — the 2015 third rounder for the Cards — was having a big run in the Texas League before struggling with a promotion to Triple-A. Verdugo — the one time pitcher — is becoming a star in the field and the plate, already throwing out 41 runners in his three year career, while continuing to show advanced plate discipline at the plate.
Prospects of interest:
A White Sox organizational battery makes up some intriguing names to watch. Earlier this season, reliever-turned-starter Matt Cooper went on a hot streak that merited a write up here at Minor League Ball. He cooled off a bit since then, but the 24-year old has handled his promotion to Double-A even better, continuing to strike out batters in bunches and limiting free passes behind a nice four-pitch arsenal.
Zack Collins was my personal favorite power bat coming out of this year’s draft and he hasn’t disappointed. He is slashing .264/.413/.491 with six home runs and an impressive 34:28 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The main concern is whether he will be able to stick behind the plate, and the AFL could help with that.
Battling Collins for playing time behind the plate, was one of my 2016 Prospects to Watch, St. Louis Cardinals Carson Kelly. The third baseman-turned-catcher became an MiLB Gold Glover behind the plate in 2015 and the Cardinals were looking for improvements at the plate this season. His power has remained essentially the same, as has his plate discipline that sees him strikeout significantly more than he walks, but he is posting a career high slash line of .287/.343/.395 across both Double and Triple-A.
After a nasty run through the Texas League with Corpus Christi — where he went 5-2 behind a 1.83 ERA and a 72:11 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 64 innings both out of the pen and in the rotation, the Astros David Paulino is enjoying continued success in the PCL, which isn’t often said. He has been striking people out still, but has also been much more hittable, which isn’t so surprising in the PCL.
A pair of Nationals conclude the list. Austin Voth hasn’t had quite the season the Nationals had hoped for in his Triple-A debut, but it has still been respectable despite seeing a drop in his strikeout rate and a rise in his walk rate. He’s proven that he can make start after start and go relatively deep into ball games, so now all that needs to be answered is whether he is the next in line of seemingly All Star Nationals pitching prospects. Last year’s second round pick Andrew Stevenson had a great start to the season in High-A but has cooled off a bit since his jump to Harrisburg. It will be interesting to see how the LSU centerfielder holds his own against more advanced competition.
As I already mentioned, this team is loaded and there are plenty more to watch, like Paul DeJong and Jason Martin along with a boat load of pitchers still to be announced. Bottom line is the Desert Dogs will have a fun roster to watch this fall from the desert.