Arizona Fall League (AFL) rosters were announced yesterday. The AFL typically features a sampling of some of an organization's most interesting prospects in the upper levels of the minors. It's a bit of a guilty baseball pleasure to follow it, but future stars do hit the diamonds in Arizona on a regular basis.
The Mariners will send seven players to Arizona. Undoubtedly others will play in other winter leagues (Australia, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela all have leagues of their own), so this isn't an exhaustive list of players to keep tabs on in the off-season. However, it is our first glimpse of the M's off-season plan.
Here are the seven players, with some quick reaction to their selections:
LHP Danny Hultzen - Of course, Hultzen will generate plenty of attention and headlines (as he should). I am certainly eager to see him pitch as a professional. However, it's worth remembering that he hasn't pitched competitively since mid-June, and is yet to face professional players at any level. If he struggles, it's not much reason for concern. In fact, I'd expect him to take a few lumps. With that said, Hultzen is guaranteed an MLB invite to spring training, so if he dazzles...you just never know.
LHP Brian Moran - Hultzen is the southpaw that will get the attention, but in some ways Moran will be more interesting to watch. He got off to a horrible start in AA this year, but seems to have turned the corner and then some. Consider this: his pre-All Star ERA was 8.51, and after the break it sits at 1.60 (with fewer hits, home runs, and walks, plus more strikeouts). I think Moran is a dark horse to make the 2012 M's roster as a situational lefty out of spring training. His campaign will begin in Arizona. Then again, I had similar feelings about OF Nate Tenbrink when he played in the Fall League last year...so...yeah.
RHP Steven Hensley - I'm not sure what to say about Hensley. I've never liked or disliked him as a prospect. For me, he is the most puzzling inclusion by the Mariners. Perhaps they are going to have him try his hand at relief in Arizona, and maybe prepare him as a potential bullpen candidate?
RHP Forrest Snow - The former UW pitcher and 36th round pick has really taken to the pro game so far. 2011 is his first full year in pro ball, and he's already in AAA achieving some success. Snow was stretched out as a starter at the start of the year, and his strikeout rate hasn't dipped as much as might be anticipated. I am surprised at how aggressive the Mariners have been with him, and I wonder if they are setting him up for an extended look in spring training.
C Adam Moore - Moore's 2011 season lasted a meager 6 plate appearances, so this trip is about shaking off rust as much as anything else. No matter how he performs, the real value is simply in getting behind the plate on a regular basis in a competitive environment.
SS Nick Franklin - While Franklin will garner attention as one of the M's top prospects, I think the fall will be as much about getting back some of the playing time he lost with his freak concussion and food poisoning he suffered from quickly after his promotion to AA. I hope this is a sign that Franklin will be in Tacoma sooner rather than later.
OF Chi-Hsien Chiang - Acquired in the Erik Bedard trade, Chiang has really struggled since joining AA Jackson. While that's disheartening, especially given how he was raking at AA in the Boston organization, it's far from unheard of for a player to struggle with a sudden change of scenery. The Mariners like Chiang as a hitter, and it seems to me like they want him to end his season on a higher note than he seems poised to currently.
For me, there are two names on this list that are missing, LHP James Paxton and OF Vinny Catricala.
Paxton makes sense to me, because he was shut down for the season already. It was a precautionary move more than anything, given how little he had pitched the previous season before this one, and some minor injury issues. Maybe Paxton would have headed to Arizona under different circumstances, but it still would have been fun to check out his box score lines.
Catricala's omission is a disappointment. He has had a monster year. Moving up from High Desert to Jackson didn't seem to impact him at all, which is stunning. Catricala has flat-out raked this season, and it would have been good for him to face the MLB-caliber stuff that many AFL prospects possess. It certainly doesn't seem like the pitchers he has faced this year have been much of a challenge.
In the end, it's a one month "league" that's bonus time for development more than anything. Hard to get too riled up about any decisions made. Just last year, Dustin Ackley, Josh Lueke, and Tom Wilhelmsen were all participants, so this is a place that Zduriencik sends players that may not be that far away from the majors.