The Mariners will send eight players to the Arizona Fall League. They are listed below with some brief comments on what they might stand to gain, and what to look for out of them:
- RHP Logan Bawcom - Bawcom was acquired in the Brandon League trade. He has spent most of the year in AA, but has been effectively wild for the Mariners in Jackson. Bawcom has more walks (15) than strikeouts (13) yet still sports a 2.13 ERA. The AFL historically favors hitters, so I would expect Bawcom to struggle. I'd take struggles with strikes over struggles with walks though.
- LHP Bobby LaFromboise - LaFromboise is the oldest player the Mariners are sending to the AFL (he is 26 years old), but he might intrigue me the most. LaFromboise became a reliever in 2011 and has flourished in the role. He is a left-hander with a sidearm delivery that is actually quite effective against lefties and righties. He is a darkhorse candidate for a bullpen spot next season, particularly with a good fall league performance. LaFromboise is clearly on the M's radar since they sent him to the fall league for some more action.
- LHP James Paxton - I thought Paxton had the best chance of the big three to pitch in the majors this year. It looks doubtful that any of them make it, so I suppose my belief won't be disproven. Still, Paxton took a small step backwards this season, in my opinion. He had some injuries to deal with but what disappointed me most was a lack of control. Like Bawcom, I want to see Paxton go to the AFL and throw strikes. Paxton will be in the majors fast once his command improves just a bit.
- RHP Carson Smith - I think I will be paying the most attention to Smith's numbers. He's had one of the more interesting seasons of any Mariners minor-leaguer. Smith ran an ERA over 5.00 in the first half of the season, and is under 1.00 for the second half. Some of the fluctuations probably can be attributed to the small sample sizes that relievers have, but still, it's tempting to think that something "clicked" for Smith. Even though Smith hasn't pitched above A ball, he could put himself on the fast track to the majors with a strong fall league performance.
- C Mike Zunino - I am sure plenty of good reporters will keep us up to date on Zunino. He's been nothing short of awesome since he signed; I'd argue better than anyone could have hoped for. I think he will spend the majority of next year in the minors, splitting time between Jackson and Tacoma, but who knows? If Zunino keeps crushing the competition in every league the Mariners place him in, he might force his way on the big league roster sooner rather than later.
- 2B/SS Nick Franklin - I've fallen in love with Franklin in the few chances I've been able to see him in action at Rainiers games. His stat line suggests some struggles against AAA pitching (lots of strikeouts) but also some success (no dip in extra base hits). I will feel good about Franklin's fall league if he cuts down on his strikeout rate. I think he is ticketed for Tacoma next year regardless of how well he performs.
- 3B/OF Vinnie Catricala - Cat the Bat has had a bad year, plain and simple. He went from feeling like an unexpected fast-riser to a bust in the course of six months. The AFL will give him a chance to rebound and head into the offseason with some more positive production to look at...assuming he finds his stroke in Arizona.
- UT (2B?) Stefen Romero - Romero is essentially following the Vinnie Catricala path to prospect relevance. He had a nice year in low A in his first full pro season, then started this year in high A. He scorched the California League so bad that he forced his a promotion to AA, where he continued to torch the ball. Romero is on the "taxi squad," which means he only is available for a couple games a week. He probably won't get much playing time in the AFL, but he's scheduled to be there.
The Mariners just got done getting crushed by the Twins 9-0. Here is hoping this list of eight players take away some of the sting.
AFL performances are fun to follow, but not all that important in the grand scheme of things. More than anything, the league gives prospects a bonus month of development against a different cross-section of talent than they face in usual minor leagues, both for better and for worse. There is more talent on AFL fields, but less polish. The biggest thing we find out in the AFL happens when the rosters are announced. Now we know who the Mariners want to push with an extra month of development.