2012 AFL Wrap-Up

I wrote an Arizona Fall League preview when rosters were announced back at the end of August. The league finished up play a few weeks ago, and the weekend after Thanksgiving seemed like a decent time see how M's prospects fared. The predictions/questions I had back in August now have answers:
  • Would Logan Bawcom struggle, but at least throw strikes? Yes. Bawcom had an ERA over 5.00 in AFL action and issued 5 walks in 13 innings. That's much better than his 15 walks in 14.1 innings for Jackson at the end of the season.
  • Would Bobby LaFramboise continue his stealthy stellar season? No. LaFramboise posted a 5.54 ERA with a 1.31 WHIP. With that said, he also had 17 strikeouts with just 4 walks and 1 home run in 13.2 innings, so he didn't exactly get hammered. LaFramboise was still added to the 40-man roster a few weeks ago, so I don't think much happened in the AFL that changed opinions about him.
  • Would James Paxton throw strikes? Not really. Paxton walked 6 in just 12.2 innings, which isn't horrific, but definitely sub-par. His ERA ended up at 5.68 too, though much like LaFramboise he racked up strikeouts (16) without long balls (just 1). Honestly, it makes lots of sense to me to trade Paxton this offseason. Plenty of teams are still high on him, but his injury and control issues make him expendable with the pitching depth the Mariners have in the farm system right now.
  • Would Carson Smith build on his lights-out second half? Yes. File Smith's name away now so you can impress your friends when people start talking about him next season. Nobody is talking about Smith but he did a darn good job out of the bullpen in the AFL. What impresses me most is that he struck out 18 batters in 15 innings with a 2.29 ground ball/fly ball ratio. Strikeout pitchers that keep the ball on the ground are rare. These rates, by the way, are extremely similar to what he posted in High Desert. Smith is a legitimate relief pitching prospect, and I'm convinced he's closer to the majors than his lack of publicity suggests.
  • Would Mike Zunino continue to crush baseballs? No. Zunino created a bit of buzz here and there, and to be fair he posted an .800 OPS. It's not like he stopped hitting, but .800 is a far cry from the 1.000+ freak show he put on between Everett and Jackson after he signed. Most telling to me was that Zunino struck out 20 times in 80 AFL at-bats, which is a sign he finally got overmatched a bit. He also might have worn down because this is probably the longest season he has ever played in his life, literally. There's no reason to temper long-term excitement over Zunino, but I think we can lay to rest any crazy ideas that he will compete for a roster spot in 2013.
  • Would Nick Franklin cut down on his strikeouts? Yes. His walk rate improved too. Everything across the board looked great for Franklin in the fall league. I still expect him to open up the season in Tacoma, but he is poised for a good AAA season. If the M's are among the league's worst offenses again, there will be people wondering why Franklin isn't up playing every day in the majors.
  • Would Vinnie Catricala rebound? Yes. He didn't rebound much though, especially considering how hitter-friendly the AFL tends to be. Catricala simply struck out too much to get back to his prolific 2011 self. So yes, Catricala was better, but that doesn't necessarily mean he was good.
  • Would Stefen Romero play? Yes. A surprising amount, actually, given that he was designated as a part-time player. Romero got in 11 games and ironically might have pulled some playing time away from Catricala. Romero got his cuts in too, walking only once in 46 at-bats! The cuts were mostly good though, to the tune of a .333 batting average and .886 OPS. I think he and Franklin could team up for a powerful middle infield in Tacoma, until one or both of them get called up.
Overall, this has to be considered a successful Arizona Fall League for Mariners prospects. A majority of them did well and perhaps made it just that much easier to believe the Mariners will keep improving.