My annual trip to the Arizona Fall League (AFL) has become my scouting highlight of the year. While I go to a ton of games throughout the year, it can be hit or miss in terms of seeing players that actually might make the big leagues. Since the AFL attracts some of the best talent in the minors, most of the player’s appearing in games will eventually get their chance at the big league level; some as soon as next year.
While many won’t make it beyond a utility player or middle reliever, others will become household names. In the past five years, I’ve seen Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell to name just a few.
Below are the notes from the first six games I scouted. The only player I didn’t get a chance to see on my advanced scout list was A.J. Reed. I did get a chance to see him in the California League in April and in a nutshell, he’s a big dude that can really hit. Think of Matt Adams with a better hit tool and similar raw power.
I hope you enjoy the notes and as always, please give me your thoughts.
Jake Bauers (TB, 1B/RF)
I’ve long been a fan of Jake Bauers. He can flat out hit. He’s patient at the plate and will not chase bad pitches working into deep counts along the way. His swing is level, so I still question how much power he will eventually develop. I do think it was interesting that he played right field in the game I scouted. It was the first time I believe he played there in his career. The problem is if his power doesn’t play at first, it likely won’t play in right either.
Lewis Brinson (Tex, OF)
Tall, lean and athletic, Lewis Brinson looks right out of central casting. While he struck out twice in the first game I saw him, he worked the count well and battled. Brinson also hit two balls on the screws, one to the warning track and the other snagged by a terrific play by Tyler Smith. The improvements that Brinson has made over the past two years look real, giving him a chance to be an elite fantasy player in the future.
Wilson Contreras (CHC, C)
Wilson Contreras got the lone hit off Alex Reyes as he smacked a 98 MPH fastball to center field. It was my second look at the Chicago catcher and it looks like his breakout campaign in 2015 could indeed by real. He provided a good target all night and I got a pop time of 1.85 to second to nail Lewis Brinson trying to steal second.
Jacob Esch (Mia, RHP)
Jacob Esch battled Alex Reyes pitch-for-pitch and while not nearly as dominating, was also very impressive. His fastball sat 91 to 92 MPH (T94) with a plus change-up that fooled hitters throughout his outing. The curve ball wasn’t as good but showed good depth and shape and sat 76 to 78 MPH. I was impressed and could see Esch as a number four starter in the big leagues.
Clint Frazier (Cle, OF)
It was my first time seeing Clint Frazier and I was surprised by how stocky he was. There is definitely strength in his legs and that combined with his impressive bat speed should allow him to hit for plus power in the future. He did struggle with spin when I saw him and was anxious on a lot of pitches. There is a clearly talent but the approach still needs some work.
Kyle Freeland (Col, LHP)
Well that was ugly. Kyle Freeland didn’t last an inning in his opening night outing where he wasn’t fooling anybody. In 0.2 innings, he gave up five hits, two walks, and six earned runs including two long home runs. The fastball looked good at 92 to 94 MPH but his slider and change-up did absolutely nothing and he got crushed.
Gabby Guerrero (Ari, OF)
From the lack of batting gloves to the high waist, Gabby Guerrero looks just like his famous uncle. Also like his uncle, he swings at everything but doesn’t have the extra hand-eye coordination that made Vlad special. He did show his plus power in hitting a long home run but I still have reservations about how good of a major leaguer he will be.
Casey Gillaspie (TB, DH/1B)
I really like Casey Gillaspie. He handles the bat exceptionally well with a nice swing. He looks like he’ll have more power from the left side as he has a bit more hip rotation. At first base, he made all the plays but lacked the athleticism to profile as a plus defender.
JaCoby Jones (Det, SS)
When I wrote about JaCoby Jones in this year’s Detroit Top 10 (not published yet), I said that he was “a nice pull for the Tigers”. After seeing him Wednesday night hit two long home runs that might be an understatement. He’s athletic, strong with a nice swing and chance to hit for average to above-average power at the highest level. He’s also a good runner with a chance to steal 15 to 20 bases. If you add it all up, the ceiling is a 20 HR/20 SB player that nobody is talking about.
Sean Manaea (Oak, LHP)
I saw Sen Manaea early this year when he was still with the Kansas City Royals and my AFL notes were pretty much the same. He has a great delivery, good velocity (92 to 93 MPH, T95) early in his outing but wasn’t able to hold it; sitting 90 to 92 MPH by the fourth inning. His secondary pitches are very good with his curve ball being a plus offering. He’s going to be a very good big league pitcher with an upside of a solid number three starter, maybe more playing half his games in Oakland.
Austin Meadows (Pit, OF)
Austin Meadows struggled against Manaea, striking out in his first at-bat and hitting a weak grounder to short in his second. His setup was quiet and he showed a lot of patience before he eventually struck out.
Reese McGuire (Pit, C)
Reese McGuire can really catch. He moves exceptional well giving his pitcher a great target. While I didn’t see a center field view, he is quiet behind the plate, so I’m guessing he frames well. Offensively he has a very simple swing but his batting stance and swing plane suggest more doubles than home run power.
Adalberto Mejia (SF, LHP)
Adalberto Mejia pitched well sitting 90 to 92 MPH with a really nice curve and change-up. He battled all night, keeping hitters at-bay. He pitched into the fifth inning and his ending stat line did not give his outing justice. He was very good.
D.J. Peterson (Sea, 1B)
It was my first time seeing D.J. Peterson and from a physical standpoint, he’s got the size and strength of a power hitting first baseman. He played with conservative energy, granted it was hot, but I would have like to see him run out balls better. He did connect on a solid double and showed the kind of strength that allowed him to hit 31 home runs last year.
Michael Reed (Mil, OF)
Michael Reed physicality stood out as he was stockier than I remembered. He went 0-4 in the game I scouted him but showed good bat control. He did show plus speed to first (4.19 timed) trying to beat out a hit.
Alex Reyes (Stl, RHP)
I’ve made no bones about my love for Alex Reyes. Assuming he stays healthy, he has a chance to be an Ace and one of the best pitchers in baseball. In his first outing of the AFL on Thursday night, he did everything to validate that opinion. He came out in the first inning sitting 96 to 98 MPH (T99) with his fastball, striking out the side. He threw a hard change-up at 88 to 90 MPH that had excellent fade. In the second, he unleashed his curve ball that had the scout section looking at each other and grinning. It’s a wicked pitch. He struck out five over 3.2 IP, giving up one hit and two walks.
Control continues to be his biggest issue. When he’s locked in, the mechanics are excellent but he overthrew a couple of pitches and then lost his release point. It would take him several pitches to lock back in and you could see him fighting himself to get it back. It’s all there and it could be coming to St. Louis next year. He’ll be inconsistent for the next year or two; but once he figures it all out…watch out.
Gary Sanchez (NYY, C)
I’ve seen Gary Sanchez a ton in his minor league and have concluded that his bat could be special. He exploded on a Lucas Sims 93 MPH fastball that was up in the zone for a long home run. He showed plus bat speed in the swing while not trying to pull the ball. He simply went where it was pitched. As usual, his catching skills continue to be fringe-average. Then again, Alex Reyes had no problem throwing to him.
Lucas Sims (Atl, RHP)
Lucas Sims was sitting 92 to 93 MPH for his two innings of work, hitting 94 MPH several times and 95 once. The fastball was solid with good movement but he could not get his off speed pitches over and therefore ran into a lot of trouble. He was hit hard, giving up three hits, three earned runs including a long bomb by Gary Sanchez.
Dominic Smith (NYM, 1B)
Our New York Mets Top 10 has not yet been published, but I went on and on about Dom Smith. After seeing him again, I should add another 500 words. The dude can hit, he can field, and he plays hard.
I still question how much future power he will have as he crouches a bit too much at the plate. If the Mets stood him more upright, I think the power would come through. However, they probably don’t want to mess with the stroke as it could be special. In summary, Smith makes hard contact to all fields, plays hard and showed plus skills around first base with really soft hands.
Bubba Starling (KC, OF)
As with Lewis Brinson, Bubba Starling looks the part but struggled to recognize spin in the first game I saw him play. He made better contact in the second game going 3-4, but I’m still not convinced that Starling is anything more than a second division player. Of course as I write these notes, he just hit his second home run of the game. Again, he looks the part but I’m not convinced yet of the hit-tool.
Raimel Tapia (Col, OF)
Raimel Tapia can really handle the bat with plus bat speed. He attacked a 94 MPH pitch in hit it about 400 feet foul. My problem with him continues to be his stance. He gets low to the ground and I just don’t think he’ll hit for much power like that. He clearly has the strength and bat speed, but if the Rockies would put him more upright, I think the results would be better.
Rowdy Tellez (Tor, DH)
It was my first look at Tellez and I came away impressed. First, he’s a big boy and every bit his listed 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds. I liked the swing as he showed very good barrel control and went the opposite way on several balls pitched outside. There’s obviously big-time power but I think he’ll hit for average as well. In the second game, he played first and it was ok. Not great foot work but I think it will be serviceable, particularly if he hits the way it looks like he can.
Luke Weaver (Stl, RHP)
Luke Weaver came out firing 96 MPH in his first inning of relief of Lucas Sims. It was a plus fastball that snuck up on batters. He dialed it back a little in his second and third inning but the stuff was electric. He complemented it with solid secondary pitches; an upper 80’s change-up and a 78 MPH hook that was nasty. Overall, he outshined Lucas Sims by a wide margin.
Yoan Lopez (Ari, RHP)
Yoan Lopez looked great in the four innings he pitched on opening night. He sat 92 to 94 MPH with his fastball, a plus, maybe double-plus hard curve ball that I don’t think anybody hit all night. The mechanics are clean and smooth – he looked really good…with one problem. His fastball was straight and the opposing team jumped all over it. While they couldn’t touch his hard curve ball, they hit the fastball early and often.
It was a tough outing for me. I liked the body, the delivery and the secondary pitches, but the fastball needs work.