The opening week of the Arizona Fall League has turned out to be my favorite week of the year. It’s non-stop baseball with some of the best positional players in the minor leagues. The pitching is always hit or miss as teams usually don’t send their top talent unless they need some more innings; usually because of an injury. The league might be a little down this year given the recent promotions of some of the best young talent to flow through the minors in a long time, but it was still an incredible time of scouting and catching up with old friends.
I saw every team at least twice and could have profiled dozens of players, but decided to limit my analysis to just a few. I did write a longer report on Tim Tebow. I hope you enjoy.
Tim Tebow (NYM, OF)
I love a good story and Tim Tebow’s has a chance to be a very good one. Here’s the headline: “Star quarterback in college overcomes the odds to become a major league baseball player”. Unfortunately, half of the statement will be correct.
I saw Tebow three times in Arizona and concluded that he has almost zero chance of making it to the major leagues. When my wife asked me how he looked, my raw response was…”He looked like the hot shot football player walking onto a high school baseball team.” His skill level was truly that of a bad high school baseball player. He has a weird all out “swatting” baseball stroke that couldn’t catch up to 87 MPH heat. He did walk a couple of times but I’m not sure how much plate discipline that demonstrated. He looked so uncomfortable that I just think he wasn’t sure what to do.
Once he got on the base paths, it didn’t look like he knew how to slide. On a soft grounder to second, he didn’t even slide into the base, he just kept running…and it was a relatively close play. I half expected him to throw a block. The most amusing play was he went on contact from third, and he kind of rolled/slid into home plate. Everyone in the stands laughed. It was funny…in a sad way.
In the field, he did catch a can of corn and got cheers. However, in several other situations where balls were hit directly to him, he simply let them fall in front of him. I’m sure many of you saw the face plant into the wall…yeah, it was that bad.
But just when you think it’s all a joke, you hear of the compassion he showed to a fan who had a seizure while asking for an autograph. I didn’t see it but I heard from some who did. They said it was genuine. One person said he was so natural. His words…”Impressive”.
You hear this all the time about Tebow and while his faith has always been a lightening rod, which I’ve never understood, at some point you have to believe that he’s just a good dude. I saw a guy comfortable in his own skin, talking with anybody and everybody and enjoying the moment.
While you could argue it was a side show, it didn’t matter, people showed up. On Wednesday evening, Scottsdale stadium had 1,700 people in attendance. People cheered, they wanted him to be successful. Sure there was the guy who told him to try hockey after he struck out, but there’s always going to be that type of “snark” out there.
One scout told me that if he really wants to take this seriously, he needs to lose 30 pounds to get some elasticity so that he can swing the bat properly. I think he was right.
Look, I like Tim Tebow. I think he’s genuine and the real deal. I’m rooting for him as I love a happy ending, but the Analyst in me says his up against tremendous odds and he’ll likely go down as a footnote in baseball history.
Austin Voth (Was, RHP)
It was my first look at Austin Voth and I came away less than impressed. He was sitting 87 to 89 MPH hitting 90 a couple of times. His slider was pretty good and it got some swings and misses but in general, he wasn’t fooling anyone. He’s at best a back-of-the-rotation starter.
I saw Miguel Andujar a lot during the season and he continues to impress me. He’s got serious raw power that is just starting to show in the box scores. He’s also a good runner and showed that while digging for a triple on Tuesday afternoon. He’s flying under-the-radar a bit, so if you’re in a fantasy league, it might be time to go to the waiver wire and click “ADD”.
Michael Gettys (SD, OF)
Please read this write-up all the way through. Do not stop in the middle. Michael Gettys physically reminds me of Mike Trout. He’s NOT Mike Trout, not close, but the size, gate and confidence reminds me of Trout. He has good speed (4.19 to first) and enough bat speed and physicality to hit 15 to 18 home runs. He needs to tone down his aggressiveness, but the skills are starting to translate.
D.J. Stewart (Bal, OF)
It’s hard for me to get past the body of D.J. Stewart. He’s small in stature and heavier than he should be. How’s that for being politically correct? The Orioles have put him more upright at the plate and he’s showing better contact. However, I just don’t know how much power he will ultimately have and without it, I think he’s an extra bat.
Luiz Gohara (Sea, RHP)
I was exhausted after a long first day of travel and games and wanted to go to bed. Fortunately I stuck around on Tuesday night to see Luiz Gohara. WOW, he was dealing. He sat 95 to 97 with a plus hard curve ball that nobody could hit. In fact, he struck out the side with the same pitch. I told the guy next to me…”You’d think they would learn…”. His response…”not when he’s throwing that”. He’s a big kid and might ultimately be a bullpen arm, but he’s a Dude for sure.
Jacob Nottingham (Mil, C)
Jacob Nottingham surprised me with his athleticism behind home plate. He’s not a great receiver yet, but he showed me enough to project he can stay there long-term. He has a good swing and it’s clear there is plus raw power.
Ramon Laureano (Hou, OF)
When I left Arizona, Ramon Laureano had a 1.667 OPS. That won’t last but Laureano is a player with speed and pop. He’s always struggled to make consistent contact, but he’s shorten up his stroke and with his bat speed, I think he should hit enough to be a full-time major leaguer.
Andrew Stevenson (Was, OF)
I was a big fan of Andrew Stevenson coming into the AFL and he did nothing to change my opinion. He’s got plus speed, can really hit and popped a long home run on Wednesday evening. A teammate at LSU with Alex Bregman, I don’t think he has that kind of upside but he’s a major leaguer and potentially a very good one.
Ian Happ (Chi, 2B)
Ian Happ can hit. The swing is smooth, more line-drive oriented than trying to sell out for power, and it all just works. The question will be how much power he will eventually develop? Based on what I saw, I think it’s more average power given his lack of loft. He could be an annual .300/.400 hitter, batting at the top of the order, while scoring 100 plus runs a year.
Eloy Jimenez (Chi, OF)
I had a chance to see batting practice with Eloy Jimenez and it was impressive. Most of his power is pull-side, but it’s big-time raw power. He does have a pronounced leg kick and the Cubs might tone that down as he progresses through the system. He did struggle with off-speed pitches but he was also one of the younger full-time players in the AFL. The upside is huge.
Brad Zimmer (Cle, OF)
I saw Bradley Zimmer several times this year and in one game at the AFL. He struggles mightly against lefties. On Wednesday, he struck out three times in a row against three different lefties. They were bad swings as well. I know he won the Bowman Challenge and has power and speed, but if he doesn’t figure out lefties, he’s going to be a platoon player and that will hurt his fantasy value.
Duane Underwood (Chi, RHP)
Duane Underwood has not been able to stay healthy during his career, so I was excited to see him pitch Wednesday afternoon in Mesa. The stuff was just ok with his fastball sitting 89 to 92 MPH with a decent slider and a curve ball that I thought was his best pitch. He’s got a very simple and clean delivery and he was very cool under pressure – maybe a little too much. He got hit hard but took it all in stride; maybe he should have gotten a little testy.
James Kaprielian (NYY, RHP)
The best pitching performance I saw was Wednesday night in Scottsdale with Yankees right-hander James Kaprielian. He didn’t look like he missed a beat from sitting out most of the season with a barking elbow. In three innings, he struck out six and gave up only one hit. The stuff was great with his fastball sitting 94 to 96 MPH with a plus slider that got plenty of swings and misses. He also threw a nice change-up with great arm speed that looked tough to pickup. Assuming he can stay healthy, he has the upside of a number two starter.
The Yankees future infield
Backing up Kaprielian was Greg Bird at first, Tyler Wade at second, Gleyber Torres at short and Miguel Andujar at third. Bird was rehabbing after missing most of the 2016 season and looked great. He has a great swing and even played a decent first base. He should begin 2017 as the Yankees starting first baseman.
Gleyber Torres showed his pop by going opposite field with a home run. He played the field great, even doing a great impersonation of a “Derek Jeter” jump throw. Having seen him a lot, he’s the real deal, a potential star, and should knock Didi Gregorious to a utility role by 2018.
I’m a big fan of Miguel Andujar and wrote him up here.
Tyler Wade is a nice ball player but is more of a second division or extra bat at the major league level.
Marcos Molina (NYM, RHP)
Marcos Molina was making his first start since having Tommy John surgery and looked ok. His fastball sat 90 to 92 MPH and he generally threw strikes. His secondary pitches were rusty with his slider and change-up were not that impressive. Additionally, his pitching mechanics were not very consistent. He changed his delivery throughout his outing, sometimes pitching from a traditional three-quarters delivery to employing a twist, ala Johnny Cueto. That said, he has a good arm and he’s a kid to monitor.
Craig Harris (TB, RHP)
I had not heard of Craig Harris until Thursday afternoon when pitching in relief he was hitting 96 and 97 on my gun. It was easy gas with a very simple delivery. In his first inning, he threw strikes but in his second, he lost his release point and struggled with his control. I spoke to a scout who had seen him during the season and believed his upside was a mid-rotation major league starter. From what I saw, I would agree.
Yoan Moncada (Bos, 3B)
I didn’t attend Yoan Moncada’s first game of the AFL where he went 3-4 with an opposite field home run. I did catch him on Thursday night in Glendale and he came down to earth. I saw Moncada several times this season and can attest that he has all the tools – bat speed, plus running speed (3.94 from left side – 70 grade speed) and a big-time arm. His biggest issue is his penchant to strikeout. He does expand the strike zone and struck out against both Frances Martes and Colten Turner on balls outside of the zone. I’ve been all-in on Moncada for a while and believe the upside is a top five fantasy player.
Harrison Bader (STl, OF)
Harrison Bader played well in the first week of the Fall League. I’ve contended that he’s a fourth outfielder and still believe that, but he showed some serious pop when he hit a long home run off Minnesota starter Stephen Gonsalves. He’s just about ready and fantasy owners should expect to see him in St. Louis sometime in 2017.
Stephen Gonsalves (Min, LHP)
I was less than impressed with Stephen Gonsalves. I thought he threw harder but my gun and others around me showed a fastball sitting 87 to 89 MPH, bumping 90 several times. His best secondary pitch was a slow curve that did get swings and misses, otherwise the Glendale Desert Dogs were on his pitches. He does pitch across his body so there is some deception, but I’d be more enthusiastic if he was sitting 91 to 93.
Frances Martes (Hou, RHP)
Frances Martes struggled in his outing on Thursday evening. He had really good stuff with his fastball hitting 98 MPH but he struggled to command his pitches. There is effort in his delivery and I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually moves to the bullpen. I know that the Astros are very high on the kid and I can understand why, but he needs to improve his control in order to meet his ceiling of a number two starter.