The Arizona Fall League (AFL) is a league intended for prospects to be able to refine their skills and perform in a game setting. Individuals from all 30 MLB teams form new teams and then play against each other in front of numerous scouts and team executives. The season begins shortly after the end of the MLB’s regular season in early October, and ends in mid-November.
Last year, the Toronto Blue Jays sent players including; 1B Mike McDade, INF John Tolisano, OF Adam Loewen, OF Eric Thames, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, LHP Marc Rzepczynski, RHP Matt Daly, RHP Alan Farina and RHP Danny Farquhar. This year their list included; C Yan Gomes, 3B Kevin Ahrens, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, OF Anthony Gose, LHP Aaron Loup, RHP Wes Etheridge and LHP Evan Crawford.
With some exciting players to see, JaysProspects would have loved to be there in person. However, since we could not, we have first-hand analysis from Kevin Goldstein, the prospect guru at Baseball Prospectus. Goldstein analyzed many of the players attending the AFL and was kind to share his insight with JaysProspects.
Many are quick to wonder what immediate benefit playing in the AFL has for prospects. “They gain more playing time development and repetitions,” Goldstein stated, adding that it is certainly a nice message for players to get sent here. “It’s a way for the organization to tell a player that he is valued, and seen as close to contributing at the big league level.”
Players that join the league usually consist of prospects that are in need of more playing time, whether it is because they missed part of the season due to injury, a new position or are working on a specific pitch or role.“It’s different for each guy,” Goldstein announced.
With the Blue Jays having sent some high-calibre hitters, people wonder how accurate the stats are as the AFL is known as a hitter’s league. “It’s tough to look at the stats and believe them entirely,” the prospect guru admitted, “The AFL record book is littered with names like Scott Pose, Ken Harvey and Tagg Bozied. Between the environment and the small sample sizes, you really have to depend on the scouts.”
One question fans often ask about a player is how close they are from being major league ready. JaysProspects asked Goldstein when he thought fans should expect Anthony Gose, Adeiny Hechavarria and Kevin Ahrens to be wearing a Blue Jays’ uniform. “Obviously, there’s no guarantee that Ahrens ever gets there,” he indicated, reasoning that “In his four years as a pro, he’s yet to get to Double-A.” He then further added that “Gose is clearly much closer, but he needs to get some of that swing-and-miss out of his game.” Lastly, he indicated that Hechavarria is the closest of the three prospects but cautioned fans that they should not be expecting too much of the bat.
While it is hard to believe the stats entirely, Anthony Gose has produced some decent numbers thus far in the AFL. In fact, the young 21-year-old has batted .255/.349/.415 through 27 games so far. He has also hit five doubles, four triples, three homeruns and has drove in 19 runs. Gose still has to improve upon his pitch recognition; he has struck out 37 times but has also walked 13 times. He is still showing that great speed stealing seven bases while being caught twice. Goldstein also told JaysProspects that the reason these numbers are lower is not because of plate discipline, but instead, because of his pitch recognition. “Gose’s walk rate improved dramatically in 2011, which is a fantastic sign for a young player in Double-A, but he still gets fooled by breaking balls, and can look foolish at times, thus the 154 strikeouts in 147 games and the .253 batting average.”
There is not a Blue Jays’ prospect fan that cannot talk about Gose’s biggest strength – his speed. But when asked about Gose’s skills, Goldstein was also quick to acknowledge that it is not his only advantage. “Gose is loaded with tools,” Goldstein stated, “The speed helps to make him a very good center-fielder, his arm is an absolute cannon, and he has at least average power. He’s the total package other than the hit tool.”
Aside from Gose, the Blue Jays also sent one of their other top prospects, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. The highly-touted Cuban native signed a 4-year, $10 million contract on April 13, 2010. Analyzing his stats over his two year pro career people often wonder if he is as good as previously advertised. Hechavarria has had some highlights to his AFL season where he batted .250/.308/.444 through 19 games. He has also hit three doubles, four triples, one homerun and drove in eight runs. Like Gose, the shortstop needs to improve upon his pitch recognition; he has struck out 17 times while only walking six times.
JaysProspects asked Goldstein what Hechavarria needs to do to prove his worth: “He needs to prove he can hit enough. Not in any big way, but just enough where he can play every day and hit ninth.” He went on to say, “I think he’s close to that, but I think it’s foolish to every expect him to have any kind of considerable offensive impact.”
Every Blue Jays fan knows the Cuban’s greatest strength is his gold glove calibre defence. When asked what his other strengths are, Goldstein stated that “He’ll never be much of a hitter, but he can run a bit, and he really does have some juice in his swing. Not in any major way, but he could hit 10 home runs a year.”
Many fans are wondering the fate of former first-round pick in the 2007 MLB Draft, Kevin Ahrens, who has not been able to make it to double-A. While he has not had any outstanding years as a whole, he has surely shown that he does have promise for the future. His numbers from the AFL emphasize this notion.
The young infielder has batted .259/.330/.395 thus far through 22 games. He has also hit eight doubles, one homerun and drove in 12 runs. Like the aforementioned young hitters in Hechavarria and Gose, Ahrens could help himself out by improving his pitch recognition. In the AFL, he has struck out 22 times while walking only nine times. While Goldstein states that Ahrens has done nothing substantial to be overly optimistic about the prospect who will soon be entering his sixth year of professional ball, JaysProspects is remaining patient and optimistic about his potential.
Aside from Ahrens, left-hander Aaron Loup is another fan-favourite. Because of this, we were anxious to find out more in relation to Loup’s stats to how he looked in person. Loup has posted a 1-0 record with a 4.70ERA through 11 games thus far. He has held opponents to a .237 average, while also striking out 16 batters only walking one over just over 15 innings pitched. “Loup is a fringy, undersized lefty with a decent fastball/slider combination.” Goldstein stated, adding, “His arm angle makes it difficult for left-handers to pick up the ball against him.”
With that said, JaysProspects was quick to question what his ceiling should be if everything pans out. “He’s a potential reliever, but I don’t see him being anything more than a situational type,” Goldstein replied.
Overall it is evident that the Toronto Blue Jays have tons of potential pieces for the future in their farm system. The previous players mentioned, along with their stats thus far in their AFL season have proven that.
JaysProspects wants to thank Kevin Goldstein for his time and effort in informing us about players in the AFL. Please check out some of his work at Baseball Prospectus and give him a follow on twitter, @Kevin_Goldstein.