Arizona Fall League showcases future fantasy stars
By GREG AMBROSIUS
(AP) -- SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (STATS) - The future of baseball has been on display in the great Southwest over the past month, and judging by the level of skill exhibited around those Arizona diamonds, the game looks to be in sure hands.
The influx of young talent looks as good - if not better - than ever before. Fans and fantasy owners alike can rest easy knowing that the sport has a new wave of solid hitters and lively arms that should solidify the game for years to come.
The Arizona Fall League has turned into a special training ground for Major League Baseball, not to mention an incredible scouting trip for the serious baseball fan. Since its 1992 debut, the AFL has had over 3,000 players, with more than 60 percent of them reaching the majors. AFL graduates have earned nine MVP awards, three Cy Youngs and 20 Rookie of the Years.
Last season, 41 All-Stars were AFL graduates.
Much has been written about the talents of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, but here are some other players who impressed in the desert:
- Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado: There's a "wow" factor when you first see Arenado. The 2009 second-round pick of the Rockies is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, and appears even stockier in person. He's a natural third baseman for a team that desperately needs one. Just 20 years old, he spent the entire season at Hi-A Modesto and hit .298 with 20 homers, 122 RBIs and a .349 OBP in 134 games. In the AFL, he hit .404 with 6 HRs, 33 RBIs and a .434 OBP in 27 games. He looks like the real deal, but the Rockies were so patient with him last year that one has to believe the plan is to start him at Double-A and let him gradually progress through the minors in 2012. Don't be surprised, however, if he's promoted before September and becomes the everyday third baseman by 2013. He's going to be a special one.
- Wil Myers, OF, Kansas City: The Royals have a plethora of young prospects coming up, but the key is determining which ones are going to be real deals like Eric Hosmer proved to be. Myers should be one of them. At 6-3, 205, he stands out in a crowd, but his easy swing and long stride on the basepaths also make him noticeable. Since being drafted in the third round out of high school in 2009, he's impressed at every level. In 2009 at A and Hi-A, he hit a combined .315-14-83 with 12 SBs in 126 games. He followed that with a .254-8-49-9 line at Double-A NW Arkansas with a .353 OBP a season ago. He battled injuries last year, but has bounced back with a solid AFL season, hitting .366-4-18 in 22 games with a .490 OBP. Myers will turn 21 on Dec. 10 and the Royals would be wise to give him another full season in the minors, but he's going to come quick and he's going to stick once he arrives.
- Danny Hultzen, SP, Seattle: The second overall pick in the 2011 draft didn't get a chance to pitch in the minors last year, but he sure looks good so far in the AFL. He was the winning pitcher in the Rising Stars game as he struck out the side in the first inning and threw two scoreless overall. During six AFL starts, he's gone 1-0 with a 1.40 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP, striking out 18 in 19.1 innings with only five walks. The left-hander throws so easy, yet he hits the mid- to high-90s with his fastball. He projects to be the Mariners' No. 3 starter in a rotation of Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda, and that could spell trouble for the AL West over the next decade. He was impressive and can hit the bigs as early as 2013.
- Gerrit Cole, SP, Pittsburgh: Like Hultzen, Cole didn't pitch in the minors last year after being the No. 1 overall pick of the draft, but he has looked good in the AFL. He throws a 97-98 mph fastball with violence, but in the Rising Stars game he gave up five runs on two HRs and couldn't even get out of the first inning. Still, you can see what the Pirates liked, and at 6-4, 220, he will someday be a workhorse. In five AFL starts, he's gone 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 16 strikeouts in 15 innings. Pittsburgh needs a front-line starter like this, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him start the year at Double-A and become part of the rotation by 2013.
- Andrew Cashner and Chris Carpenter, RPs, Chicago Cubs: Both pitchers are intriguing due to the fact that they're now in the bullpen. Cashner was a first-round pick of the Cubs in 2009 who had a shoulder injury last year. He's back to throwing 100 mph and could be a potential closer candidate. Carpenter was a third-round pick in 2008 who struggled mightily with control last year out of the pen, but still hits triple digits on the gun. He seems to have harnessed his control problems in the AFL, striking out 18 with only two walks in 13 2-3 innings. It wouldn't be a shock to see Theo Epstein give these guys a shot at the closer's job with the heat they can bring.
- Jed Bradley, SP, Milwaukee: Picked 15th last year out of Georgia Tech, Bradley also was a late signee and didn't pitch in the minors. One scout in Arizona said he would have taken Bradley over Hultzen. At 6-4, 224, the left-hander is an imposing presence on the mound and has a smooth, easy delivery. He looked good in the Rising Stars game and could advance quickly in the Brewers' system, which suddenly has a lot of good arms.
- Brandon Crawford, SS, San Francisco: Offense has been an issue for Crawford, but the Giants may give him a shot to start again this year. In 69 games with the Giants last year, he hit .204-3-21 and played only 29 games at Triple-A before that. That said, he hit a very respectable .309-2-13 in the AFL. His bat remains suspect, but keep an eye on him nonetheless as he will inevitably get another opportunity down the line.
Greg Ambrosius is the founder of the National Fantasy Baseball Championship and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame and the Fantasy Sports Trade Association's Hall of Fame. For more information on the NFBC, contact him at email@example.com or go to nfbc.stats.com.
Updated November 18, 2011