Greetings as I am back for my annual trek to the Valley of the Sun and seven days of watching the youngsters at the Arizona Fall League.
This year was a little different as I was able to fly into Phoenix Monday morning and stay an entire week over which I caught nine games culminating with the Rising Stars Game Saturday night.
Which means I saw a lot of games and a lot of players more than once. I must say--as my Mastersblog entries over the week support--there was a dearth of dominant pitching, and that means I saw a lot of hitting.
So, let's get going with the players I liked, starting with Oakland's Grant Green, the club's first round selection in 2009. Blessed with a solid stick (.318-20-87 during his first full pro season in the California League in 2010), Green held extra interest as a potential shortstop with some pop in his bat. However, this year at Midland, Green split his time between short and the outfield, and that, per many experts, diminished his value. I only saw Green as a flychaser, and if that is his ultimate path Green still has nice value. Over the three games I saw him, he was 6-for-12, also reaching twice on errors, twice on walks, and nearly hitting for the cycle (HPB final at-bat in lieu of a single). Cleary he can hit, and if he can play short, Green can surely play left field. He does need to work on his walks with only 78 to 241 strikeouts, but I like this kid. He looks like a player.
Pitching was pretty lousy for the most part this time, but one exception was the Nationals second round selection in 2010, Sammy Solis. A southpaw, Solis is a big guy (6'5", 230 pounds) who worked three innings, allowing just a couple of walks while striking out six. During his first full pro season at A-ball, Solis went 8-3, 3.13, striking out 96 over 100.2 innings, allowing 102 hits and just 23 walks. As he develops, expect the hits to drop, the strikeouts to increase, and ideally the walks to stay away. Meaning keep an eye on this guy.
Maybe my favorite discovery in the AFL this time was Pirates future right fielder Robbie Grossman. Selected out of Cypress-Fairbanks High School in Southern California in the sixth round of the 2008 draft, Grossman is one of those guys who is not necessarily flashy, but does do everything right. Last year the now 21-year old spent his second season at Bradenton of the Florida State League hitting .294-13-56 with 127 runs, 34 doubles, 21 swipes, and 104 walks to 111 strikeouts. Grossman is exactly the kind of guy I love having on teams: does everything in a quiet under the radar way. Grossman was 4-for-12 in AFL action I witnessed.
Atlanta first sacker Joe Terdoslavich was selected in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, signing early enough with the Braves to log 70 games of Rookie and then Low-A ball, hitting .302-2-34 over 268 at-bats. At Lynchburg this season the slugger went .286-20-82 with 52 doubles and an adequate OBP of .342 (41 walks to 107 whiffs). Terdoslavich was 4-for-11 that I witnessed, including a pair of homers--one a three-run jack during the Rising Stars Game where he fell a triple shy of the cycle. The biggest issue for the Braves is where he will play.
Yet another flychaser of note is the Marlins Kevin Mattison, a 28th round selection in 2008 who has assembled .244-30-146 over four minor league years. Mattison had his best season to date going .260-8-49 over 130 games at Double-A Jacksonville this year, and though he was selected for the Rising Stars team (going 2-for-4 with a double and run scored) at age 26 Mattison's likely best hope is as a #4 outfielder, if that.
I am similarly unsure about the Cubs tall (6'4", 205 lbs) DJ LeMahieu who was drafted in the second round of the 2009 June soiree. Lemahieu spent time at three levels in 2011, going .358-2-27 at Class-AA West Tennessee before moving to Iowa and posting .286-3-23, and then .250-0-4 over 37 more games at Wrigley. LeMahieu looked competent enough on the field, playing first, short, and third. Yet, despite the size, he generates very little power, and I suspect life as a utility infielder is the best ahead for him
Getting back to the bay area with a couple of picks, Oakland's Michael Choice was the franchise #1 pick in 2010, and he too enjoyed a fine first full season as a pro in 2011, hitting .285-30-82 at Stockton at age 21 (he turned 22 last week). Choice walked a couple of times and banged a single during a regular game, then went 2-for-3 at the Rising Stars extravaganza. With a solid .376 on-base total at Stockton (61 walks to 134 strikeouts) this year, Oakland has to hope Choice will step forth and become a force in their outfield by 2013, and so far that path seems reasonable.
Across the bay, Brandon Crawford was pressed into service as the Giants were felled by the injury bug, and the truth is he does have terrific hands and is a very good defender. But, he could only hit .234 at AAA Fresno, and .204-3-21 at ATT over 66 games.Crawford has had a fine fall though, hitting .304-2-11 over 79 at-bats, and, I think if given the chance he can become a big league hitter. I like to compare Crawford to a young Frank White or Omar Vizquel, who were horrible hitters, but learned. I would not want to bet on Crawford, but I do have my fingers crossed.
Finally, let's close with the one other pitcher I saw who was impressive, that being Danny Hultzen, the Mariners first round pick (and second overall) for this year's draft (right after Gerrit Cole ). Hultzen started the Rising Stars game paired against Cole (Cole was tagged for four hits, five runs, and a loss over two-thirds of an inning), and surely got the better, earning a win with two shutout innings, no hits, a walk and three whiffs. The lefty clocked around 97 in what has proved to be his professional debut this fall. Keep an eye on him for sure.