The September 1st call-up period is now over and while several good players may yet get promoted, it's time to turn our attention towards next year, and what better way to do that than to check out the Arizona Fall League (AFL). Many of the prospects who will have an impact on the 2016 season will be there, so we’ll kick this short series off with a look at some of the more interesting players on the Salt River Rafters.*
*Note – AFL rosters are still subject to change and I will note any deletions or additions in future articles.
22-year-old Abel De Los Santos is a former Rangers farmhand who has spent most of the 2015 season in Double-A for the Nationals where he has posted an 8.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 all in relief. The right-hander received a two-game promotion to the Majors back in July and was hit hard in his brief 1.2 innings of work. He projects as a middle reliever or possible setup man, throwing a decent fastball/slider combo.
Kyle Freeland was the eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft but has not seen significant action since being taken by the Rockies, and while he has not suffered any serious injuries, the lefty has had some issues with respect to both his shoulder and elbow. He has now managed to make his way to A+ ball, showing his plus command and ability to throw strikes with consistency. When healthy, he has a definite plus fastball/slider combo, and the makings of a middle of the rotation starter. The Arizona Fall League was made for players like him who were unable to get the full amount of work they needed to accomplish and this should help him to make up for at least a little lost time. Freeland, if all goes well, should begin 2016 in Double-A.
Cuban defector Yoan Lopez will also be making up for lost time, throwing fewer than 60 innings thus far for the Diamondbacks. He was shut down in July due to tightness in his elbow and is expected to fully recover. Like Freeland, Lopez has very good upside with multiple plus pitches and has a future as either a starter or reliever. His 4.5 BB/9 in Double-A, however, indicates his control, provided it was not entirely induced by his elbow troubles, has some room for improvement.
Nationals catcher Spencer Kieboom is an advanced hitter who walks more often than he strikes out and owns a good glove. However, despite his strike zone judgment, he’s hit just .248 and disappointed in the power department after impressing last year with nine home runs and 28 doubles in A-ball. At 24 years of age, he is likely on the journeyman path but could still make it as an MLB back-up.
Tom Murphy is the team’s second interesting catcher. The SUNY Buffalo grad has somewhat bounced back from a disappointing and injury-marred 2014 by combining on 20 home runs at two minor league levels and making it all the way to Triple-A. A solid defensive catcher, Murphy’s major flaw is his aggressiveness at the plate, limiting his upside despite his power skills. It is hard to see him as much more than a .230s to .240s hitter in the Majors.
Speedster Wilmer Difo spent a brief amount of time in the Majors earlier this season, hitting a mere .125. Coming into the season, he was known as a fairly solid contact hitter with modest plate discipline, plus speed and modest power. Much of that is still true except that Difo became tremendously aggressive at the plate, walking 3% of the time while making contact at a rate of just 80%. Yes, he stole 25 bases and somehow hit .279, but a .313 OBP from a sub-par power hitter is not going to cut it. Difo hit 14 home runs in 2014 and just two this season but may still have an inkling of power given his 21 doubles. The 23-year-old may now be on the utility infielder/pinch-runner path barring a massive turnaround in 2016. He’ll spend most of it in Triple-A.
20-year-old Rowdy Tellez was a late-round pick signed to earlier round money, and after missing much of 2014, he has bounced back in 2015 with 14 home runs between A and A+ ball. The lefty is limited to first base defensively, but at least he has shown a good batting eye and a quick bat, making contact over 80% of the time while still showing good power potential. Tellez profiles as a mid-twenties or better home run hitter. He could move up to Double-A and be one of the younger players there in 2016.
If you want to see some tools when you go to the AFL, check out Gabriel Guerrero. The Diamondbacks acquired him from the Mariners in exchange for Mark Trumbo this season. The 21-year-old has 20-20 or better potential but is an aggressive right-handed hitter with a penchant for swinging and missing too frequently. He’s simply very raw and very young. The Diamondbacks will probably have him repeat Double-A next year and will hope Vlad’s nephew starts to put things together.
My fellow former Yellowjacket, Daniel Palka, has provided plenty of lumber his last two seasons with 22 and 29 home runs respectively at A and A+ ball for the Diamondbacks. The 23-year-old has a patient, power-oriented approach, but he has seen his strikeout rates rise towards high-warning levels with his promotion at 28%. Given his age, Palka is definitely in need of a greater challenge and the AFL should supply it. The true test, however, will be Double-A.
Stay tuned next week as we take a look at another AFL roster.