Last week, we began our look at the most interesting prospects selected in the Arizona Fall League with the Salt River Rafters. This week, we continue our exploration with the Glendale Desert Dogs. The Desert Dogs are affiliated with the White Sox, Astros, Dodgers, Phillies and Pirates.
Steven Brault (Pirates) enjoyed a successful season, actually performing better after his mid-season promotion from A+ to Double-A, increasing his strikeout rate and reducing his walks. Over 15 Double-A starts, the lefty posted an 8.0 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9, which is a good sign for a pitcher with decent, but not overpowering stuff. Brault is noted for his plus command and a decent changeup. Having passed the dreaded Double-A test, Brault will likely begin 2016 in Triple-A with a chance to develop into a #4 or #5 type starter.
Ralston Cash (Dodgers) finally managed to stay healthy for a season, pitching in 49 games. However, his days as a starter are now over and he is trying to make it as a late-inning reliever. At Double-A, he posted an 8.8 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9. He is a fairly hard thrower but needs to locate his pitches, his curveball in particular, if he is going to make it.
One has to root for a former 20th round draft pick like Jharel Cotton (Dodgers). The 23-year-old pitched at four minor league levels in 2015, averaging a double-digit K/9 at each stop while posting a walk rate of no higher than 3.0. The 5’11” right-hander’s longest stay was at Double-A, where he pitched 62.2 innings and struck out 10.2 batters per nine innings. Cotton is at his best when he works in the lower nineties and mixes a plus changeup and average curveball. He’ll begin 2016 in Triple-A and could be a mid-season call-up.
Nick Pivetta pitched well in A+ ball for the Nationals earlier this season, but he floundered at Double-A both before and after his trade to the Phillies as he watched his normally solid walk rate soar to over 5.0. In theory, Pivetta has plenty of tools, armed with a plus fastball and a solid changeup and curve. The problems here are mechanical as Pivetta has trouble consistently locating his secondary pitches. At 22 years of age, he could repeat Double-A in 2016. A move to the bullpen might be an intriguing option for the former fourth-round pick.
Former 14th overall pick Reese McGuire is coming off two straight disappointing seasons for the Pirates. While he continues to make contact around 90% of the time, the lefty has offered nothing in the way of punch (zero homers) and has barely been able to keep his OBP above .300. McGuire at least remains a plus defender and his glove will allow him to make it to the Majors, but overall his progress is disappointing for a former high round selection. The one ray of sunshine is McGuire’s age. At 20 years old, he’s young for A+ ball and still has time to develop physically and add strength.
The Phillies’ J.P. Crawford is one of the most exciting shortstop prospects in baseball. The 20-year-old has already advanced to Double-A, where he continues to walk more often than he strikes out and flash a plus glove and throwing arm. A former 16th overall pick, Crawford already displays a fair amount of power with 21 doubles, seven triples and five home runs. Long-term, Crawford could be a .290+ hitter who could hit 15 or more home runs a season. Crawford has stolen 12 bases this year and over 20 in prior seasons, but he has only average speed and should be considered a single-digit base stealer long-term.
J.D. Davis (Astros) jumped on the scene immediately after being drafted in the third round, hitting 13 home runs between two levels. The right-hander has continued his power-hitting ways with 26 more long balls at A+ ball and an overall .289/.370/.520 line. The 22-year-old has also impressed somewhat with his glove and for now projects to remain at third base given enough agility and a plus throwing arm to boot. Offense will always be Davis’ primary calling card, with 30+ home run potential. While he is a patient hitter, as is with most power hitters, Davis also strikes out quite frequently and as a right-handed hitter, that could be troublesome. It remains to be seen how good a hitter he will be for average long-term. Next year, he’ll be tested at Double-A.
Davis is not the only power source for the Astros’ farm system. First baseman A.J. Reed has had an even better season, slugging 34 home runs between A+ and Double-A while making contact at a rate of 80% or better and drawing walks at 15% and 11% of the time respectively. Given that feel for the strike zone, Reed has not surprisingly hit well over .300 (.346 and .332), dominating both levels of play. At this rate, Reed could take over as the Astros' primary first baseman by mid-2016. Just keep in mind that the lefty is a sub-par defender destined to be a full-time DH in the long run.
File Austin Meadows under the “yay he finally stayed healthy” list. The Pirates' 2013 first- round pick is a possible center fielder in the long run. The 20-year-old handled himself quite well against A+ level pitching, making contact 86% of the time while showing doubles power and plus speed (20 stolen bases). The only element that has not fully translated yet is his plate discipline as Meadows walked a mediocre 7.4% of the time as compared to the double-digit rates of the past, when he looked like a potential leadoff man. Meadows has been promoted to Double-A and will likely begin there in 2016. He should still be looked upon as a top prospect with 20-20 potential as well as the ability to hit for average and get on base.
Astros prospects have dominated this article and we will close out this piece with one more. Derek Fisher, a 2014 supplemental first-round pick, is yet another member of this organization moving through at a quick pace, seeing time at both A and A+ ball. A left-handed hitter, Fisher has displayed patience, power, and speed with walk rates above 11%, 22 combined homers, and 31 steals. While it is uncertain how well the left fielder will hit for average given his rising, but still acceptable (24%) strikeout rates, Fisher has the makings of a fine player with 20-20 or better potential.
Check back next week for another AFL preview.