Here we are on opening day of the 2015 Arizona Fall League season and what better way to send it off than to conclude our season preview series with a look at the sixth AFL team, the Scottsdale Scorpions. The Scorpions are affiliated with the Red Sox, Indians, Tigers, Twins and Giants.
Ray Black (Giants) has been injured an astonishing number of times, including undergoing Tommy John Surgery prior to becoming a professional athlete. As a pro, however, he tore his labrum and made it back in 2014 only to pitch sparingly. Once again, Black managed just 25 innings in 2015 and like many AFL players is making up for lost time. A 25-year-old right-handed reliever, Black is notable because “when healthy”, he regularly throws in the upper nineties, if not triple-digits, and has been reputed to touch as high as 103 mph on the gun. Despite having less than 60 innings of pro experience, Black has yet to produce a sub 15.0 K/9. Good health could move him from Double-A to the Majors in 2016, but that is a huge if.
2014 second-round pick Nick Burdi (Twins) has done well as a reliever since turning pro and will move up to Triple-A in 2016 with a legitimate shot at pushing his way into the MLB picture. Burdi works with a plus fastball that is consistently in the upper nineties and a nasty slider, but he has trouble at times locating either pitch.
Austin Kubitza (Tigers) is a sinker/slider starter who was originally drafted in the 4th round in 2013. After an excellent 2014 campaign that saw him post a 9.6 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9, Kubitza faded badly, dropping his K/9 by over three points and being more than hittable, posting an ERA close to 6.00. This could be an instance of a player failing the dreaded Double-A test, but he’ll get another chance. Kubitza still has the stuff to succeed as a back end of the rotation starter, but he’ll need to improve his changeup and start missing more bats upon his promotion to Triple-A in 2016.
Adalberto Mejia (Giants) missed 50 games due to a PED suspension and repeated Double-A upon his return without much change in results from his stay in 2014, producing a sub 7.0 K/9, albeit with solid walk rates. The lefty may have a future in relief if he cannot refine his change given a decent fastball/slider combo.
Taylor Rogers (Twins) could contend for a rotation job as soon as this coming spring after making 27 starts and throwing 174 Triple-A innings this year. The 24-year-old is an unheralded former 11th round pick who has fairly average stuff, but he gets decent results thanks to his above average command (2.3 BB/9). He looks like a fringe fifth starter at the moment.
Mitch Garver (Twins) has been exceeding expectations since being drafted in 2013 and has the most upside of the catchers on the Scottsdale roster. He’s an adequate defender behind the plate but has done fairly well in the offensive game, showing well above average plate discipline, making contact and getting on base. 2014 was a banner year as he walked about as often as he struck out while hitting .298 and belting 16 homers. He came back to earth this season, still showing the same control of the strike zone, but seeing his power plummet and his isolated power drop by more than 100 points. The results were mediocre with a .245/.356/.333 line. He’s now back on the journeyman/back-up catcher path.
Christian Arroyo (Giants) hit .304/.344/.459 but remains something of a disappointment considering he was a first-round pick back in 2013. Arroyo has gap power and a fairly quick bat that allows him to make contact over 80% of the time, but he has limited speed and is overly aggressive at the plate. He looks like a .260 to .280 hitter with high single-digit to mid-teens home run power and not much else.
JaCoby Jones (Tigers) was a former third-round pick of the Pirates dealt to the Tigers this season. The toolsy Jones has legitimate 20-20 potential in his power and speed (16 HR/24 SB this year) but continues to strike out at rather high rates, doing so over 30% of the time after his trade to Detroit. Jones’ defense at shortstop is questionable and a move to the outfield is possible. If he can stay at shortstop and cut down on the strikeouts, a sub .250 batting average could be quite forgivable given his other assets.
2014 second-round pick Sam Travis (Red Sox) has made steady progress, playing at two levels per season in his two years of professional ball, and he has yet to look overmatched. A likely member of the 2016 Pawtucket club, Travis controls the strike zone well, makes consistent line drive contact and gets on base. The one thing that has yet to emerge is his power, as he hit just nine home runs between two levels this year and seven the prior year, which is not a highly desirable trait for someone limited to first base defensively. Travis could be a .300, mid-teens HR producer at the MLB level, but it remains to be seen if he’ll get that opportunity.
Clint Frazier (Indians) had a nice bounce back season in 2015. The fifth overall pick in the 2013 amateur draft has moved through the Indians’ system quickly and performed quite well as a 21-year-old in A+ ball, showing power, speed and patience while cutting his strikeout rate by 8%. He’ll move up to Double-A where he’ll once again be one of the younger players in the league. There is more raw power here to be tapped and he has upside as a 25/20 .280 hitter.
2014 15th round pick Mike Gerber (Tigers) was an unheralded pick who ended up winning the Tigers 2015 hitting prospect of the year award after hitting .292/.355/.468 in full season A-ball. The 23-year-old is in need of a challenge and the AFL will fill that role, though a promotion to Double-A next year appears warranted too. Gerber is currently on track to potentially win a starting outfield job with Detroit. His offensive game is better suited to centerfield where he has mid to upper teens HR power, slightly above average speed and the contact skills to hit for average, but he may be best suited for right field, where more power would be expected from him.
Speaking of power, we come to Adam Walker (Twins). Since being selected in the third round of the 2012 draft, the power has been on display. In each of Walker’s three full seasons of pro-ball, he has hit no fewer than 25 home runs and is now coming off a 31-home run campaign. That said, Walker is a limited defender who will draw the occasional walk, but he has also seen his strikeout rate trending the wrong way through the Twins system, peaking at 35%, and he posted a .239/.309/.498 batting line in 2015. Walker will move up to Triple-A in 2016 but may be best utilized as a right-handed platoon player.
Mac Williamson (Giants) made it to the Majors this season, garnering 34 plate appearances after having played at both Double-A and Triple-A earlier in the year. Despite hitting just 13 home runs in 2015, Williamson hit 25 in 2013 and has 30-plus home run power. The 25-year-old is on the verge of losing his status as a prospect and will likely return to Triple-A to start 2016. If he can translate his lower minor league contact skills while retaining his power, a promotion to a more prominent role remains possible.