Greetings, and what a terrific World Series. Though I had a sentimental connection to the Rangers, the Giants were clearly the dominant team this year. And, as much fun as it has been to have two different teams in the fall classic, the Giants have been relishing a potential title as long as I have been a baseball fan (since 1959).
As quickly, though, as the Series ended, I was off to Phoenix to catch some Arizona Fall baseball, some of which included participation in Ron Shandler's First Pitch Arizona. I have written many times that this event is simply my favorite baseball anything during the season. For in the fall, most deadlines are off and the average attendance at a fall league game is around 350.
Now, if you don't know what the Fall League is, each major league franchises sends their most promising young players to Arizona from early October to the middle of November. There are six fall league teams, and each has a handful of players from various franchises. There are generally three games played each day among the six teams, and this is indeed the place to see the next big potential stars of major league baseball.
This year I flew in a little early to relax under the lovely fall sun and catch a few extra games with my mate Todd Zola and it was indeed a great week.
So, what--and who--did I see? Well, let's take a look at some of the names that might interest you.
Bryce Harper (OF, Nationals) has generated a ton of buzz in his short career. The number one overall pick in this past years’ draft is just 18 years and was drafted for his power potential. He lived up to expectations banging a couple of major dingers, one around 400 feet down the right field line at Scottsdale Stadium. I saw him a few times over the week and he drew three walks, and struck out a few times, but also laid an absolute perfect bunt down the third base line last Wednesday, an act that took us all by surprise. Harper also hit a couple of singles, and was involved with my favorite play this fall, when he and Ryan Adams were both thrown out on the same play after backstop Caleb Joseph drilled a single to center field. The single did indeed look like a double, but Surprise center fielder Logan Schafer cut the ball off, and made a great throw to the cutoff, and both runners were nailed at the plate by Salvador Perez, the Rafters catcher. By the way, Joseph clobbered a tremendous homer against Phoenix on Saturday night. One of the scouts, however, told me Harper clobbered one just as far.
For those local to the Bay Area, and the champion Giants, you may be wondering where the team will be replenishing in defense of their title. Well, 2011 might be bumpy, but there are three infielders on the horizon who could rebuild the infield in much the same way as the Giants rebuilt their pitching. Starting with Charlie Culberson (2B, Giants) whom I saw no fewer than four times, and who hit the ball hard each game for Scottsdale, going a collective 4-for-12, with a pair of doubles and four RBI. The 21-year old Culberson also reached base on errors a couple of times, he also walked a couple of times, hit a sacrifice, and whiffed a few times. He spent 2010 at San Jose, going .290-16-71.
Conor Gillaspie (3B, Giants) played third and DH once each, going 4-for-6, with a double, a sacrifice fly, a walk and he was hit by a pitch once. Gillaspie, also 23, knocked in three and showed solid enough defense the one game he patrolled the hot corner, and like Culberson, he hit down on the ball hard, and was able to drive pitches. A first round pick of the Giants in 2008, Gillaspie spent 2010 at AA Richmond, going .287-8-67.
Finally, Brandon Belt (1B, Giants) was mentioned by a number of scouts as the best power hitting first sacker in the minors. The aptly-named 22-year old Belt split 2010 among all three levels, finishing at AAA Fresno, going a composite .352-23-112, with ten triples and 43 doubles. Belt went 3-for-5 over two games, and hit a tremendous homer against Peoria Tuesday night and a triple against Phoenix Friday night. Belt also hit a sacrifice, walked and walked three times, and the first sacker is not far from an ATT calling.
22-year old Dustin Ackley (2B, Seattle) was the Mariners first round selection in 2009, and he splite 2010 between AA West Tennessee (.263-2-28) and AAA Tacoma (.274-5-23), resulting .267-7-51 totals that many insiders regarded as disappointing. Possessed with a great eye (75 walks to 79 whiffs last year) Ackley was simply a revelation the couple of games I saw him play, going 6-for-7, with a double and a lined homer that would make Don Mattingly drool (a hard liner pulled down the right field line). The one time Ackley made an out he still drove in a run.
Michael Taylor (OF, Athletics) was originally a fifth round pick of the Phillies in 2007, and the big (6'6", 260) hitter was coveted enough by Billy Beane to swap Brett Wallace, whom the Athletics had just acquired for the flychaser. Taylor went to the Jays (who traded for Wallace) as part of the Roy Halladay deal. Taylor spent a somewhat uninspired 2010 at AAA Sacramento for the Athletics (.272-6-78) and whiffed three times on Friday night, however. Still, if Taylor, and first sacker Chris Carter come through as anticipated for the green and gold the pair will be the power source to make Oakland more than competitive.
There was not that much pitching worthy of note at the AFL this year, but easily the best start was made by 24-year old Josh Collmenter (P, Arizona) who simply had his way with Phoenix over six innings, allowing just a pair of singles, while striking out ten. A 15th round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2007, Collementer pitched at three levels in 2010, going 14-6, 3.38, with 133 whiffs over 152 innings (136 hits and 51 walks allowed).
One reliever of note is Cole Kimball (P, Nationals) who whiffed Surprise into submission during a Thursday game. A 12th round pick in 2006, Kimball spent time at High-A Potomac (3-0, 1.82, six saves) and AA Harrisburg (5-1, 2.33, 12 saves). Kimball has had control issues in the minors (375 whiffs to 214 walks) and at 24, he is old to be pitching at his 2010 levels, so the success is to be anticipated.
Prior to seeing Danny Duffy (P, Royals) there was a lot of buzz that he was among the top pitches in Arizona this fall. Selected by Kansas City in the third round in 2007, Duffy toiled at four levels in 2010 going 5-3, 2.74 over 62.1 innings. Duffy whiffed 69, walked 17 and allowed 52 hits. However, none of that mattered for over one plus inning he allowed six runs on six hits, a pair of walks, and was mercifully lifted by Surprise manager Mike Guerrero after hitting Conor Gillaspie in the second inning and failing to get an out.
Finishing with a chip--off--the--block Steve Lombrodozzi (2B, Nationals), son of the former Twin is a shortstop who had good range and speed (two triples and 5-for-9 over a pair of AFL games). A 19th round pick of Washington in 2008, Lombardozzi spent 2010 at two levels going .294-6-49 with 35 doubles, 24 steals, and 11 triples.
That will be it for this time. Have a wonderful Thankgiving and we will see you the second Monday of December. And, make sure and tune into the now daily Mastersblog with commentary on the world.