Thursday, October 14, 2004

Fall and Winter Leagues

We're just now getting into the fall and winter league season. The Arizona Fall League gets the most attention, by far. That's because it has the highest percentage of real prospects.

This isn't an organized look at the AFL, but here are some interesting notes.

If you happen to be in the Phoenix area, try and catch a Phoenix Desert Dogs game. Their infield contains late-blooming Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, Moneyball draftee and hopefully the future for the Royals at third base, Mark Teahen, along with 3 other players I like, Oakland catcher John Baker and middle infielder Omar Quintanilla, and KC second baseman Donald Murphy. They also have the hopes and prayers of Marlins fans, Jeremy Hermida.

Peoria has 2 teams in the league, not that any of the 6 teams are more than an hour or two away from Phoenix itself anyways. The better team (from a prospecting perspective) is the Javelins, with Padre 2B Josh Barfield, Mariners OF Shin-Soo Choo and SS Michael Morse, Cleveland catcher Ryan Garko and outfielder Jason Cooper. I'm a bit skeptical of Barfield. I don't think he's capable of being a major league second baseman, and I don't think his bat is strong enough to be a legitimate option in the outfield.

The other Peoria team, the Saguaros, has breakout Rangers shortstop Ian Kinsler (who I'll get around to profiling soon), fellow Rangers prospect, outfielder Jason Botts, and Blue Jays shortstop Aaron Hill. Botts has a power bat, and is kind of a poor man's Ryan Howard. He's a huge guy, and at 24, he needs to break into a major league team soon. Kinsler's been playing all over the infield, which presumably is because of the uncertainty of where he would be best used in Arlington with Soriano on the trade block, and Michael Young proving that he's a gold glove caliber second baseman AND shortstop. Hill is fighting for his future with the Blue Jays with Orlando Hudson and Russ Adams at short. I think he's more talented than Adams, but it's possible that Hudson could be the one to go.

The Scottsdale Scorpions have the Diamondbacks outfield tandem of Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin. I've profiled Quentin, and I like them both. But I like Jackson more. He doesn't have the defensive chops of Quentin, but he's a power bat with good patience. Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox and Rickie Weeks of the Brewers are the marquee names in the infield. Weeks had a disappointing season, but he probably should have been in high A since he was less than a year out of a low level NCAA division 1 program. Pedroia is a guy who I loved going into the draft, and who I think will be one of the first 2004 draftees in the majors.

Grand Canyon has a mess of Twins players. I've already talked about fringe catcher prospect Rob Bowen. I've also talked about Scott Baker. You saw Jesse Crain in the Minnesota bullpen late in the season, including the playoffs. I'm not exactly sure why he's here. JD Durbin is getting more work in obviously. He's a pretty good pitching prospect, which is something that you don't see an awful lot of in the AFL. They also have former Braves first rounder Jeff Francoeur in the outfield. Another player I profiled recently, Mitch Jones hit the ground running, and already has 6 extra-base hits thus far.

The last team in the league is the Mesa Solar Sox. Who comes up with these names by the way? Anyways, they have last year's AFL star attraction, Delmon Young in the outfield. Joining him in the outfield is speed demon Joey Gathright and White Sox prospect Brian Anderson. In the infield, I'm mostly interested in Jeff Baker.

One thing that's apparent this year in the AFL is that teams are grooming relievers these days. High profile reliever prospects include Jesse Crain, Huston Street, Bill Bray, and Brad Baker.

The Mexican Winter League started last week, and they have a few players most seamheads have heard of. Outfield prospects Josh Kroeger (Arizona), Joe Borchard (CWS), and Jason Dubois (ChC) are all playing south of the border, Boston pitching prospect Abe Alvarez is starting. And Rangers infielder Marshall McDougal is spending his winter there as well.

Royals fans will be interested to hear that long time Omaha Golden Spike Kit Pellow is alive and well, playing in Mexico as a regular this winter. Can't be a bad gig. Sure the stadiums aren't fancy, and you're away from your family, but it sure beats selling cars in the cold midwestern winter.

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