Continuing the Arizona Fall League series at TDG, today I look at the Salt River Rafters, my personal favorite team name of the bunch — it just rolls off the tongue. The Rafters are made up of players from the minor league affiliates of the Blue Jays, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Rays and Rockies, so we almost have the entire continental United States covered, as well as our friends to the north.
There are no Cubs on this team, as I just told you, so I don’t have a clever intro. And I’m still eating sour grapes over Joe Girardi, so let’s get to the players already.
Mike Montgomery, LHP, Rays
Montgomery, 24, *used* to be destined for big things. A former first rounder of the Royals in the 2008 amateur draft, the southpaw compiled a 2.21 ERA in 2009 and 2.61 ERA in 2010 across three levels, culminating in Double-A. He then injured his forearm — without undergoing surgery — and hasn’t been the same since.
After coming over to Tampa Bay in the James Shields-for-Wil Myers swap, Montgomery began the season on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury, and his once-95 mph fastball is now sitting in the 91-92 mph range. He pitched all of 2013 in Triple-A, going 7-8 with a 4.72 ERA, 1.46 WHIP and 77 strikeouts in 108 2/3 innings. He struggled with command, issuing 48 walks, and his ceiling now looks more like a back-end starter than the front-of-the-rotation guy many predicted. This is a lightning in a bottle situation to monitor, but please note that I included him here because of his name recognition more than anything.
Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Blue Jays
Sanchez, 21, was selected No. 34 overall in the 2010 amateur draft, and showed off his power arm with 37 strikeouts in 27 innings in his professional debut. After struggling with command the following season, Sanchez pitched the entire 2012 season in Class-A, going 8-5 with a 2.49 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 97 strikeouts in 90 1/3 innings — in addition to 51 walks.
The right-hander was promoted to High-A this season and responded nicely, posting a 3.34 ERA while walking 40 batters in 86 1/3 innings — which isn’t good, but it’s better. Sanchez missed about a month of the season with shoulder fatigue, but he came back and finished the year strong. Toronto’s top arm will likely start 2014 in Double-A — and with a little more control, Sanchez could eventually become a high-upside starter for the Blue Jays. He’s a strong dynasty league target.
Marcus Stroman, RHP, Blue Jays
Stroman, 22, tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs that cost him 50 games to start the season. He ended up tossing 111 2/3 innings in Double-A, posting a 3.30 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with 129 strikeouts and 27 walks.
Considered a top-100 prospect by MLB.com, Stroman is already close to making his major league debut. But at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, the worry is that the right-hander won’t hold up in a starter’s role. After making a strong case over 20 starts in his first taste of Double-A, I can envision the Blue Jays giving him a shot in the rotation just to see what they have. He’s breezed through Toronto’s system thus far — even with a 50-game suspension hanging over his head – and there’s an outside chance Stroman is in the Blue Jays’ big league plans next season. If he doesn’t hold up as a starter, he’s still an intriguing bullpen arm. And I’m no Casey Janssen fan.
Four more to watch
Jake Barrett, RHP, Diamondbacks
Barrett, 22, was a third-round pick in the 2012 amateur draft, and after struggling in his pro debut, pitched to a 1.21 ERA between High-A and Double-A in 2013. The right-hander struck out 59 and walked 12 in 52 innings, and he figures to get a look in Arizona’s bullpen as soon as 2014.
Given the volatile situation of the Diamondbacks’ bullpen in 2013 — including an aging J.J. Putz, a not-as-impressive David Hernandez and (yawn) Brad Ziegler — Barrett could find himself in a closing role sooner rather than later. Don’t sleep on Barrett. That’s what pillows and Ziegler are for.
Kyle Parker, OF, Rockies
Yes, the Rafters aren’t made entirely of pitchers; they have position players, too! Parker, 24, was Colorado’s first-round pick in the 2010 amateur draft, and he immediately brought a big stick to the show, blasting 21 home runs in Class-A and following it up with 23 more in the hitter-friendly California League in 2012.
This season, the former college quarterback from Clemson slashed .288/.345/.492 with 23 home runs and 23 doubles in 528 plate appearances in Double-A while dropping his strikeout rate from 29.4 percent to 18.8 percent. With Todd Helton — another former college football star — retiring, Parker could enter the mix as a first base option in 2014. After playing exclusively in the outfield, he is listed as a first baseman on Salt River’s official roster. Expect Parker to open next season in Triple-A, but a strong showing in the AFL and spring training could create plenty of buzz.
Stephen Piscotty, OF, Cardinals
Piscotty, 22, was drafted in the first round (No. 36 overall) in the 2012 amateur draft and carried a .295 BA in his debut. This season, the converted third baseman-to-outfielder again hit .295 between High-A and Double-A, including 15 home runs, 23 doubles and 11 steals in 471 plate appearances.
Piscotty showed excellent command of the strike zone in Double-A, posting a 9.2-percent walk rate and 9.2-percent strikeout rate in 49 games — and through two minor league seasons, he has a steady .362 OBP, with 55 walks in 167 games. Because he’s a St. Louis farm boy, Piscotty will certainly get a lot of attention as he flies through the Cardinals’ system. His biggest question mark is his power, as he currently has the look of a mid-teen home run bat. I’d stash him in all dynasty formats.
Hey, would you look at that? I made it through without a single biscotti joke.
Kenny Wilson, OF, Blue Jays
Wilson, 23, was a second rounder in 2008, and he’s slowly progressed through Toronto’s system. The speedy outfielder has three full seasons of 40-plus stolen bases, including 55 in 2012 after undergoing shoulder surgery the year before.
Wilson missed more time this season while slashing .270/.349/.386 with 17 steals in 60 games, with most of that time being spent in Double-A, where he hit .259. He’s eligible for the Rule V draft, so his AFL performance will go a long way in determining his future with the Blue Jays. He has the looks of a fourth or fifth outfielder in reality, meaning his fantasy ceiling isn’t high — don’t let his speed blind you.