Legends of the Arizona Fall League: Surprise
Today in our AFL series we mine for potential fantasy gold on the banks of the Aqua Fria River in Surprise, home to minor leaguers from Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Texas. While the Saguaros are relatively light on truly elite prospect talent, particularly on the mound, there is some noteworthy emerging talent on this squad that’s worth a wandering eyeball or two. Let’s take a quick look at the handful of bigger names on the roster, and then spend some time getting to know a few of the more under-the-radar names pay attention to as the fall season progresses and dynasty drafts approach.
The Big Names
Garin Cecchini, 3B, BOS. The breakout star of this roster, Cecchini saw his stock soar to the cusp of Keith Law’s mid-season Top 20 in 2013 (he checked in at #21). After destroying the High-A Carolina League to the tune of a .350/.469/.547 line (good for a staggering 186 wRC+) in the first half of the season the 22 year-old was promoted to AA Portland, and he continued to rake at the higher level (.296/.420/.404, 136 wRC+). While he has yet to develop much in the way of homerun power – he hit just 7 this year in over 550 plate appearances – he did steal 22 bags and possesses some of the best pure hitting skills in the minor leagues. He should develop into a solid fantasy option at the hot corner and become a particularly strong play in OBP leagues, and if he’s able to start putting a few more balls over the fence he’s got tremendous fantasy upside. He should be owned in nigh-on all dynasty leagues at this point, but if for some reason he’s still hanging out in your draft pool go get him.
Mookie Betts, 2B, BOS. The 21 year-old Betts is a rung behind Cecchini on Boston’s organizational ladder, and was another of the breakout prospects of 2013. He posted a solid introductory season in A ball in 2012, matching draft scouting reports as a guy with good contact abilities, an excellent eye, little power, and plus base running ability. But 2013 saw him take his game to the next level across two stops. He opened with a .296/.418/.477 (160 wRC+) line at Greenville in the Sally League, then hit even better after a second-half promotion to High-A Salem (.341/.414/.551, 166 wRC+). He stole 38 bags in 42 tries, and most intriguing of all added some out-of-nowhere power to his game in slugging fifteen combined homeruns. If the power surge is indeed a preview of coming attraction Betts has elite impact upside. Even if it’s not, his strong on-base skills and outstanding 88% career success rate on the bases make him an excellent target for dynasty drafts where he’s still on the board this winter.
Jorge Alfaro, C, TEX. Alfaro’s one of the more interesting catching prospects in the minor leagues, though he is a long way off from a debut in Texas. He posted a solid season in A ball this past year, with a strong-for-the-Sally .258/.338/.452 line that was good for a 128 wRC+ and .364 wOBA. He remains a raw prospect, as evidenced by an ugly 27.5% career K rate and corresponding 5.1% walk rate. Still, the tools for an above-average power hitting catcher are evident to scouts near and far, and he’s a name to watch closely this fall and into the spring, when he’ll likely open at High-A. He’s not going to return an investment for another 4-5 years, but if he’s able to refine his approach and make his ample tools play he’s got top-shelf upside as a future fantasy catcher.
Others to Watch
Joe Wendle, 2B, CLE. A 6th round pick from a small Pennsylvania college last summer, Wendle’s a quintessential “effort” guy whose baseball IQ helps average tools play up. Though far from the prospect limelight, he’s done nothing but hit since taking field as a professional. He logged 267 plate appearances in the New York-Penn League after signing last summer, and while he was old for the level his .327/.375/.469 (149 wRC+) line made for an impressive debut. Cleveland management certainly thought so, as they bumped him up two levels to High-A for all of 2013. He responded with an equally impressive showing, posting a .295/.372/.513 (143 wRC+) with 16 homers and 10 steals in 12 attempts over 474 plate appearances. While his K rate ticked up against more appropriate age-to-league pitching he maintained it at a reasonable 16.7%, and he was able to boost his walk rate up to a tick under 10% to help offset some of that increase. He’ll be 24 next season, so there’s potential for some quick movement up the ladder if he’s able to continue building on his performance to date. He’ll likely head to AA in the spring, but for now AFL pitching should pose a telling challenge. If he’s able to hold his own again this fall he’ll make for a really interesting sleeper at the back end of deeper dynasty drafts this.
Henry Urrutia & Dariel Alvarez, OFs, BAL. A package deal of Cuban imports in Baltimore’s system, both have shown some offensive potential in small playing samples, and both will be interesting to watch this fall. Urrutia’s definitely the more “complete” package at this point; he’ll be 27 next year, and should be a more or less finished product as a hitter. After defecting he threw up a monster start to his professional career at AA last season, hitting .365/.433/.550 (174 wRC+) in 224 plate appearances for AA Bowie. He continued to rake at AAA (121 wRC+) and earned his first taste of big league action as a September call-up for the Birds. He hit just .276/.276/.310 over 58 sporadic at-bats down the stretch, but perhaps most notable in that small sample was his failure to draw a single walk at the Major League level. Still, given the upside he showed during his brief minor league stint and the fact that he’s basically entering a sink or swim year at Age 27, it adds up to a player worth watching closely in the AFL and spring training. If he’s able to duplicate his minor league success in Surprise this fall and follow it up with a solid camp he could end up making for a sneaky fantasy target in the late rounds entering 2014.
Alvarez is the bigger question mark of the two: he’s got comparable youth on his side (he’ll be 25 in 2014), but he’s even more of a blank slate and scouting reports are mixed at best. He posted a monster 2010-11 season in Cuba, followed by a sub-league average effort in 2011-12 before defecting. After signing he came out of the gates scorching hot last summer, hitting .436/.463/.641 over a tiny 10 game stint at High-A. But he followed that up with an equally small sample-sized 9 game nosedive back to earth at AA, logging a mere .194/.219/.290 line after his promotion. Scouting reports indicate a funky swing plane with a heavy uppercut and max effort rotation, which means the AA line may be an unfortunate harbinger of things to come. Still, there’s at least some moderate intrigue here, and he’ll be a fun player to track in the desert to see what, if anything, Baltimore may have here.
Tyler Cravy, RHP, MIL. This may be the longest shot I’ve yet written about, but hear me out. Cravy was a 17th round JuCo pick in 2009, and has spent his career to date shuttling back and forth between the rotation and bullpen. 2011 saw him move from Rk ball to full season A ball in the Midwest League, and while his surface stats of a 4.98 ERA and 1.40 WHIP over 90 1/3 innings looked like nothing worth shaking even a store-bought stick at, those numbers were fueled by a horrifying .373 BABIP and there was some legitimate intrigue if you looked under the hood. He whiffed 11.0-per-9, posted a walk rate under 3-per-9, and induced groundballs at a robust 44% clip. Moved to fulltime relief duty for a full season return engagement in the Midwest League in 2012 he was solid if unspectacular. His BABIP regressed to a more normal range, bringing his ERA and WHIP with it, but his K rate dropped and he was now a middle reliever in A ball. So for fantasy baseball purposes…yeah, whatever. But after kicking off 2013 in the bullpen once again he was given another crack at starting in the season’s second half. Beginning with a spot start at the end of June, he started 9 of his final 11 games of the season and flat-out dominated to the tune of a 1.28 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 4.36 K:BB, and 41% GB% over 49 innings. He unfortunately appears ticketed for relief work in Surprise, but it’s hard to believe the Brewers won’t give him a shot at their AA rotation next spring. He’s one to watch this fall, but even moreso next spring as a potential late-bloomer.