Legends of the Arizona Fall League: Scottsdale
The Arizona Fall League is in full swing, and we hope you’ve enjoyed TDG’s coverage taking you through all the rosters, big names and lesser names you may one day see in a big league box score. But before we dive into the final installment, here are five links to help catch you up:
Glendale Desert Dogs
Mesa Solar Sox
Salt River Rafters
The Scottsdale Scorpions – comprised of players from the Braves, Giants, Mets, Pirates and Yankees – make up the final piece to the AFL puzzle. Pittsburgh is the top dog, followed by the New Yorks and Atlanta, with San Francisco bringing up the rear. First, the potential stars:
Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pirates
Taillon’s AFL season was cut short after suffering a groin injury in Scottsdale’s opening game, but that shouldn’t kill his chances of joining Geritt Cole atop Pittsburgh’s rotation at some point in 2014. Selected No. 2 overall in the 2010 amateur draft, the 21-year-old right-hander pitched across two levels in 2013 – ending in Triple-A – with a 3.73 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 147 1/3 innings. He was Baseball America’s No. 11 prospect at the midway point, one spot ahead of Cardinals rookie right-hander Michael Wacha – you know, that dude about to throw in the World Series. The Pirates’ top prospect is a future No. 2 who should be owned in all dynasty leagues.
Kyle Crick, RHP, Giants
After being selected 49th overall in the 2011 draft, Crick has quickly ascended to the top of the Giants’ prospect hierarchy. Still 20, the right-hander carried a 1.57 ERA with 95 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings in the California League, including one home run allowed – that’s something we almost never see. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Crick predictably throws hard, but he also has a control problem; he issued 39 walks this season, and 67 more in 2012. It was somewhat surprising the Giants didn’t give Crick a look in Double-A, but he’s expected to start 2014 there, with a good chance of seeing major league time by season’s end. There’s some No. 1 upside here.
Mason Williams, OF, Yankees
Many consider Williams – a fourth round pick in the 2010 draft – the jewel of the Yankees’ system, but, honestly, I don’t see it. He started off his professional career with a flourish, batting .349 in 2011 and .304 in 2012, but followed it up with a combined .245 BA across two levels this season. Upon reaching Double-A, the 21-year old struck out 18 times in 17 games, which is not preferred for a player praised for making above-average contact.
Yes, Williams has shown the ability to hit for average, but his struggles against tougher competition is worrisome to me – as is his 64-for-100 in stolen base attempts. Throw in some off-the field issues and I’m even less enthused. If he does make it to New York, the left-handed hitter will certainly get a boost to his power numbers, but expecting anything higher than 12 home runs per season is being too optimistic. And, of course, he must make it to New York first, which is no guarantee.
And four more to watch:
Alen Hanson, SS, Pirates
Hanson was solid in rookie ball, then wowed in his first full season in Single-A West Virginia, slashing .309/.381/.528 with 16 home runs, 99 runs, 62 RBIs and 35 steals – and leading the league in total bases. The 21-year-old was moved to High-A and eventually Double-A in 2013, where he combined to hit .274/.329/.427 with eight home runs and 30 steals in 127 games.
Most expect a move to second base in short time, as Hanson’s arm and range is average at best. It was disappointing to see his power drop so dramatically, but Hanson did show improvement at the plate with a lower strikeout rate. He’ll need to start showing improvement on the base paths, as well, as he’s been caught 35 times since 2012. Hanson has All-Star potential, but I liken him to Alexei Ramirez with a little more pop. Don’t get carried away.
Tyler Austin, OF, Yankees
Austin – the Yankees’ 2012 Minor League Player of the Year – was limited by a wrist injury in 2013, and hit a disappointing .257/.344/.373 in Double-A with a paltry six home runs and 17 doubles. That’s a far fall from his .322/.400/.559 line the year before, when he smacked 17 home runs and 35 doubles across four levels. The former 13th round pick must prove he can hit for power once again if he wants to be in New York’s future plans. He showed diminished bat speed this season and scouts have soured on the 21-year-old, but I’m willing to chalk up some of his struggles to injury. I’m very interested to see what he can do in an injury-free 2014. If he regains his power stroke, Austin is capable of providing 25 home runs annually, in addition to the potential for double-digit steals – he’s 45-for-47 on the base paths in his career.
Shae Simmons, RHP, Braves
Simmons has a limited arsenal right now, but he’s had no trouble against his minor league competition, pitching to the tune of a 1.69 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings across two levels in 2013, culminating in a short stint in Double-A. He walked just 22 batters all year and hasn’t allowed a home run in his professional career spanning 78 innings.
Simmons is a small guy at 5-foot-9 (I’m almost that tall!), but reaches the mid-90s with his fastball. If Craig Kimbrel wasn’t in Atlanta, Simmons is someone the team would likely consider at closer. He’s been virtually unhittable in that role throughout his minor league career, and he could see time in Atlanta’s bullpen by the end of 2014.
Cory Vaughn, OF, Mets
Vaughn, 24, is the son of former major leaguer Greg Vaughn, and his game is predicated on power. The former fourth rounder launched 23 home runs in 2012, but hit just .243/.351/.463 in the process. He’s shown the ability to take a walk at the lower levels, but he had an ugly 26.4-percent strikeout rate and 8.1-percent walk rate in his latest stint in Double-A. Through nine AFL games, he has yet to connect for a long ball. There’s still hope that Vaughn turns into an everyday corner outfielder capable of hitting 20 home runs annually, but, turning 25 in May, he needs to show the Mets something fast.
Alex Kantecki also writes for Fake Teams and Vigilante Baseball. You can poke him on Twitter at @rotodealer.