Arizona Fall League Intrigue: The Scottsdale Scorpions
Yes, the MLB playoffs are heading into Championship territory right now, and that’s all well and good. But from a dynasty league perspective they’re really nothing more than an idle distraction from the most important of pursuits: finding the next Big Thing. Thankfully the Arizona Fall League has also kicked off its annual parade of aspiring prospects, and there’s a particularly robust field of talent in the desert this year. We’ll be taking a look at each of the squads here at the Dynasty Guru over the course of the month to examine potential and check in on the progress of notable dynasty league names as the 32-game season rolls along.
Today we’re going to kick things off with a look at the Scottsdale Scorpions. This club features prospects from the Mets, Yankees, Phillies, Pirates, and Giants, and it’s one of the more loaded rosters in the league. In the interest of keeping things manageable I’m going to spend a bit less time focusing here on the better-known prospects who are likely already owned in shallower dynasty leagues. I for one am much more interested each fall in using the AFL to keep tabs on the guys who haven’t quite exploded onto national top 100 lists just yet but may just do so in due time. I’ve split up what follows into three tiers:
- The No-Doubters – these are the top prospects in the league and the guys who are likely to take up residence high on off-season rankings
- The Hangers – these are the most interesting guys, the juicy prospects with tantalizing potential who haven’t quite reached the masses just yet but may just be poised to rocket up lists next year
- The Guerreros – these are the lottery tickets. They’ve got a carrying tool that warrants attention, but in the realm of fantasy prospects they’re longshots best left for deep league attention. Like a slider so far outside the strikezone only a Guerrero could square it up, there is only a very small likelihood these guys pan out as strong present investments in your league.
So let’s explore the Scottsdale roster and see if we can find ourselves a couple diamonds in the desert.
Tyler Glasnow, RHP PIT. Glasnow broke out in a big way this summer, dominating the pitcher-friendly Florida State League to the tune of a 1.74 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 11.4 strikeouts-per-nine over 124 1/3 innings. He checked in at #36 on Bret’s mid-season Top 50 Dynasty Prospects list, and after maintaining his dominance down the stretch he should be poised to rank among the best pitching prospects in baseball this winter.
Josh Bell, OF/1B PIT. Bell posted a breakout season of his own in the FSL, which I discussed last week. While an impending move to first base will likely ding him on real prospect lists this off-season the switch-hitter projects as a middle-of-the-order monster and was one of the more exciting bats to emerge this season for fantasy purposes.
Brandon Nimmo, OF NYM. Nimmo’s a guy that has far more value as a prospect in real life than he does in fantasy baseball, as his true centerfield projection and plus OBP skills translate to a tantalizing actual baseball profile. In standard leagues that still use batting average, however, Nimmo’s skillset is less appealing, as he’s more a sum-of-his-parts prospect. That doesn’t mean he’ll be without dynasty league value, however. After appointments to both Keith Law’s and BP’s mid-season Top 50 lists he’ll have some helium behind him, and with that comes value as a sign-and-trade guy for savvy GM’s to exploit.
Aaron Judge, OF NYY. This one may be a borderline distinction, but after making Keith Law’s mid-season list Judge has emerged as a national name. So if you don’t know you gotta try to know. Judge is a monster of a man, but despite his gargantuan limbs the former first rounder possesses an oddly efficient swing to compliment his patient approach and huge raw power. He posted a .905 OPS across two levels and should be on pace for a AA assignment next spring, where he has the potential to quickly vault into the top tier of dynasty league outfield prospects (if he’s not there already). It may be too late to target him in medium-depth leagues, where off-season lists may just blow up his spot before draft day comes along. But if he does manage to hang around your draft room until your pick he’ll make for a very strong investment.
Greg Bird, 1B NYY. Bird grabbed a bit of attention last off-season from noted first base prospect fetishist Me after an interesting 2013 campaign in which he led all of professional baseball in walks while knocking 20 homeruns. His approach has been criticized consistently by scouts as being too passive, and he put up abysmal numbers against same-handed pitching in the Florida State League this season (.167/.237/.274 over 93 PA’s). Still, the natural loft in his swing should continue to help him produce above-average power, and albeit coming with a giant flashing SMALL SAMPLE SIZE alert there were signs that an updated approach against southpaws might just be paying dividends after a mid-season promotion to AA. He’s certainly a guy to monitor closely in OBP leagues, and if he shows signs of carrying over his production against southpaws this fall and into a likely return engagement in Trenton next spring he immediately becomes a pretty interesting prospect. Especially with that tasty short porch looming in the Bronx…
L.J. Mazzilli, 2B NYM. The son of former Met Lee Mazzilli, L.J. put together a huge year in 2014 to show he wasn’t just a legacy pick and get himself at least near The Map if not on it. Mazzilli was a fourth round pick out of UConn, and the Connecticut-born-and-raised keystoner fits the mold of a cold weather player who went to a cold weather school and didn’t garner a ton of attention as a result. The strictly right-side defensive projection has also conspired to keep his name off the prospect hot sheets. But this kid can flat-out hit, and that’s all we really care about around these parts. He pieced together a .301/.361/.440 mark with 11 homers and 14 steals across two levels, including a .312 average that was eighth best in the Florida State League. The skillset isn’t overwhelming; his bat speed is pretty average, and he doesn’t generate much leverage or backspin when he pulls the ball. But he’s the prototype of a baseball rat, a lifer with a high IQ for the game and universally praised instincts and desire to squeeze the most out of his abilities. He has the kind of package that could very well add up to a Daniel Murphy type of player: think .280 with 10 to 12 homers and 15 to 20 stolen bases a year. It’s not a frontline projection, but it’s a damn solid one. He’ll face his biggest challenge yet in the Arizona desert, and at Age 24 should be in line for a AA assignment next spring. With Murphy slated to his free agency himself following this season Mazzilli’s a guy to watch as a potential to enter the 2016 conversation if he holds his own this summer.
Daniel Carbonell, OF SFG. Since it seems like everybody on the island of Cuba can throw on a uniform these days and hold their own against MLB pitching it’s certainly worth taking a moment to discuss Carbonell, who signed a four-year deal with the Giants in June after a successful defection. The 23 year old didn’t play professionally last year in Cuba and only managed to make it into 31 games between Rookie Ball and A+ this summer. He more than held his own once he got on the field, however, posting a composite .336/.384/.523 line with four homers and 11 steals in 138 plate appearances. His carrying tool is his speed, which scouts rate as a minimum 70 if not a true 80, and consensus seems to be that he’ll stick in centerfield. There are, however, significant questions about his bat. The swing is maligned as rotational and stiff, and it’s unclear how much of his above-average raw power he’ll actually be able to bring into games. Still, given the impressive opening salvo of performance and the recent inability of scouts to accurately project Cuban performance he’s a guy that bears watching very closely this fall and next spring. If he comes out of the gate producing strongly at the AA level he’s likely to generate a lot of fast helium.
Matt Reynolds, SS NYM. Reynolds was an athletic third baseman in college who the Mets drafted in the second round of 2012 and shifted to SS, where he’s remained since. Heading into 2014 he’d shown very little in the way of offensive projection, though the defense was solid if unspectacular, and he continued to advance through the minors. Fast-forward to today, and he heads to the desert on the heels of a .343/.405/.454 campaign across 543 AA and AAA plate appearances. Hello. Given the Mets’ black hole at short and Reynolds’ pedigree and proximity that kind of performance demands attention. He hasn’t gotten quite as much as you might think, however, in part because his performance this year was aided by an insane .417 BABIP, which he somehow managed to sustain for an entire season’s worth of at-bats despite a previous career mark of around .270. He’s developed into a decent linedrive hitter with an acceptable approach; he added about two points of walk rate while lopping off a point and a half of strikeout rate despite the advanced assignments this year. And he’s always been a guy that scouts projected well on account of plus makeup and a broad base of solid-average tools. Given the extremity of his batted ball profile this past season it’s still awfully tough to discern what the Mets may or may not have in Reynolds. It’s obviously not particularly likely he’ll be hitting .340 again anytime soon, but if he can indeed stick at short as reports seem to suggest he can in the short term he won’t have to. A shortstop that can hit .280 and steal some bags has value in deeper leagues, and that may just be something Reynolds is capable of doing.
Dante Bichette, Jr., 3B NYY and Tyler Austin, OF NYY. I’m lumping these two together because they’re both Yankee prospects with diminished stars, and I don’t want to spill any more internet ink on them than I’m contractually obligated to. Bichette rebounded a bit from two straight lackluster campaigns to post decent numbers in the Florida State League and earn a mid-season bump to AA, but the former first rounder has done little to suggest to scouts that he’s anywhere near living up to his draft slot and bloodlines. Still, he’s only 21 and given the pedigree there’s still a chance he refines his game to become a useful fantasy league asset. It’s not really worth a dynasty stash investment at this point to find out, however. Meanwhile, Austin cracked the Top 100 lists of both Baseball American and mlb.com prior to the 2013 season after tearing his way through four levels with an aggregate .960 OPS, 17 homers, and 21 steals in 2012. But all he’s done since is disappoint. After an injury-riddled 2013 campaign he spent all of 2014 at AA Trenton and cobbled together a perfectly decent 105 OPS+. But we’re now two seasons removed from the last time he showed any sustained ability to bring power or speed into his game, and he currently looks the part of an empty-production fourth outfielder in a best-case projection going forward. The toolbox that led to him being a Top 100 fantasy prospect as recently as last offseason may very well still be in there, but he’s an increasingly poor investment of a dynasty league roster spot.
Clayton Blackburn, RHP SFG. Blackburn is another guy who might just be a poster child for not scouting minor league statlines. Once again he went out and exceeded expectations after a bump to AA, and through 77 minor league games and almost 400 innings through AA ball all he’s done is post a 2.98 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 9.2 strikeouts-per-nine, and 1.7 walks-per-nine. While those are numbers that suggest frontline potential, scouts continue to caution against over-excitement. Blackburn lacks a true out pitch, instead relying on strong command of a deep arsenal to outwit hitters. He’s one of those high-floor safety guys that Craig railed about recently. In deeper leagues with longer-term salary structures for homegrown talent there’s some value in a guy like Blackburn, as he’s likely to offer some ratio stability and Win potential over a sizeable number of innings annually. But for shallower or even medium-depth leagues he’s just not the kind of prospect archetype that warrants investment.
Roman Quinn, OF PHI. Quinn was a sexy shortstop target in dynasty leagues a couple years back on the strength of his elite speed a decent contact profile, but after suffering a terrible ankle injury and now converting to the outfield he’s lost a whole bunch of shine to his prospect standing as a result. Still, he made enough strides in his return this season to warrant at least casual attention going forward. The speed’s not all the way back, as his stolen base efficiency took a hit. But he did still manage to grab 32 bags, and he posted a third straight season with a walk rate over nine percent – not the worst sign for a player with his limited power profile. There’s still an outside chance Quinn can develop into an impact stolen base threat with a won’t-kill-you batting average, and next season in AA will tell us a lot about that possibility. He’s a flyer for the deepest of leagues at this point in time.