Arizona Fall League Kicks Off Today
The Arizona Fall League kicks off today at 11:35 as the M’s prospects with the Peoria Javelinas take on the Salt River Rafters. Not sure who’s getting the start, but I’d expect to see Danny Hultzen fairly soon.
You’ve seen JY’s write-up of the M’s prospects involved so you know what to watch for: how will Danny Hultzen do against more advanced hitters swinging less advanced bats? Is Adam Moore still ambulatory, because M’s catchers put up a combined OBP of .252, and… well, semi-ambulatory will do. Chih-Hsien Chang’s true talent lies somewhere between the .439 wOBA he put up in the Red Sox system this year and the .236 he had with the M’s, but we’d all love to see some signs that it’s closer to the former than the latter.
The M’s are fortunate to have a member of their player development team coaching for Peoria. Tacoma hitting coach Alonzo Powell (who had the misfortune of attempting to coach the M’s for the second half of 2010) will have the same position for the Javelinas, meaning he’ll have a bit more time to work with guys he might see in 2012 like Chang and Nick Franklin. It’s just a few months, so it’s not like he’s going to transform anyone, but he’s a good instructor, and it might speed up the process a bit if he’s seen these guys face live pitching before they get to AAA.
As I mentioned before, player development is going to be absolutely critical for the M’s if they want to close the gap with Texas (and Anaheim). Beyond money (Seattle’s outspent Texas on MLB payroll every year since 2004), Texas has simply done a better job of turning raw talent into MLB wins. After graduating Michael Pineda and Dustin Ackley, the Rangers have the edge in minor league talent, so the M’s are going to have to get a lot more out of their talent than they have in the past. The AFL is a step in that process, and the M’s need to make something of it (like last year, when they used the AFL to get Dustin Ackley used to playing 2B).
Beyond Peoria, the team to keep an eye on is probably the Scottsdale Scorpions. They’ve got the Angels top prospects in Mike Trout and Jean Segura, the Giants last two first-rounders in speedster Gary Brown and shorstop Joe Panik (who I can’t believe isn’t a punk rock singer). Matt Purke, the lefty from TCU whose draft stock took a hit after an injury will make his pro debut, and they’ve also got some young outfielder named Bryce Harper. Ex-Mariner OF Tyson Gillies looks to get back on the field after injuries and a sketchy arrest kept him off the field for most of 2011.
Elsewhere, 2011 #1 pick Gerrit Cole will pitch for Mesa, and the A’s Grant Green will begin his transition from SS to outfield for Phoenix. The A’s also sent injury-plagued starter Tyson Ross to Arizona along with one of their top prospects, power-hitting OF Michael Choice who, predictably, loved hitting in the California League this year. This trio of Oakland prospects is about as talented as you’ll find, but they’ve all got quite a lot to prove. Ross has to show that his delivery won’t put too much stress on his oblique, Green has to show that he can play a new position and hit for more power than he did in 2011, and Choice has to show that he has fewer holes in his swing than Trayvon Robinson.
The stadia in Peoria and Surprise have pitch-fx installed, so we should get some great information on Hultzen’s velocity and repertoire fairly soon. The league scoreboard’s here, and you can follow along on gameday. The MLB playoffs have been pretty entertaining thus far, but if you’re eager to start looking forward, you’re in luck.