Harper heads list of top 25 AFL prospects
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Fall League has long had a reputation as a hitter-friendly circuit, and the 2011 season confirmed that, almost to an extreme. Three teams hit .300 and the league as a whole hit .286. It slugged .454.
Conversely, the pitching numbers aren't pretty. No team finished the year with an ERA under 5.00. The league? A robust 5.53. So it should come as little surprise that this year's top AFL prospects list would be very hitter-heavy. The following list of 25 prospects was chosen not solely based on performance during the AFL, but with more of an eye toward upside. Performance was taken in to account, obviously, with some players definitely raising their stock with how they played this fall.
The list was made after several conversations with scouts who spent a considerable amount of time watching Fall League action. And they agreed: The batter's box was the place to look for talent. The end result is a list with 21 hitters and just four pitchers.
1. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals: After starting the AFL season 1-for-16 and not picking up an extra-base hit until his seventh game, Harper reeled off a 16-game hitting streak and hit safely in 18 of the next 19 games to put him in the top 10 in slugging, OPS, homers and RBIs.
2. Danny Hultzen, LHP, Mariners: One of several 2011 first-rounders getting their feet wet in Arizona, the No. 2 overall pick certainly held his own. The lefty was the only starting pitcher to finish in the top 5 in ERA (1.40). He held hitters to a .225 average and struck out 18 in 19 1/3 IP.
3. Mike Trout, OF, Angels: There was no question MLB.com's No. 1 prospect was out of gas by the time he got to the AFL, so he gets a bit of a mulligan. He didn't perform here like he did during the 2011 season in the Minors, but the tools are all still there.
4. Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pirates: Cole was the third straight No. 1 overall pick to come make his unofficial debut in the AFL. The right-hander tossed 15 innings before calling it a season. After a tough first outing -- and getting roughed up a bit in the Rising Stars game -- he threw well and his plus stuff was readily apparent. He struck out better than a batter an inning and held hitters to a .179 average against.
5. Christian Bethancourt, C, Braves: Scouts raved about Betancourt's athleticism behind the plate to go along with a plus arm. He still needs work defensively, but he has all the tools to be a very good all-around catcher (he hit .306 and slugged .556).
6. Mike Olt, 3B, Rangers: Olt gave both the home run and RBI records a serious run, easily leading the league with 13 homers and 43 RBIs. He also received good reports on his defensive acumen at third.
7. Wil Myers, OF, Royals: The top Royals prospect shook off a rough regular season to reclaim some of his status as one of the more intriguing young hitting prospects in the game. Myers showed tremendous plate discipline, walking more than he struck out, finishing in the top three in OBP, SLG and OPS.
8. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies: Arenado was right there with Olt in terms of his run-producing ability, finishing third in batting average and second in RBIs, all without many strikeouts. His pure hitting ability was on display and it's clear his 2011 season was not a California League mirage.
9. Michael Choice, OF, A's: Choice hit 30 homers during the regular season, but it was in Class A and in the California League. The power is legit -- he hit six homers in just 66 at-bats here -- showing the ability to draw walks as well.
10. Jedd Gyorko, 3B, Padres: One scout said of Gyorko that he was as sure of him being a big league hitter as anyone in the league. His .437 average led the league and he showed plenty of extra-base pop and run-producing activity. There might be concern over his ultimate defensive home, but there are none about the bat.
11. Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals: Only Harper was younger among the position players and Taveras held his own coming from the Midwest League. He didn't walk in the AFL, but he also showed the ability to make consistent contact. The power will continue to come as he matures.
12. Mikie Mahtook, OF, Rays: The No. 31 overall pick in the Draft, it took a little while for the LSU product to shake off some rust and catch up to the speed of the game at this level. Once he did, he had an 11-game hitting streak that included six multihit games to put him firmly among the league leaders in a host of categories.
13. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox: Middlebrooks followed up a breakout regular season with just 56 at-bats here, but showed more of the power and defensive ability to make him one of the better third-base prospects in the game.
14. Nick Franklin, SS, Mariners: Franklin made up for some lost time in Arizona and came on strong, hitting .306 in November. As one scout put it, prospects who can play the middle infield like Franklin can perhaps should be valued more than others.
15. Anthony Gose, OF, Blue Jays: While concern does persist about Gose's penchant for swinging and missing, he continued to impress with his other tools, namely his plus speed, his developing power and his excellent defensive skills, particularly his arm.
16. Jed Bradley, LHP, Brewers: The No. 15 overall pick in June's Draft joined Hultzen in Peoria here and there was a little bit of a split about this southpaw. He might have slightly better pure stuff than Hultzen, but not as much polish. He didn't pitch much -- he had a groin issue early -- but he did show hints of the repertoire that made him one of the better college arms in the Draft class.
17. Gary Brown, OF, Giants: Scouts didn't get a real long look at the outfield prospect as he appeared in just 11 games before shutting it down on Oct. 22 due to illness. There's still a lot to be excited about his potential as a leadoff hitter and the speed that can change the game on both sides of the ball.
18. Jean Segura, SS, Angels: Segura missed a lot of time during the regular season with hamstring issues, keeping him from getting enough time at shortstop. That's where he played here, and he played it well, showing off his outstanding arm, hitting for average and some good wheels.
19. Joe Panik, INF, Giants: A bit of a surprise first-round pick for many, Panik went out and hit very well in the Northwest League. He continued to do so here against more advanced competition, hitting for average and getting on base. He also played second base exclusively, perhaps a sign of a permanent position switch from shortstop.
20. Sean Gilmartin, LHP, Braves: One more first-round left-hander. Gilmartin signed earlier than the two higher on the list and made his pro debut. He showed an outstanding changeup and ability to throw strikes. He was particularly tough against lefties, holding them to a .154 batting average.
21. Tim Wheeler, OF, Rockies
22. Robbie Grossman, OF, Pirates
23. Junior Lake, SS, Cubs
24. Scooter Gennett, 2B, Brewers
25. Adam Eaton, OF, Diamondbacks