Following Part 1 of this series yesterday, I will be taking look at the other three teams in the Arizona Fall League. Again, this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive preview of the league, but rather a quick primer on some prospects of note and some worth watching.
Mesa Solar Sox
Top Prospect: Nick Castellanos (OF, Detroit Tigers) – After Castellanos hit .400 in the Florida State League and then continued hitting after a promotion to Double-A, there was a lot of noise of him arriving in Detroit this year. In an odd coincidence, right about the time this talk started, the Tigers moved Castellanos to right field, a position not blocked by a perennial MVP candidate like his natural third base. Castellanos needs lots of reps in the outfield and the extra work with the bat won’t hurt either.
Sleeper: Jiovanni Mier (SS, Houston Astros) – Like many players before him, Mier had a statistical resurgence in the high-octane California League. While some of his numbers may have been fueled by the league environment, Mier did make some real gains in limited action this year. He has a glove that can handle the left side of the infield and enough of an approach at the plate that he won’t be a complete zero. As a guy that can play a premium defensive position and hit in the bottom third of an order, he has a chance to make the big leagues.
Player I Will Be Watching: Yasiel Puig (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers) – Puig was given a massive contract by the Dodgers and with that contract come massive expectations. There will be a lot of eyes on Puig, a multi-tooled athlete that has speed, power and athleticism. I will be watching Puig attentively throughout the fall and beyond.
Pitcher I Will Be Watching: Mike Wright (RHP, Baltimore Orioles) – Wright has moved very quickly since signing out of East Carolina in 2011, and was ranked aggressively by BPN, reaching Double-A in his first full season. A sinker-slider guy that gets ground balls and has a good enough slider – and a good enough change-up too – to get swings and misses, Wright has the potential of a number four starter and despite his struggles in Double-A this year, he could be in the big leagues late next year.
Top Prospect: Kaleb Cowart (3B, Los Angeles Angels) – Cowart has a classic third-base profile with size, strength, athleticism and offensive potential. He is a quality defender at the hot corner and has a big arm that plays well at the position. Cowart hit .293/.348/.479 in 66 games in the Midwest League before an aggressive promotion to High-A as a 20-year old. The AFL will give him a chance to continue improving his approach and finding pitches he can drive, putting his impressive raw power on display more frequently.
Sleeper: Gift Ngoepe (SS, Pittsburgh Pirates) – Ngoepe has been on the radar in the past because of his unique path to professional baseball, signing out of South Africa, but he has rarely been looked at as a viable big league prospect. His .232/.330/.338 batting line in the Florida State League doesn’t scream big league future, but he opened eyes with his defense and effort this year and some see him as a potential utility type with speed off the bench. He’s a fun story that’s backed by legitimate skills in some areas of the game.
Player I Will Be Watching: Ronny Rodriguez (SS, Cleveland Indians) – Rodriguez opened eyes with a strong performance in his professional debut with Low-A Lake County last year and he continued to show promise in the Carolina League this year as a 20-year old. As an athlete that can stick in the middle of the diamond and has pop, Rodriguez has some All-Star potential as long as he can develop his approach to handle more experienced pitchers.
Pitcher I Will Be Watching: Brandon Cumpton (RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates) – Cumpton is an unheralded name in prospect circles but he brings a lot of solid-average stuff to the table that could enable him to carve out a big league career. His sinker has average to slightly above-average velocity with good movement and his change-up and curveball are both at least average pitches. He doesn’t have more than a number four profile, but he could reach achieve that projection late next year and help a resurgent Pirates organization.
Top Prospect: Mike Zunino (C, Seattle Mariners) – Zunino has absolutely torched pro ball since signing as one of the top picks in June, already reaching Double-A and mashing while there. There is plenty of noise that Zunino could be in the big leagues next year and could be an impact player for the Mariners for years to come. It’s been a long year for Zunino and I don’t expect him to get worked hard in the desert, but this could be an additional polishing step that lines him up for a big league debut next summer.
Sleeper: Kevin Quackenbush (RHP, San Diego Padres) – The numbers Quackenbush has put up in his minor league career are downright staggering. In 99 2/3 career innings over two season, Quackenbush has a 0.81 ERA, 10.9 strikeout rate and a strikeout-to-walk ratio over three. There’s nothing fancy here and the profile tops out in the seventh inning but with Petco as his home park, a low-90s fastball that he commands well and some funk/deception in his delivery, he’s a big league prospect.
Player I Will Be Watching: Zach Collier (OF, Philadelphia Phillies) – Like I said yesterday, I’m a sucker for tools. Collier is a tooled up athlete that just hasn’t gotten the playing time he needs to translate tools to on-field skills. Collier showed an improved feel for hitting this year, though still not good. When combined with his bat speed, running speed, defensive abilities and arm strength, he might just be clawing his way back onto the prospect map.
Pitcher I Will Be Watching: James Paxton (LHP, Seattle Mariners) – Paxton exploded onto the scene last year after blowing through the Midwest League and dominating the Southern League through seven starts. He returned to Double-A this year and posted a 3.05 ERA in 21 starts, allowing less than a hit per inning and striking out more than a batter per inning. With Danny Hultzen experiencing some unexpected hiccups along the way, Paxton might be the second-best pitching prospect in the system behind Taijuan Walker.