I’ve never seen much point in a massive AFL preview because the developmental environment and usage restrictions on players makes it really hard to give any feel for what may happen throughout the fall. Instead, I figured I would give you folks a little primer on the best prospects on each roster, some sleepers to keep an eye on and which guys I’ll be keeping my eye on for a variety of reasons. I will tackle three of the league’s rosters today and the other three tomorrow.
Phoenix Desert Dogs
Top Prospect: Christian Yelich (OF, Miami Marlins) – Yelich put together a strong season after ranking as the top prospect in the Marlins system entering the year. He’s a gifted hitter with power potential and enough speed at this point in his career to be a thread in center field and on the bases. His offensive prowess has him cruising through the minor leagues and the AFL will be just one more test as he nears the big leagues.
Sleeper: Edward Salcedo (3B, Atlanta Braves) – Salcedo has been on the scene for a long time after getting a large bonus from the Braves several years ago. He has been slow to develop but still shows the impressive tools that made him a big time signing. He is lauded by scouts for his outstanding makeup and while his numbers haven’t always been crazy good and he doesn’t get the fanfare of other prospects, I still see a big league future.
Player I Will Be Watching: Hak-Ju Lee (SS, Tampa Bay Rays) – Lee entered the year ranked behind only Matt Moore in the Rays system and a lot was expected of him after a breakout campaign with High-A Charlotte in 2011. He stumbled a bit at Double-A but the defensive chops didn’t falter one bit and he still showed speed with 37 stolen bases. With quality defense, a feel for the strike zone and contact and speed, it’s hard not to see an everyday shortstop.
Pitcher I Will Be Watching: Santo Manzanillo (RHP, Milwaukee Brewers) – Even though Manzanillo is only on the taxi squad that is activated on Wednesdays and Saturdays, his comeback from a serious car accident over the off-season is intriguing to me. He was regarded as one of the better arms in the Brewers system following last year and I ranked him 10th on my Brewers Top 15 entering the season. He has the arm strength to pitch in the big leagues but he has to harness his power to take the next step.
Salt River Rafters
Top Prospect: Anthony Rendon (3B, Washington Nationals) – Rendon missed the bulk of the 2012 season due to injury but quickly raced back to Double-A late in the season. He was expected to be on the fast track to the big leagues after signing in 2011 and a strong AFL performance could put him back in line to see the big leagues in 2013. He is an extremely talented hitter with at least average power potential and a great approach, not to mention good defense at the hot corner.
Sleeper: Cory Riordan (RHP, Colorado Rockies) – There’s not much flashy about Riordan’s arsenal or his results throughout the minor leagues, but that doesn’t stop him from looking like a workhorse back of the rotation pitcher. He has a heavy fastball that induces plenty of ground balls and his secondary pitches show just enough potential to keep him off the fat part of the bat. He doesn’t have the highest ceiling in the world but I think he could pop up on a big league roster for a few years.
Player I Will Be Watching: Trayce Thompson (OF, Chicago White Sox) – Thompson is loaded with tools on both sides of the ball and he frequently seems to get overlooked as a high-ceiling prospect. There’s a ton of swing-and-miss in his game and the approach needs work, but with any hitting ability, the rest of the tools are certainly big league caliber. He had a partial breakout this year between High-A and Double-A and the AFL could be a springboard to a monster season in 2013.
Pitcher I Will Be Watching: Ryan Perry (RHP, Washington Nationals) – Certainly not a prospect, but Perry logged 85 innings in the minor leagues this year after being shipped from Detroit to Washington last year. The Nationals are actively trying to move him back to the rotation and the early returns, while not dominating, were very solid as he turned in a 2.84 ERA across 13 Double-A starts. He’s a unique story in the AFL and that makes him worth attention as a reclamation project.
Top Prospect: Kolten Wong (2B, St. Louis Cardinals) – Wong stands out on a roster that is both quite young and lacks star power. Wong has done nothing but hit since joining the Cardinals in 2011, including a .287/.348/.405 line as a 21-year old in Double-A after skipping High-A. Wong is a solid natural hitter with gap power and a very good approach at the plate. He can handle himself at second base and is a max-effort player whose tools play up as a result.
Sleeper: Cesar Puello (OF, New York Mets) – I’ve long admitted that I’m a sucker for tools and that’s not likely to change. Puello has tools and certainly lacks the performance pedigree to be recognized nationally. He missed time with injury this year and could use some at-bats to get things in order for a promotion to Double-A in 2013. I don’t have illusions of monster numbers in the AFL, or even in Double-A next year, but his tools still have a chance to play and he merits more attention than he gets.
Player I Will Be Watching: Bryce Brentz (OF, Boston Red Sox) – Arguably the streakiest player in the minor leagues, Brentz certainly has a big league future, but how significant his role is will be determined by his ability to become more consistent. When he’s hot, he can hit for average and power and play a strong right field with a big arm. When he’s cold, everything he does is ugly and there are glaring weaknesses. I’ll be watching for improved consistency from Brentz this fall, and if it happens, he could suddenly be on the radar for a big league trial late in 2013.
Pitcher I Will Be Watching: Miguel De Los Santos (LHP, Texas Rangers) – While he may not be a Ranger by the time the AFL kicks off after being designated for assignment, De Los Santos is still one of the more intriguing arms on a pitching staff that lacks flash. He has good stuff from the left side and has little trouble missing bats, as evidenced by his 70 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings this year and career 13.6 strikeout rate. He lacks the refined control and command to put his impressive stuff to use and pitching against more advanced hitters in the AFL could force him to take steps forward.