The Arizona Fall League (AFL) works a little differently from the other Winter Leagues. It’s actually subsidised by Major League Baseball with the purpose of serving as a league where the best prospects can further work on their game against better competition. Statistics in this league are often misleading, as often an organization will send a player to the AFL to work on one particular aspect of his game, e.g., hitting breaking balls or learning a new position in the field. With that caveat in mind, let’s take a look at who shined in the AFL this year.
Minnesota third baseman Mike Cuddyer didn’t put up spectacular numbers, but as one of the younger players in the league, he certainly held his own, hitting .250/.382/.375 (BA/OBP/SLG–this format will be used throughout). And although he struck out too much (28 times in 128 at bats), he drew 26 walks, which is very encouraging. Angels’ second baseman Trent Durrington hit .315/.423/.363 in 124 at bats. He walked 22 times and struck out 20. He also stole 15 bases but was caught 9 times. If this improved plate discipline is for real, with very little competition for the job in Anaheim, Durrington could be useful at the top of the order. (Late note: the Angels just signed former Athletics second baseman Scott Spiezio.) Colorado outfielder Jody Gerut hit .180/.313/.351 in 111 at bats. While that .180 batting average is nothing to write home about, 40% of his hits went for extra bases and 21 walks versus 18 strikeouts is a good sign. All in all, not a bad season for a kid without any Double-A experience. Fellow Rockie Ben Petrick hit .280/.389/.360, with 13 walks and 18 strikeouts in 75 at bats. He still needs to work on his defense a bit before taking over as the everyday catcher.
The team ERA was 6.00, so there weren’t too many guys with good numbers here. Two notable exceptions were righthanders Matt Kinney and Scott Linebrink, of the Twins and Giants, respectively. Kinney posted a 3.19 ERA over 31 innings. He walked 18 and struck out 33, and opponents hit just .239 against him. Linebrink, who missed most of the regular season due to injury, fashioned a 3.68 ERA in 36.3 innings. Opponents did hit .310 against him (they hit .307 against the team as a whole), but he allowed no home runs and had a fine strikeout-to-walk ratio of 30-to-9.
Outfielder Chad Alexander, taken in the Rule V draft by the Mariners out of the Houston organization, had a terrific AFL season. He hit .369/.435/.537 in 149 at bats, with 19 walks and 23 strikeouts. Houston farmhand Keith Ginter batted .306/.433/.459 in 85 at bats. The 24-year-old second baseman drew 16 walks and struck out 14 times. Milwaukee’s Chad Green showed surprising power but still insufficient on-base skills for a leadoff hitter. He hit .291/.342/.475 in 141 at bats, with just 12 walks and 24 strikeouts. Green also stole 6 bases in 7 attempts. Another Brewer outfielder, Buck Jacobsen, hit .329/.400/.624 in 85 at bats, with 8 walks and 21 strikeouts. Highly touted Braves prospect George Lombard, coming off a disappointing regular season, hit .302/.386/.619, with 18 walks and a whopping 38 strikeouts in just 126 at bats. Lombard was successful on 10 of 12 stolen base attempts. Cleveland’s slugging first baseman Danny Peoples hit .336/.408/.536 in 110 at bats. Peoples, stuck behind Jim Thome and Richie Sexson, drew 13 walks while striking out 26 times.
Not much pitching here, either (6.03 team ERA). Cleveland righthander Jamie Brown worked 35.2 ERA, posting a high 5.55 ERA and .285 opponent batting average. On the positive side, he walked just 5 while striking out 32. Braves southpaw Damian Moss, bothered by injuries the past couple years, sported a 4.22 ERA over 32 innings. Opposing batters hit just .254 against him. Moss issued too many (20) walks and not enough (19) strikeouts.
White Sox outfielder McKay Christensen hit .362/.424/.492 in 130 at bats. He walked 12 times and struck out 19, and swiped 10 bags in 16 tries. Christensen is a terrific defender but he’s not young and he doesn’t walk enough to bat near the top of the order; he’s probably a fourth outfielder at best. The good news for Pat Cline is that he hit .286/.362/.512 in 84 at bats, with more than half his hits going for extra bases. The bad news is that with Yamid Haad and Steve Lomasney on the team, he spent most of his time at DH, which Cline’s parent club, the Cubs, uses only a handful of times a year. The Rangers’ Mike Lamb hit .343/.393/.556 in 99 at bats. The switch-hitter walked just 9 times but struck out only 8; with the free-agent defection of Todd Zeile, Lamb looks to be the favorite to land the third base job in Arlington this spring. The aforementioned Lomasney, a Boston farmhand, put up a solid .284/.382/.580 effort over 88 at bats. While he struck out too much (31 times, versus just 8 walks), nearly half of his hits were of the extra-base variety, and he also stole 6 bases in 8 attempts. Cubs megaprospect Corey Patterson, the youngest player in the league, more than held his own in the AFL. Playing against competition consistently 3-4 years older than him, Patterson hit .368/.408/.581 in 117 at bats. He drew just 7 walks against 33 strikeouts, and stole 8 bases in 9 tries. While his patience at the plate needs work, this is simply an outstanding showing for someone who had never even faced High-A pitching.
White Sox righthander Lorenzo Barcelo, coming back from injuries, posted a high 5.19 ERA over 26 innings but opponents hit just .248 against him. Barcelo walked just 5 while striking out 20. Texas lefthander Doug Davis, who spent the greater portion of 1999 riding the Arlington/Oklahoma City shuttle, managed a fine 2.25 ERA in 36 innings. The opposition batted .261 against him, and he walked 15 while striking out 32. Boston righthander Sun Kim baffled opponents, holding them to a paltry .171 batting average. Kim’s 2.27 ERA and 31-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 31.2 innings were also impressive.
San Diego first baseman Ryan Balfe hit .371/.432/.568, with 14 walks and 32 strikeouts in 132 at bats. The switch-hitter figures to spend 2000 at Triple-A Las Vegas. Phillies prospect Pat Burrell went to the AFL to work out in the outfield. By all accounts he acquitted himself nicely in the field; he also kept hitting, to the tune of .296/.386/.548, with 18 walks and 33 strikeouts in 135 at bats. Forty-five percent of his hits went for extra bases. San Diego infielder David Newhan hit .284/.361/.532, with 10 walks and 30 strikeouts in 109 at bats. The left-handed hitting Newhan has excellent power for a middle infielder and should compete for a spot on the Padres’ bench this spring. Dodgers second baseman Adam Riggs hit .316/.368/.537 in 136 at bats, with 12 walks and 35 strikeouts. He also stole 8 bases in 9 attempts. Toronto’s wunderkind outfielder Vernon Wells batted .259/.333/.504 in 139 at bats. He walked 15 times, against 25 strikeouts, and well over half his hits were of the extra-base variety. Wells also was successful on all 6 of his stolen base attempts.
Seattle southpaw extraordinaire Ryan Anderson dominated the AFL, posting a 2.91 ERA over 34 innings. Opponents batted just .228 against him, and he walked 9 while striking out 29. Righthander Adam Eaton, acquired by the Padres in the Andy Ashby deal this off-season, finished up with a 4.78 ERA in 32 innings. Eaton held opponents to a .248 batting average; he walked 10 and struck out 24. Toronto righthander Gary Glover compiled a 2.70 ERA, with 13 walks and 26 strikeouts in 26.2 innings. Opponents hit a miniscule .168 against him. San Diego lefty Kevin Walker worked 21.1 innings, posting a fine 2.11 ERA. He walked 7 and struck out 19, and opponents batted .280 against him.
Montreal outfield prospect Milton Bradley had a fine AFL campaign, finishing at .352/.426/.556, with 14 walks and just 12 strikeouts in 108 at bats. The switch-hitting centerfielder stole 7 bases in 10 attempts. Bradley will have to overcome the perception that he is a troublemaker, but the talent is definitely there. Royals farmhand Dermal “Dee” Brown hit .324/.403/.519, with 12 walks and 22 strikeouts in 108 at bats. The lefty-swinging Brown will seek to land a spot in the crowded Kansas City outfield this spring but more likely will spend some time at Triple-A improving his glovework. Sean McNally is a bit old (27) for a prospect, but his 36 homers at Double-A last year cannot be ignored. The first baseman, a member of the Royals organization, hit .361/.462/.580, with 20 walks and 38 strikeouts in 119 at bats this winter. Oakland’s Adam Piatt has the misfortune of being stuck behind Eric Chavez at the hot corner. But if he keeps hitting, he’ll force his way into a big-league lineup somehow. He hit .308/.414/.481 in 104 at bats. Piatt walked 20 times, against 18 strikeouts, and nearly half his hits went for extra bases.
Rightander Jeff Austin, a former first-round pick of the Royals, posted a 4.06 ERA over 31 innings. He was hit pretty hard (.336 Opp BA) but maintained a solid strikeout-to-walk ratio of 21-to-8. Cincinnati hurler Rob Bell, acquired from the Braves a year ago in the Denny Neagle trade, finished with a 4.76 ERA in 34 innings. Opponents hit just .242 against the righthander, and he struck out 34 batters while walking just 8; a solid showing from a guy coming back from injury. Kansas City righthander Chad Durbin posted a fine 0.75 ERA (only 2 of his 8 runs allowed were earned) in 24 innings. He held the opposition to a .221 batting average and struck out 26 against 7 walks. Montreal righthanders Jim Serrano and Scott Strickland put up good numbers in the AFL. Serrano finished with a 2.31 ERA in 23.1 innings. Opponents hit .189 against him, and he walked 10 while striking out 23. Strickland, who saw some time with the big club in 1999, fashioned a 3.47 ERA over 23.1 innings. His .188 batting average against and 30-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio were outstanding. Jake Westbrook, recently dealt to the Yankees in the Hideki Irabu trade, posted a 3.10 ERA in 29 innings, with 8 walks and 20 strikeouts. Opponents hit .280 against the young righthander.
Arizona outfielder Jack Cust continued his habit of abusing opposing pitchers despite once again being one of the younger players in his league. He finished at .267/.436/.542 in 120 at bats, with a nice 34 walks and a not-so-nice 45 strikeouts. There are questions about the defensive abilities of Detroit catcher Robert Fick but there’s no doubt he is a big-league hitter; the sweet-swinging lefty batted .302/.457/.594 over 96 at bats. Over half his hits were of the extra-base variety, and his 24 walks against 18 strikeouts is outstanding. He also stole 10 bases in 12 attempts. Eric Munson is another in the mold of Fick. Just months after being drafted out of USC, Munson moved to first base, where he played in the AFL. He hit .292/.338/.477, with 9 walks and 25 strikeouts in 130 at bats. Very impressive for a kid with so little pro experience. Baltimore’s Calvin Pickering must be wondering what he has to do to get anyone’s attention. The bulky first baseman hit .322/.450/.433, with 19 walks and 25 strikeouts in 90 at bats. Detroit outfielder Chris Wakeland hit .356/.439/.533 in 135 at bats. The lefy-swinging Wakeland walked 19 times, against 35 strikeouts. He also stole 7 bases in 9 attempts.
Florida righthander Jason Grilli, acquired this past summer in the Livan Hernandez deal, showed mixed results after a disappointing regular season. Grilli fashioned a 4.63 ERA but held opponents to a .241 batting average. The 26 walks were way too many for 35 innings but he also struck out 34. Arizona righthander John Patterson finished with a 4.09 ERA over 33 innings; batters hit .254 against Patterson, who walked 11 while fanning 25. Brad Penny, acquired from the Diamondbacks in the Matt Mantei trade, dominated the league’s hitters to the tune of a 1.64 ERA over 33 innings. The righthander was hit at a .236 clip, and walked 13 while striking out 36. The Mets’ Grant Roberts also put up solid numbers, finishing at 2.43, with 7 walks and 35 strikeouts in 29.2 innings. The league hit just .228 against him. Arizona righthander Jeremy Ward, drafted this past June out of Cal State Long Beach, did just fine in the AFL. He posted a stellar 1.62 ERA over 16.2 innings, limiting hitters to a .197 batting average. Ward walked 7 and fanned 14.