We first examined the California Fall League (CFL) back in November, just after the completion of its inaugural season. My emphasis at that time was primarily on visual scouting, i.e., how guys I saw play looked out on the field. This time around, we’ll take a closer look at players who put up the big numbers.
The CFL, like the more visible Arizona Fall League, exists solely as a place for top prospects to hone their skills in the “off-season.” Unfortunately, due to poor attendance and insufficient funding from Major League Baseball, it’s looking like the CFL will be on hiatus next season. Why such a fine league isn’t being subsidised by folks who should have significant interest in seeing it succeed is anybody’s guess.
But enough business. Let’s see who did what this year.
San Francisco catcher Giuseppe Chiaramonte, aside from having one of the more interesting names in organized baseball, features some nice offensive skills, which he displayed this winter, to the tune of .307/.396/.511 (BA/OBP/SLG — this format will be used throughout). He drew 13 walks in 88 at bats and struck out only 18 times. Fellow Giants farmhand Doug Clark, a lefty-swinging right fielder, hit a cool .333/.442/.527 in 129 at bats. He drew 24 walks against 19 strikeouts and stole 7 bases in 10 tries. Milwaukee shortstop Chris Rowan showed excellent pop for a middle infielder but needs to control the strike zone if he’s to succeed at higher levels. Rowan batted .267/.310/.552 in 105 at bats. The good news is that over half his hits were for extra bases; the bad news is that he walked just 6 times while striking out 38. Mets outfielder Robert Stratton flashed some serious power when he was able to make contact. Stratton hit .233/.322/.488 in 129 at bats. He drew 16 walks but struck out an alarming 54 times. On the bright side, 18 of his 30 hits went for extra bases. Fellow Met Ty Wigginton hit .269/.347/.500 in 130 at bats. Nearly half his hits were of the extra base variety, and the young second baseman walked 17 times versus 26 strikeouts.
On the mound, righthanders Bryan Hebson and Mark Mangum excelled. Hebson, a 24-year-old Montreal farmhand who split 1999 between two Class-A teams, posted a solid 2.30 ERA over 27.1 innings, walking 8 and fanning 26. Opponents hit .242 against him. Mangum, another Expo prospect, finished with a brilliant 1.24 ERA in 29 innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was just so-so, at 16-to-6, but he held the opposition to a staggering .139 batting average.
The team as a whole hit .292/.392/.449, so there were some pretty gawdy individual totals. Catcher Lee Evans hit .324/.392/.507 in 71 at bats. The Pittsburgh prospect drew 8 walks against 20 strikeouts. Seattle second baseman Harvey Hargrove batted .342/.413/.468, with 14 walks and 26 strikeouts in 111 at bats. Another backstop, Detroit’s Brandon Inge, abused league pitchers to the tune of .407/.518/.860, with 20 walks and 23 strikeouts in 86 at bats. Well over half his hits were for extra bases and he managed to steal 6 bases (though he was caught 5 times). Colorado outfielder Juan Pierre had a fine season, batting .371/.457/.464 in 140 at bats. Pierre showed excellent top-of-the-order skills, walking 22 times against an impressive 6 strikeouts and stealing 27 bases in 34 attempts. Minnesota second baseman Mike Ryan hit .322/.439/.494 in 87 at bats. The left-handed hitter drew 19 walks and 15 strikeouts, and was successful in 7 of 8 stolen base attempts. Pittsburgh jack-of-all-trades Rico Washington hit .296/.444/.417 in 115 at bats. The lefty with the sweet swing had just 12 extra base hits (no homers) but displayed impressive patience at the plate, walking 32 times and fanning 27.
Southpaw Chris Cervantes posted a 3.90 ERA over 27.2 innings. The Arizona farmhand walked 5 batters and struck out 33, and opponents hit .289 against him. Righthander Sean Heams finished at 2.79 in 19.1 innings. A product of the Tigers organization, Heams walked 17 but struck out 23, while holding batters to a .209 batting average. Another Detroit prospect, righthander Kris Keller, fashioned a 3.57 ERA, with 4 walks and 16 strikeouts in 17.2 innings. The league hit .288 against Keller. Minnesota righthander Kyle Lohse, obtained in the Rick Aguilera deal, finished with a lofty 6.09 ERA but posted some nice peripheral numbers, including a 38-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a respectable .273 opponent batting average. Colorado’s Justin Miller posted a 3.78 ERA in 33.1 innings. More impressive were the righthanders incredible 54 whiffs against just 14 bases on balls. He held opponents to a .254 batting average. Finally, Steve Sparks (no, not the Angels’ knuckleballer), a righthander in the Pirates chain, tailored a 3.13 ERA over 31.2 innings, walking 16 and fanning 29, while holding the opposition to a .256 batting average.
Jay Gibbons, a first baseman in the Toronto system, hit .323/.403/.500 in 124 at bats. The left-handed hitter walked 18 times against 19 strikeouts. The Indians’ Jon Hamilton batted .340/.405/.528 over 106 at bats. Hamilton, an outfielder, drew 12 walks and fanned 26 times. Yankee outfielder Marcus Thames hit .361/.398/.602 in 108 at bats. He didn’t walk much (7) but didn’t strike out much (12) either. Toronto shortstop Mike Young finished at .295/.413/.561 in 139 at bats. Over 40% of his hits were for extra bases, and he drew plenty of walks (26), though 29 whiffs is a tad high.
On the hill, the Padres’ Jason Middlebrook, a former Stanford standout coming back from an injury-plagued 1999, showed signs of returning to form, with a 4.14 ERA in 37 innings. The righthander struck out 38 and walked just 11, while limiting opponents to a .262 batting average. Doug Sessions, a reliever in the Astros organization, posted a brilliant 1.06 ERA over 17 innings, walking 5 and striking out 24. The league hit just .180 against the righthander. The Devil Rays’ Matt White worked 22.2 innings, finishing with a 2.78 ERA. He walked 10, struck out 21, and held the opposition to a .159 batting average. Southpaw Scott Wiggins, a Yankee farmhand, fashioned a 2.33 ERA, with 20 walks and 40 strikeouts in 38.2 innings. The league hit just .218 against him.
Cincinnati’s Ben Broussard had a terrific winter after completing his first professional season, hitting .387/.497/.757 in 111 at bats. The converted first baseman saw nearly half his hits go for extra bases, while walking 27 times against 24 strikeouts. Another Reds prospect, outfielder Dewayne Wise (since taken by Toronto in the Rule V draft), hit .295/.377/.484 in 122 at bats. The left-handed hitter drew 15 walks, struck out 24 times, and stole 6 bases in 8 attempts. Atlanta first baseman A.J. Zapp batted .277/.355/.446 over 148 at bats. He walked 17 times but struck out an alarming 45.
The Rangers’ Joaquin Benoit posted a 4.41 ERA, with 21 walks and 32 strikeouts in 34.2 innings. The league hit .269 against the young righthander. Benoit doesn’t turn 21 until July. Southpaw Adrian Burnside, then with the Reds, but since taken by the Dodgers in the Rule V draft, posted a high 6.10 ERA in 31 innings but had interesting peripheral numbers, walking 19, striking out 43, and limiting the opposition to a .217 batting average. Guys who do that don’t usually end up with a 6.10 ERA. Cincinnati lefthander Lance Davis finished with a fine 2.52 ERA over 35.2 innings. He walked 13, struck out 23, and held opponents to a .252 batting average. Brett Haring, yet another lefthander in the Reds system, posted a 3.74 ERA, with 8 walks and 24 strikeouts in 33.2 innings. The league hit .262 against Haring. Florida righthander Gary Knotts worked 37 innings, with a 4.38 ERA, 13 walks and 32 strikeouts. He limited opponents to a .269 batting average. Lefty James Manias spun a 3.47 ERA over 23.1 innings. The Cincinnati farmhand walked 5, struck out 34, and was hit at a .273 clip.
That’s all for the CFL. Let’s hope the powers-that-be can get their heads together and figure out a way to make this important league work.