Baseball Heating Back Up in Arizona with Arizona Fall League
Dave Roberts | On 12, Oct 2013
The Arizona Fall League enters its 21st season this October. The league is comparative to graduate school for minor league prospects. Six teams are cobbled together with promising prospects from major league ballclubs. Each organization is tasked with choosing a few select prospects they feel could truly benefit with the extra playing time at a higher level.
This years’ AFL features 24 of Major League Baseball’s top 100 minor league prospects, which should give an idea of just how talented the playing field is. The Cleveland Indians have seven players in this years’ AFL: pitchers Shawn Armstrong, Trey Haley, Jeff Johnson, Will Roberts along with catcher Tony Wolters, infielder Joe Wendle, and outfielder Tyler Naquin are all members of the Surprise Saguaros. Indians minor league pitching coach Steve Karsay is also a member of the Saguaros as a coach. The Indians also contributed a catcher Jake Lowery to the Peoria Javelinas.
Perhaps the best part about the AFL season is it lasts roughly a month and concludes in mid November so even as the playoffs are winding down into October there is still baseball to be had for a little while longer.
Here is a rundown of the Indians players currently competing in the AFL
Lowery is the lone Indians prospect on another squad. The 23-year-old catcher made his way to Double-A Akron where he spent most of the season and posted solid numbers. Overall, he posted a .264/.359/.437 line to go along with 7 home runs and 33 RBIs in 82 games.
The 2012 campaign was a big step forward for Lowery as he showed an ability to get on base more and cut down on strikeouts. In his lone game to this point Lowery is 1 for 3 but that one hit drove in two runs.
For Wolters 2012 was a year of adjustment as he spent it learning a new position, catcher. Overall, the results are positive behind the dish and his bat even picked up a tick with his second tour of duty in Advanced Single A Carolina. In 80 games Wolters posted a .277/.369/.353 slash line while hitting three home runs and driving in 33.
Although, the 21 year may have lost some power in his transition behind the plate, his new position on the diamond makes his bat more valuable overall. In seven plate appearances, Wolters is hitless in the AFL.
Wendle, a 2012 draft pick, has done nothing but excel since the Indians drafted him. Most recently, he put together a great 2013 season in Advanced Single A Carolina with a .295/.372/.513 slash line to go along with 16 home runs and 64 RBIs in 107 games.
The 24 year old is a scrappy player who plays the game right and that’s what has allowed him to quickly catch the organization’s eye. In six at bats so far in the AFL Wendle has collected a hit and scored a run, both in his first game.
Naquin, the Indians first round pick in 2012 has also performed well. Well enough that he ended the 2013 season in Double-A Akron. On the year, the 22 year old posted a .269/.334/.405 slash line coupled with 10 home runs and 48 RBIs in 126 games.
Naquin possesses a solid bat, but perhaps his best quality his is outfield glove, more specifically his canon-like arm. He came out of Thursday night’s game early with an apparent injury after crashing into the outfield wall, but managed to walk off the field on his own. In seven at bats, Naquin has collected two hits, one of which was the first hit in the AFL, and scored a run.
The 23-year-old righty is on his second tour of duty in the AFL as he was a member last season. His 2013 season saw him log the majority of it in Double-A Akron save a few innings of rehab in Arizona coming back from an injury. On the year he appeared in 33 games in relief recording a 2-3 record to go along with a 4.14 ERA in 37 innings. Although not exactly the numbers he was looking for after a stellar 2012 campaign there is still a lot to like about the young right-hander.
He has shown the ability to strikeout hitters at a solid clip and possesses a lively arm so the hope is this year’ down numbers are just the aftermath of the injury. In his only appearance thus far in the AFL, Armstrong allowed two runs on three hits, although both runs were unearned, in an inning of work.
Haley is another righty on his second tour of duty in the AFL for the Indians. The 23 year old earned the honors of AFL Rising Star last season. Unfortunately, much like Armstrong the 2013 campaign that Haley also spent in Double-A Akron did not go as planned as he posted a 1-4 record to the tune of a 4.70 ERA in 44 innings. A former starter, last season was Haley’s first where he seemed to struggle in the relief role.
Haley also possesses the ability to blow hitters away but his inconsistency is what really hurt him this season. He made one scoreless appearance so far in the AFL and recorded a save.
Johnson is another right-handed relief pitcher making his first appearance in the AFL. In his second full season in professional baseball, the 23 year old found his way to Double-A Akron and posted solid numbers in relief. Overall, he went 0-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 48 innings, which includes eight saves.
Although Johnson doesn’t throw much harder than the low 90s he possess a nice splitter that helps him record a good strikeout rate and perform solid in relief. In his one appearance, he allowed an earned run on a hit in an inning of relief.
Roberts is the lone starter out of the bunch. At 23, he spent a majority of the year starting in Double A Akron with limited success. Between Advanced Single A Carolina and Double-A Roberts went 8-12 with a 4.77 ERA. He started 25 games logging 154.2 innings and it was his second consecutive 150+-inning season so something can be said for his consistency.
The righty has good control and won’t blow you away so his biggest problem comes with allowing too much traffic on the bases via hits. In his first appearance in the AFL Roberts logged 3 innings allowing a run on four hits and was saddled with the loss.
Photo: Carolina Mudcats