WTNYNovember 14, 2003
AFL Update (American Division)
By Bryan Smith

As the days are narrowing done for the Arizona Fall League, I decided to give you readers a look at what prospects are doing well, and who looks bullish for 2003. Before I start let me mention that if you didn't know mandatory steroid testing was going to happen, you are an idiot. And, Piazza really has no chance of being dealt. Nice to see Darryl Strawberry back in the game, maybe Doc Gooden can make Mel Stottlemyre's spot next season?

Mesa Solar Sox (D-Rays, Cubs, Orioles, Rockies, Braves)

Well, this team has been home for some of the league's best hitting, as the home run leader and the batting champ play for the same team. It's all been exciting, as the 2003 #1 draft pick made his pro debut.

Delmon Young has 48AB so far in the AFL, and they are going wonderfully. Delmon has a fourth of his hits going for doubles, with Joe Sheehan reporting power to the opposite field. Young has tried all three outfield positions, although it's thought his home is in the corners. He's a very special athlete, and after this debut, and a legit #2 prospect in this franchise.

That's because #1 is occupied by the Majors' best shortstop prospect B.J. Upton. B.J. is finished with the AFL, after only 24AB. He has some of the game's best plate discipline, and his power is thought to be developing. Like Derek Jeter at a similar age, Upton was horrible on defense this year, making more than 40 errors. I've read most of them are on bad throws, so it's thought to be a correctional problem. Upton hit AA this year, and might be ready full-time by 2005.

Joining Upton and Young on prospect sheets are Devil Rays Jonny Gomes and Dewon Brazelton. Dewon has had probably the best AFL of a pitching prospect, after a few disappointing seasons. Brazelton was a top-ten choice in the same draft that has produced Joe Mauer, Mark Prior, Mark Teixeira, and Gavin Floyd. He fell out of Lou Piniella's favor midseason and got demoted...to high-A! Brazelton has allowed 26 hits in 33 innings, while striking out 36. He'll get a chance to redeem himself in the Tampa rotation next season, which is suprisingly getting too many applicants.

Gomes, the final Devil Ray prospect of note, started the AFL off as it's hottest hitter. Since, his batting average has cooled to .299, although his 17 walks are higher than any other number I saw. Gomes is second in home runs, and is one of the more toolsy players alive. He has become very disciplined, and needs to add batting for average to his resume. After this display, we think he has the power down.

But one player Gomes can't touch is Jason Dubois, the HR leader with 9. Dubois is a Cubs RF prospect that was chosen in the Rule V draft by the Toronto Blue Jays last year, yet failed to make their team. He's hit .358 in Arizona, although his 2/27 BB/K ratio is a cause for concern. The Cubs should totally exploit his good season and trade him ASAP, as there are players above him (Kelton), and below him (Pie), that stand higher on the depth chart.

The only other Cubs to note in the AFL are IF Brendan Harris and P John Webb. Harris is a third basemen, who also has the range to play second and short. He hits for a very high average, .302 in 96AB, but lacks real power. Scouts say it will come, yet I remain very skeptical. Harris would be extremely valuable if he can play the middle infield well, a trait he's managed in past years. My guess is he makes the Cubs in 2005 as a utility infielder, unless he hits for more power in Iowa in 2004.

Rockies hitters aren't flourishing in the AFL, as Rockie hopefuls Brad Hawpe and Jayson Nix are both well below .300. Hawpe is a 1B/OF that nearly won the high-A triple crown a season ago. Nix is a bad fielding second basemen with Bret Boone offensive upside. Sheehan says Chris Buglovsky, a prospect never mentioned, was one of the best prospects he saw there. But, Buglovsky's numbers hardly match that praise, and he'll remain collecting dust in the mid-20s on Rockie lists.

There are only two more players worth talking about on this team, Braves players Richard Lewis and Brett Evert. Lewis is leading the league in average, hitting .409, and has played a very good 2B. With Marcus Giles big breakthrough Lewis has no place to go, although the Braves will probably send him packing in the next deal possible. I always mention how they should go after Richie Sexson, and a LaRoche, Lewis, and Brett Evert deal might work. Evert is a big right-hander that otherwise will get a chance at an Atlanta starting spot next season. I don't think he'll make it, but his 34K in 29.1IP indicate his future may be in relief.

No Oriole prospects were good enough to write about.

Peoria Saguaros (Mets, Rangers, Brewers, Padres, Marlins)

Let me start off by saying Mets 3B prospect David Wright may be my favorite prospect in the nation. The kid has a good glove, great plate discipline, and developing power. While Andy Marte is an obvious choice for the best third base prospect, Wright is not far behind, and has surpassed Dallas McPherson. Wright's hitting .341 in the AFL, with an OPS well above .900. He's a very good prospect, and I expect his AA numbers this season to be great.

While Wright is doing well, the Mets have struggling prospects in Justin Huber and Matt Peterson. Huber is an Australian catcher who was lapped this season by Guillermo Quiroz and Dioner Navarro, dropping quickly on prospect lists. He's hitting just .233 in the AFL, and probably is headed back to AA after an injury-prone 2003. Peterson is a college draftee that probably has no gas in the tank after a very good season in high-A. Peterson is the type that has explosion potential, and may be a Met top prospect one day. For now, Mets fans should just worry about his 6.35 ERA.

Speaking of struggling prospects, none is worse than Marlin Jason Stokes. Stokes, rumored by BA to have 50-homer potential, has hit .145 in 62 at-bats. .145, with one walk! He's falling quickly, and may even be behind former organizational teammate Adrian Gonzalez, who is on the same team once again. Gonzalez is doing pretty well in the AFL, after a late-season surge with the Rangers. Adrian also has seventeen walks, compared to only nine home runs. The former top choice in all of baseball has John Olerud offensive similarities, but 2004 will be huge for a bright star.

Let me say that the play by Ranger prospects Jason Bourgeois and Ramon Nivar has been pretty good. Nivar will challenge for an outfield spot next season, although he doesn't bring much more than a solid batting average. Better baserunning skills will make Nivar the perfect leadoff hitter, likely setting up Michael Young and A-Rod in a good 2005 Texas team.

Finally, I want to mention #2 draft pick Rickie Weeks has also had an encouraging camp. Weeks has walked 12 times in 72 at-bats, while managing a .319 batting average. He doesn't look secure at second, and has been tried on the left side as well. Ultimately Weeks will stay to the right side of the bag, but he must show increased fielding dedication in AA next year.

Scottsdale Scorpions (Dodgers, Angels, Reds, Astros, D-Backs)

I said the Angels had the best top-five prospects in all of baseball not long ago, but that's not going very well in the AFL. Casey Kotchman, the first basemen, leads the Angel hitters with a .261 batting average. Catcher Jeff Mathis, who sits right behind Mauer on prospect lists, is barely hitting over .180. And McPherson? Despite a late regular season surge, he's hitting just .218 in Arizona. Ouch.

Arizona has quite the middle infield pair of prospects playing in Arizona, Scott Hairston and Sergio Santos. Hairston is the best second base prospect, behind Weeks, in all of baseball. He skipped a level in 2003, and will probably be in AA next season. After hitting .360 in the AFL, watch out. Santos is a high school shortstop draftee that had a very good 2003. He's struggling in Arizona, and his 22 strikeouts are way too high for 96AB.

That's it and have a very good weekend.