Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Arizona Fall League – Most Significant Performances

Ackley’s performance was of historic proportions

We have been running Performance Score numbers on the AZFL for six seasons now. While the sample sizes are barely of statistical significance, the level of competition is too good to be ignored. When you look back over the last six years at the top achievers, it is clear that even in small sample sizes like this, the cream tends to rise to the top. Therefore, we do find significance in what happens in Arizona in October and November and what follows are the players who told us the most this year.

Top 10 Positive Performances

1) Dustin Ackley, 2B, SEA

Ignore the fact that he was named AZFL MVP. That award doesn’t begin to tell the story of Ackley’s AZFL performance. In the six years that we have been running Performance scores for this League, we have never witnessed anything like it. Ackley posted a 1.339 OPS this fall. Over the last six years, the 95th percentile OPS (minimum 90 PAs) is .880. Only three players previously have posted an OPS greater than 1.200 (Collin Curtis – 1.203 in 2009, Jason Donald-1.233 in 2008 and Michael McKenry- 1.216 in 2008). It would be unfair to not mention Tyler Flowers’ 1.433 OPS in 2008, as he fell a few PAs short of the 90 threshhold. Not only was Ackley’s more than .100 higher than the next highest, but he was nearly a year younger than any of those other players. One could argue that the pitching talent was a bit thin in the League this season. While it may be true that the AZFL did not boast the ‘names’ that it has in some of the past season—particularly 2009—the overall offense in the League this year was a bit below average of the last six, ranking 4th. So there doesn’t appear to be much offensive inflation involved. When we compare his age-adjusted Performance Score with the League over the last six seasons, Ackley is a clear #1.

Top 12 AZFL Hitting Performances 2005-2010

Name ( YEAR ) AGE - OBP / SLG
1 ) Dustin Ackley ( 2010 ) 22.6 - 0.581 / 0.758
2 ) Starlin Castro ( 2009 ) 19.6 - 0.396 / 0.475
3 ) Brandon Wood ( 2005 ) 20.6 - 0.375 / 0.711
4 ) Fernando Martinez ( 2006 ) 18.0 - 0.305 / 0.379
5 ) Lastings Milledge ( 2005 ) 20.5 - 0.402 / 0.574
6 ) Billy Butler ( 2005 ) 19.5 - 0.330 / 0.476
7 ) Eric Young ( 2008 ) 23.4 - 0.504 / 0.640
8 ) Logan Morrison ( 2008 ) 21.1 - 0.444 / 0.667
9 ) Travis Snider ( 2007 ) 19.7 - 0.404 / 0.541
10 ) Carlos Triunfel ( 2008 ) 18.6 - 0.339 / 0.394
11 ) Jose Tabata ( 2009 ) 21.2 - 0.448 / 0.517
12 ) Matt Kemp ( 2005 ) 21.1 - 0.414 / 0.606

So in a League that has seen the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun, Dan Uggla, Adam Lind, Evan Longoria, Travis Snider, Justin Smoak, Gordon Beckham, Matt Wieters, Starlin Castro, Matt Kemp, Billy Butler and Buster Posey pass through, Ackley’s 2010 AZFL Performance laps the field. But the most significant development of Ackley’s performance may not have come with the bat, as his glove work at second is moving the consensus opinion from ‘doubtful’ to ‘playable’. While Ackley’s offense is good enough to earn all-star reviews no matter where he plays, if he can stick at second base he will really be something special. We should find out soon enough, because Ackley has little left to prove in the Minors and should be up with the Mariners by June.

2) Bryce Harper, OF, WSN

No AZFL appearance was more closely watched than the 2010 #1 overall pick’s. While the sample size was extremely small, roughly 40 PAs, Harper showed plenty. His arm was the best in the circuit and he looks like a plus corner defender. While he pressed at times offensively, he showed enough to label his power tool not only one of the best in the Minors, it is likely one of the best in baseball and he is barely 18yo. Few players have received the spotlight, at such a young age, as that which Harper has faced; and he looks poised to deliver on all of that promise. The Nationals will be in little hurry with him, but a debut in the Potomac with a possible MLB debut as soon as the second half of 2012—likely before his 20th birthday.

3) Derek Norris, C, WSN

We expected Norris to struggle this season because of the recovery involved with the wrist injury. In that regard Norris didn’t disappoint. The Nationals sent him to the AZFL for some additional work and it looks like he used the time to shed some of the rust. His .667 SLG was second in the League to Ackley and he posted a plus .400 OBP to go along with it. While he is unlikely to be a gold glove backstop, his receiving skills are improving enough to make it likely that he is the Nationals long-term answer at the position. The only negative continues to be his propensity to strikeout as he still had 28% K-rate, following his regular season rate of 24%. He will struggle at the higher levels until he controls that.

4) Marc Rzepczynski, LHP, TOR

Rzepczynski led the league in ERA and limited the league to an even more impressive .214 Average Against. Yes, at 25yo he was about three years older than his competition, but Rzepczynski has put together some interesting seasons for a few years now, and although no longer a prospect, he seems headed toward a serviceable Major League career at the back end of someone’s rotation. The upside here isn’t tremendous, but the floor looks pretty high and the Jays looked poised to give him a spot this Spring.

5) Charlie Culberson, 2B, SFG

With Posey and Bumgarner no longer prospects, the Giants prospect list looks like it is going to be significantly changed this year and Culberson, along with Brando Belt, appear to be two of the biggest movers. Culberson’s development has been slow since the Giants made him a supplemental first round pick in 2007, but 2010 was a breakout year for him. Not only did he put together a fine CAL season, but he added a Top 10 AZFL Performance score, while leading the circuit in doubles. The classic baseball grinder, Culberson looks far more certain of an MLB career than he did at this point last year.

6) Manny Banuelos, RHP, NYY

The youngest pitcher in the League by nearly 18 months, Banuelos continues to show an advanced feel for pitching and posesses a significant repertoire. Few pitchers in the Minors are as young as Banuelos and have established such a high floor. Banuelos earned the top pitching performance in the AZFL this year and looks like a solid bet to be a mid-rotation big league starter for years.

7) Cord Phelps, 2B/3B, CLE

By mid-season, Jason Kipnis had established himself as the Indians’ future second basemen, but Phelps put up strong second half numbers and outperformed him in the AZFL, posting a 1.031 OPS. Phelps will never be a scout favorite as none of his skills are exceptional, but if the Indians overlook him in favor of Kipnis, they may be making a substantial mistake. His ‘grinder’ approach will make him a coaches favorite and he looks to have established a floor of a solid Big League utility man in the mold of a Tony Graffanino.

8) Josh Vitters, 3B, CHN

Vitters still remains more enigma than prospect, as he has posted both outstanding and abysmal performances thus far in his professional career. As the third youngest player in the circuit to amass 90 PAs, Vitters posted a .705 OPS. While those numbers don’t jump out at you, they were good enough for a top five hitting Performance score. What is of more importance though is that he showed more patience at the plate than has been his trademark (13% strikeout rate vs. 19% on the regular season and a 8% walk rate vs. 6% during the regular season). That will be the key for Vitters as he progresses. His defense was playable and those that have begun to write him off are premature.

9) Eduardo Escobar, SS, CHA

In a system with little to celebrate, as far as prospects go, Escobar’s AZFL performance turned enough heads to make him one of the top prospects in the organization. While he will have to shed the good glove/weak bat label, Escobar posted an .889 OPS as one of the League’s youngest players. This yielded the #6 Performance score and will put Escobar on everyone’s radar heading into 2011.

10) Scott Barnes, LHP, CLE

The Giants felt, like many in the scouting community, that Barnes lacked the raw ‘stuff’ to make a difference at the Major League level and had no probably dealing him. Time will tell, but not only did Barnes post the League’s #2 Performance score, but his K/IP was the highest in the League for pitchers with more than 12 innings pitched. Those are significant numbers in this League and certainly indicative of more than the attention he has merited thus far.

Five Performances to Forget

1) Jared Mitchell, OF, CHA

The consensus view on Mitchell heading into the 2009 draft was that he was extremely toolsy, oozing with athleticism, and, because he was a two-sport athlete in college, he was likely to have a lengthy development curve. The White Sox took him in the first round and had hoped to shorten that development curve with an assignment to AA. His spring training injury cost him the season, but the White Sox still were looking to push the envelope and sent him to the AZFL. Mitchell was clearly overmatched, more than just rusty, and now looks likely to begin the 2011 season in the Carolina League. Perhaps most concerning was his mere 2 SBs in 90 PAs. It is too early to be extremely down on him, but what we saw in the AZFL was tremendously significant.

2) Grant Green, SS, OAK

After nearly 600 PAs in the CAL this year, we were surprised to find Green here, and maybe his lackluster performance was just a matter of fatigue. But that doesn’t change the fact that Green was not what was expected. He enters 2011 as a 23yo making his AA debut. While his CAL numbers were good, he was old for the League and it was the CAL. We have always been high on him, but, by any measure, Green has had a disappointing beginning to his professional career.

3) Brandon Wood, 3B, LAA

Five years ago, Wood came to the AZFL as a 25yo and posted a 1.078 OPS as he was being anointed as a Top 10 prospect. Now 25yo, the best that Wood can muster is an .875 OPS. He should have owned this level of competition and clearly appears to be on the verge of earning the ‘bust’ label.

4) Carlos Gutierrez, RHP, MIN

The Twins remain tremendously more enamored with the former first round pick than do we. They expect Gutierrez to be a part of their bullpen sometime in 2011. We continue to see someone who lacks the out pitch to be successful in a MLB bullpen, a pitcher who hasn’t seen success above Hi-A and a pitcher whose most value would likely come as a end of the rotation starter or swing man. The sample size was small in the AZFL, but the results were consistent with his performance on the year—that being that he finds way too many bats.

5) Josh Fields, RP, SEA

At 25yo, it is safe to say that the odds of Fields living up to his first round draft status are becoming extremely long. Control problems continue to plague Fields and he has yet to pitch above AA. We aren’t saying that he won’t see the Seattle pen at some point—perhaps even 2011, but we are saying that his MLB impact is likely to be minimal.

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