Looking Forward: Arizona Fall League Thoughts

Russ Canzler could audition for a 40-man spot in Arizona via www.indyweek.com

Rosters for the Arizona Fall League won't come out until the end of the month, but the minor league season is beginning to wind down and we can look at some candidates. If you're unfamiliar, the AFL is a sort of prospect showcase league that runs in October and November out west. Each team sends six (or more) players to make up six teams. As an added bonus, a few of the parks have pitch-f/x information.

Generally it's not the absolute cream of the crop, though Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper made their unofficial pro debuts in Arizona the past two seasons. For the most part it's fringe 40-man who the organization wants to get one more look at this year, or players who missed time with injury. All triple-A and double-A players are eligible, along with one player below double-A. Here's a look at who the Rays have sent the past three seasons:

2008:
RHP Chris Mason
RHP Ryan Reid
RHP Wade Townsend
LHP Mike Wlodarczyk
C Matt Spring
1B Rhyne Hughes
OF J.T. Hall
OF Desmond Jennings

2009:
RHP Matt Gorgen
RHP Paul Phillips
RHP Heath Rollins
C Nevin Ashley
IF Cody Cipriano
SS Shawn O'Malley

2010:
RHP Alex Cobb
RHP Jeremy Hall
LHP Sergio Espinosa
LHP Neil Schenk
1B/OF Leslie Anderson
1B Jose Ruiz
3B Henry Wrigley

As you can see, a lot of those players are now out of the organization, but there were also some gems in Cobb and Jennings. So don't expect to see Matt Moore blowing away hitters in the desert, but here are some names to keep in mind:

3B/1B/OF Russ Canzler - After signing as a free agent from the Cubs organization, he's been the Bulls' offensive MVP this season. He's hitting .310/.399/.525 with 32 doubles and 15 home runs. His defense is suspect, though I guess you could call him versatile as he's played at least 15 games at all four corner positions, but it'll probably be a success if he's average at any of them besides 1B. He's an ideal candidate for Arizona to audition for a 40-man roster spot, since he could assuredly land one with another team after wrecking the International League. Once a player has six minor league seasons in he's a free agent after each season (as he was with the Cubs) unless added to the 40-man.

OF Brandon Guyer - I'd call this one unlikely, but possible. Guyer is still nursing an oblique injury, and the AFL has a rule in place about being back from the DL for a certain amount of time to be eligible. The conventional wisdom would have Guyer finishing the season with the big-league club to get a look for next year.

*C Jose Lobaton - He's pretty much in the same boat as Guyer, hitting very well in the International League but coming down with a late-season injury. In addition to the injury, Lobaton had to split catching duties with Robinson Chirinos in Durham, so he's only actually played about 40 games behind the dish. Unfortunately, the Arizona Fall League actually excludes Latin players who resides in countries that participate in the Caribbean Series, which Venezuela does. So Lobaton is ineligible for the AFL but I'd be shocked if he doesn't player winter ball in the Caribbean.

RHP Marquis Fleming - The changeup artist has dominated the Southern League to the tune of 91 strikeouts in 65.2 innings. His fastball is fringe-average and his control can be shaky (32 walks) but a stint in Arizona against advanced hitting would be a good test for him. He's eligible for the rule 5 draft this off-season if the Rays don't add him to the 40-man roster, and a team would probably take a chance on his strikeout rate. The only reason I could see him not going to Arizona is his innings: He's already at 68 innings and should finish with at least 75, which would already be a career high. He'd probably only tack on 10-15 in the AFL, but the Rays may not want him going 90 innings after a previous career high of 72.

RHP Matt Bush - Speaking of dominating the Southern League, Bush has 67 strikeouts in 41.2 innings. They've been very careful with him -- he'd pitched a total of 21 innings entering this year -- so it's probably unlikely they extend his season through November. But selfishly, I'd love to see some pitch-f/x data on him, as Stacy Long reported that he was hitting 96 on the (notoriously slow) Riverwalk gun and pitchers who were charting him said he hit triple digits.

RHP Joseph Cruz - It was originally reported that Cruz would miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, but he's come back to make two rehab starts with the GCL Rays and could rejoin the Biscuits. It would be great for Cruz to make up for lost time in Arizona, but the team would have to be completely convinced that his shoulder is 100% to do so. While we're here, teammates Chris Archer and Nick Barnese are also candidates to try to end disappointing seasons on a high note. Archer particularly would be interesting as he was great with Team USA last off-season, though the Rays may not want him to pitch two very long seasons in a row.

OF Kyeong Kang - A decent sleeper prospect with Bowling Green in 2009, Kang's stock fizzled last year with Charlotte and continued to dive with a brutal April for the Biscuits. Since then, though, he's posted OPSes by month of .847, .938, .873, and 1.013 so far in August. He could definitely use the experience, as various minor injuries have prevented him from playing 90 or more games in a season, though he should get there this year with 78 played so far.

Here are some quick hitters on some candidates who could be the below-AA guy (the cut-off date to be in double-A was August 1st):
2B Tyler Bortnick - He's 24 years old with an advanced approach. Very much needs a test against more advanced pitching.
RHP Jake Thompson - Missed some time with injury and his 2.87 ERA masks scary peripherals (40-31 K-BB in over 85 innings). Stuff could tick up in short bursts.
RHP Kirby Yates - Missed almost three full months, but hasn't allowed a run in 18.2 innings for the Stone Crabs. Injuries forced him into the Hot Rods' rotation last year but his numbers are outstanding as a reliever.
LHP C.J. Riefenhauser - Death on left-handed hitters and would probably be in Durham if the Rays were developing him as a LOOGY. Would be nice to see him face advanced LHBs.
SS Derek Dietrich - Because of the middle infield depth, Dietrich has been stuck in the Midwest League all year. Needs to be challenged.

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