Arizona Fall League play starts Tuesday, Oct. 13 and I'm pretty excited. This is where you get to see players get their first test against upper-level pitching. The Rays' players will be represented on the Mesa Solar Sox, along with players from the Cubs, Angels, Marlins, and Athletics.
Since some of the games will be televised, it only makes sense that you should know who you're watching in the Rays jersey.
SS Daniel Robertson
Robertson missed a good deal of at-bats this year after breaking the hamate bone in his left hand on June 3. He returned Aug. 4, and while his batting average stayed the same, his ISO slid from .164 when he was hurt to .096 in the time after he returned. While power is not Robertson's main tool, his hitting is, so the slide in power will hurt his hit tool to some extent.
In the Fall League there is hope he will find his power that he had in the beginning of 2015 again. It doesn't even have to be as good; just better than the "poor" ISO he had to round out the year. J.P. Crawford, Gavin Cecchini and Robertson are the only top-100 MLB.com prospects that are shortstops headed to the Fall League, and Robertson won't have to compete with either for at-bats on the team at least. It will be interesting how the playing time will be divvied up between him, Chad Pinder and Elliot Soto, the other shortstops prospect on the Solar Sox.
1B Casey Gillaspie
Gillaspie, like Robertson, is coming off an injury this season. Gillaspie broke his finger and missed a month and a half just five games after being promoted to Class A-Advanced Charlotte. He struggled after returning, with a .262 wOBA and 67 wRC+. Unlike Robertson, who was missing just his power, Gillaspie had a poor average .185 as well as poor power with .296 slugging percentage and .111 ISO.
Gillaspie will face tougher competition than he ever has. It makes sense to allow Gillaspie this chance considering the team probably wants him to the majors as quickly as possible. A strong performance in Arizona against mostly Double-A and Triple-A pitchers would justify a promotion to Montgomery even with a lackluster stint in Charlotte.
1B/OF? Jake Bauers
Bauers had a strong season cumulatively and especially in his stint in Charlotte to start off the year where he hit 267/.357/.433. He was promoted to Double-A and saw his average rise (.276) but his slugging percentage fall (.405). Even though Bauers is ranked No. 24 by mlb.com, his strong early push prompted Danny and Scott to slot Bauers at Nos. 10 and 11, respectively, in their midseason rankings.
Bauers is caught in the mix of four top-30 mlb.com first base prospects for the Rays, so seeing him listed as an outfielder makes sense. A position change could get Bauers out of the logjam, especially since he has Gillaspie right on his heels in terms of promotions. The Fall League provides a low-stress environment for this kind of experiment. While there is a lot of outfield talent headed to Arizona (five of the 11 top-100 prospects are outfielders), none of them are going to be part of the Solar Sox, so Bauers' bat is hopefully enough to get him time in the outfield.
Right-Handed Pitchers Galore
While there are no Honeywells or Guerrieris headed to the AFL, the pitchers coming from the Rays' system are still worth noting.
Buddy Borden spent time in the rotation and in the bullpen for Charlotte this season after coming over in the offseason from the Pirates. He had a 2.97 ERA in 127.1 innings. The time in Arizona gives the opportunity for Borden to work on his walk rate (4.10 per nine innings) which was less than ideal this season. Borden's arsenal is also criticized for a "lack of movement", so adding some to his pitches should still be a goal for him going forward.
Mike Franco was drafted in the seventh round in 2014 and always has been a reliever in the Rays system but survived the jump to full-season baseball, starting the year with Class-A Bowling Green but finishing it out with Class A-Advanced Charlotte. Over the full year, he posted a 1.52 ERA, 2.77 FIP, and a 9.63 K/9. Franco works with an average 89-92 fastball and a curve that flashes average. The AFL gives him the chance to log more innings, which is important for a pitcher already committed to the bullpen.
Brad Schreiber split the season between Charlotte and Montgomery and pitched fairly well as another reliever. Over 54 appearances, he had an 8.30 K/9 and a 2.81 ERA. He was named to the Florida State League All-Star Game for Charlotte along with Borden. Schreiber posted 30 saves and led the FSL with 15 at the time of being named to the All-Star Game. Like Franco, he hopes to log more innings considering he came out of the bullpen all year.
Hunter Wood has continued to bounce between the bullpen and the rotation, but by FIP standards (2.46), he put up his best season by far in 2015. Wood is considered a 3-star prospect by Minor League Ball (SB Nation) writer Nick Melotte. Wood has always rode on his plus curve (click here to see it in action back in Princeton) and a low-90s fastball. There is still hope Wood can develop into a starter, so I'm sure the coaches will try him out against some higher competition in the AFL.
Former Ray Watch
Oscar Hernandez was selected No. 1 overall in last year's Rule 5 draft, and even though "the overwhelming majority of scouts (and Rays personnel) don’t think he’ll be able to stick in the big leagues", Hernandez managed to and is now considered Diamondbacks property. He started out the year on the DL with a broken hamate bone, but returned to the big league team and managed to stick. Since he still has his rookie eligibility, he'll get the chance to get a couple more at-bats in at the AFL.
What are you guys hoping to see in this year's Arizona Fall League? Discuss in the comments below!