I love the Arizona Fall League.
I mean, I've never been to Arizona and I've never watched a fall league game on TV, but there's something that the AFL has, that makes it exceptionally relatable, even from a distance, and that's PITCHf/x cameras.
The Arizona Fall League is one of the best, and often times only ways for fans to get a look at the "stuff" of pitchers in their minor league system. Tons of caveats apply -- it's in a small sample, it's at an odd time of the year where pitchers arms might not be in their usual state, the games are essentially meaningless so players may be working on specific things rather than pitching to their current best -- but still, it's an opportunity to see real pitches of minor leaguers on the spreadsheet.
Keep in mind that the pitchers teams have sent to the Arizona Fall League are not usually their top prospects, but they're guys the organization does have some interest in. The AFL is about getting some extra work in, so all of these are players that the Rays (a) thought could benefit from some extra innings and (b) thought were worth giving some extra innings to.
Last year, I profiled
- The explosive rising fastball of Jamie Schultz
- The more pedestrian sinker of Matt Lollis
- The dancing changeup of Colton Reavis
- The undifferentiating repertoire of Zach Cooper
The first pitcher I'm going to look at this year is Hunter Wood. Let's get right to the movement chart, because there's something you should notice straight away (click here for an interactive version, classifications are my own).
Okay, so the thing about this graph is that it's really tall. That's because Wood's fastball rises ridiculously, and his curve drops nearly as much. Let's put some numbers to it.
|Pitch Type||Speed||Vertical Movement||Horizontal Movement|
Wood's fastball rose the largest amount of any pitcher in the AFL and his curve dropped the second largest amount. But it's not just the comparison to AFL pitchers that makes these numbers absurd. Let's look at major leaguers.
Of pitchers last season to throw at least 50 innings, the fastball with the highest average rise came from the Rays' own Steve Geltz . . . at 12.6 inches (Drew Smyly was second, Jake Odorizzi sixth). Wood's 8.6 inches of drop on his curveball wouldn't have lead the league (that would be Mike Fiers at -12.2 inches), but it would have ranked 14th, tied with John Axford and Felix Hernandez.
Let's put these two numbers together and look for the greatest vertical separation between a fastball and a curve ball. Once again, the leader in the majors is Mike Fiers (at 23.4 inches of separation) followed by Evan Scribner and Clayton Kershaw. Hunter Wood beats all of them with 23.8 inches of difference between his fastball and his curve.
Kershaw is the best starter in baseball, and Fiers is also a pretty good starter, who has some other things going for him than just the vertical separation between two of his, so let's not set such a lofty comp for young Hunter Wood. But Scribner seems like a pretty astute pick (thanks, excel sort function!).
Similarly to Wood, Scribner's fastball averaged 91 mph in 2015 and his curve ball average 72 mph. Scribner has dominated the minor leagues, and he just finished up an odd season in the majors where he struck out 26.9% of the batters he faced and only walked 1.7%, but ruined his numbers with a Kirby-Yates-esque 22.6% HR/FB. I'd expect more moderation and a better overall line from Scribner next season, simply because those numbers are absurd.
Drafted in the 29th round of the 2013 draft, Wood, who's currently working as a starter, has followed a pattern for the past two years of dominating a level for the majority of a season, being promoted, and then struggling (relatively) at the higher level. He did figure out A-ball this past year in his second shot at it, so I imagine he'll start the year again in High-A Port Charlotte, and if he succeeds in making the necessary adjustments there, will finish at Double-A Montgomery.
Based on his AFL performance, it looks like Wood has two pitches (fastball and curve) clearly better than his changeup and slider/cutter, so I expect an eventual transition to the bullpen, but it's clear why the Rays see enough potential in the young righty to get him the extra work in Arizona.
In pitching, extreme is good, and Hunter Wood is extreme.