The Arizona Fall League is a developmental league made up of teams formed by combining prospects from each minor league organizations. The league serves as a way for teams to give an extra developmental opportunity to a few of their minor league players.
The pitchers sent to the Arizona Fall League are not usually top prospects, but they're guys that their organization does have some interest in. The AFL is about getting extra work, so all of these are players that the Rays (a) thought could benefit from the extra innings and (b) thought were worth giving extra innings to.
My favorite thing about the AFL is that some of the games are played in stadiums with PITCHf/x cameras. That gives us fans an opportunity to see the "stuff" of minor leaguers that we rarely get anywhere else -- it's basically the next best thing to being able to sit behind home plate with the scouts. Here are the profiles I've already done.
2014 AFL Profiles
- 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
2015 AFL Profiles
If you missed the profile of Hunter Wood, read that first, because Buddy Borden is very similar in one way, and very different in another.
Buddy Borden was the Rays pitcher I was most excited about seeing when AFL rosters were announced. He was the player to be named later in the Sean Rodriguez trade (ranked as the #18 prospect in Pittsburgh), and Baseball America pegged Borden as a potential back-of-the-rotation starter. He had a good season for High-A Port Charlotte with a 2.97 ERA in 127 innings, but his 17.9% strikeout rate didn't blow the doors off, and his 10.9% walk rate was higher than we'd like to see for a pitcher who's not a strikeout machine.
Borden is probably best-known now for throwing a seven-inning no-hitter.
Unfortunately, and unlike Wood, he appears to have played the majority of his AFL games in stadiums without PITCHf/x cameras, so we only have 18 pitches to work with. Sad, but that never stopped Admiral Farragut, so let's forge ahead.
Interactive version here, classifications are my own.
Okay, so there are two things I'm thinking about this chart (and the one we saw before with Hunter Wood):
- The Rays are really concentrating on players with lots of vertical rise on their fastball.
- These cameras are juiced.
Those two points aren't mutually exclusive, and while these vertical rise numbers we're seeing here are slightly unbelievable (and the average fourseam rise in the AFL was two inches higher than in MLB last season, so caveats caveats caveats), it's interesting to note that of the five players in the AFL with the most rise on their four-seam fastball, three of them are from the Rays.
So use your salt with these, but here are the averages.
|Pitch Type||Speed||Horizontal Movement||Vertical Movement|
Borden's fastball rose as much as anyone's (and more than that of Steve Geltz, the most-rising fastball in the majors now), so that fits in well with what the Rays have tried to do over the past few years. The Baseball America scouting report from 2014 said that his curve had developed into a plus pitch as well, and while it's clear that a curve is Borden's second pitch, I'm not yet sold on calling it "plus."
Borden's curve is very much a 12-6 offering, but unlike Hunter Wood's, it doesn't drop very much. Curves don't have to be big to be good, but generally, the good curves that don't fall off the table are hard curves. Here's a comparison that shouldn't get your heart pounding with excitement. If these numbers are accurate, Borden's curve drops about as much of that of Erasmo Ramirez's curve. But Erasmo's averaged 80 mph, rather than sitting in the mid-70s.
And did you remember what Erasmo's curve looks like? No, me neither.
Baseball America also said that Borden's changeup was below average, and that looks about right, based on the two pitches he threw in front of the cameras that look sort of like changeups (not much drop, only six mph difference from the fastball). There was another pitch in there that I called a slider, and one that I called a two-seam fastball. Are these pitches Burden uses more at other times? What do you get when you mix an elephant and a rhinoceros?
Pitching isn't just about stuff, and BA says that Borden has "gained better command of all of his pitches since entering the pro ranks," but I wonder if he isn't already getting as much as he can out of the stuff that he's got right now. If he is to grow into a major league starter, he'll need to further develop his changeup. That may be necessary for success in the bullpen as well, since while the rise on his fastball may be elite, it's tough to blow major league hitters away at 90 mph, and I don't know that his curve will stand up as a plus pitch in the bigs.
One thing to always remember when looking at AFL pitching data is that these players are not major league players, and evaluating their stuff that way isn't smart. They're prospects, and that means that they're still working and developing. Borden has been a pro for just three years, so while there's more development needed, there may be more development in the tank.
Data downloaded from MLB Farm.