Last week, the Phillies announced their seven representatives for the 2012 Arizona Fall League season. Six of them will be eligible to play every day, and one will be on the taxi squad, only available for Wednesday and Saturday games. This season, they’ll be participating along with Reds, Twins, Padres and Mariners prospects on the Peoria Javelinas. Usually the affiliation doesn’t matter, but for fans, players playing for Peoria is nice because Pitch FX technology is at their stadium, so fans can get a look at the velocity and different pitches players have.
Not too much can be gleaned from AFL stats, but it’s still fun to follow. The competition level can vary widely; players of different ages with different amounts of experience all come together in Arizona. There will be some players with experience in the bigs, and there will be some 2012 draft picks who haven’t played much too. The league tends to favor hitters not only because of Arizona’s climate, but teams tend to shy away from sending their top pitching prospects out there. The pitchers that stayed healthy throughout the year have likely already hit their innings limits, so their seasons are over. Leftover pitchers that may have been injured and relievers populate the pitching staffs of these rosters.
Players in the AFL generally fall into three categories: players who missed time with an injury or suspension, players who could use some extra reps against competition generally from the upper levels, and players that will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft and are playing for 40 man roster spots. Recent draft picks that signed too late to get into minor league games used to dot every roster, but since the deadline moved up in 2012, that’s not as prevalent now. The Phillies contingent represents all three of those categories.
LHP Jay Johnson, Reading- His numbers weren’t very good this year, but Johnson is still considered a relief prospect in the organization. The undrafted New Brunswick native has the stuff to get lefties out, but like a lot of young pitchers, needs to throw a lot more strikes. He has 55 walks in 83 career innings, and that’s against righties and lefties alike. His fastball has touched 94 in the past, and his strikeout rate against lefty batters is impressive. Going from Lakewood to Reading is a big jump, and if he can show a little more control, he could be an effective lefty specialist.
RHP Tyler Knigge, Reading- Knigge was having a fantastic season with Clearwater before a midseason promotion to Reading where he wasn’t as effective. He’s still a relief prospect though, and a stint in Arizona will get him some valuable innings against upper level competition. His low to mid 90’s fastball and effective slider gives him the stuff to generate strikeouts, but he struggled with his command after his promotion to Reading and needs to throw more strikes. He’s still a year away from Rule 5 eligibility.
RHP Colby Shreve, Reading- Shreve is a player the Phillies had high hopes for when they drafted him in 2008, but he really never recovered from elbow surgery he had before his pro career began. For the 3rd straight year, he started in Lakewood which says a lot about his performance so far. He quickly pitched himself out of Lakewood and past Clearwater where he struggled in 2011, but like Knigge, hit a wall with Reading. His strikeout rate plummeted dramatically, and he began walking more batters too. This is his second year of Rule 5 eligibility, and in all likelihood draw much interest if any.
RHP Kyle Simon, Reading- Simon came over from Baltimore in the Jim Thome trade, and the Phillies immediately moved him to the bullpen and his season took off. His arsenal didn’t have enough depth to stick in the rotation. In 39.2 innings between Clearwater and Reading, he obviously recorded 119 outs. 35 were strikeouts and 67 were groundouts, so over 85% of the outs he recorded were via K or on the ground. That could make him a valuable reliever in any situation. Those are the two most valuable traits a reliever can have. His low 90’s fastball and slider should play up in the bullpen with deception created by his lower arm slot.
C Tommy Joseph, Reading- After a strong second half in the Cal League last year, Joseph was just okay with two Eastern League teams in 2012. His ceiling is that of an All-Star catcher, but it seems unlikely that he’ll reach it, although he is still very young. His raw power is impressive, but his pitch selection is not. If he becomes more selective, he’ll be able to tap into his power in games more and hit for a higher average. Behind the plate, he should become an above average defender. He has a strong arm and throws a lot of runners out, and he’s lauded for his game calling ability. In the AFL, he can get some more experience catching Phillies pitchers in his new organization, and the extra at-bats will help too.
3B Cody Asche, Reading- Asche rebounded very well from his horrible 2011 debut, and he’s on his way to reaching the majors in some capacity. The 4th round pick out of Nebraska batted over .300 over two leagues this season, and once he got out of the Florida State League, his power started to show more. While there are still concerns about whether he’ll hit for enough power to profile as an everday player at 3rd base, his pure hitting ability should be good enough for him to have a career in the big leagues. In the AFL, the Phillies hope his defense can improve. He has the arm and physical ability to play third base, but he committed 18 errors. If it doesn’t improve, he’ll likely profile as a bench player that fills in at both the infield and outfield corners.
OF Zach Collier, Clearwater- Collier is moving into his first year of Rule 5 eligibility, along with a number of draft picks from the 2008 draft. He has some talent, but between his wrist injuries and 50 game suspension this season, he’s far away from the majors and should be left unprotected. He’s a pretty athletic outfielder with potential power, but his injuries have played a role in that not developing. While he’s still a longshot to reach the majors, he has a chance, and he needs to stay healthy and play well in Reading in 2013.
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