Arizona Fall League rosters were announced Tuesday afternoon. For those of us who follow the future big leaguers before they make their arrivals in the show, these rosters are something we look forward to annually. If you’re not familiar with the format and structure of the AFL, I suggest reading this overview to get yourself acquainted. In the grand scheme of things, the AFL is more symbolic than anything else, but it’s a premier venue for prospects to showcase their stuff in front of just about every major scout in the game. Needless to say, it’s an exciting opportunity to be called upon to perform on the Arizona Fall League stage.
One thing that should be noted, however, is that AZL prospects tend to fall into one of two camps. Camp one is the can’t-miss, sexy, big time prospects. These are the Javier Baez (who I saw homer in my first in-person AZL at-bat) and Addison Russell types. They turn heads and are climbing the ladder to eventual stardom. The other group tends to be “filler” guys who are simply filling the parent team’s obligation to send players to the AFL. These guys are usually older and might make for depth on somebody else’s roster. The AZL is a way for the parent team to get them in front of other teams’ scouts. Of course, not everyone fits these molds, but keep them in mind as you explore all of the Arizona Fall League rosters.
The Diamondbacks are sending seven players to be part of the Salt River Rafters. Right hander Archie Bradley and third baseman Brandon Drury are the headliners, as the title of this post suggests. These are the guys that everyone wants to see. Bradley missed some innings this season and this is a way for him to log those extra innings while honing his stuff against strong competition. Drury will get a crack at some top pitching and, as the team’s best position prospect, a lot of eyes will be on him. Jimmie Sherfy, a righty reliever, is another top performer who’ll join them and is a high-leverage relief arm in the making who’s had success at ever level since being drafted last year. Peter O’Brien, Enrique Burgos, Kaleb Fleck and Evan Marzilli will join the trio above. Let’s take a look at how they got to the AFL.
Archie Bradley, RHP: it’s no surprise that Bradley has landed in the AFL. He’s the type of prospect people get excited to see against advanced competition, and after missing some time this year, he’s got some innings to make up. He’ll get a crack against good hitters, not that he hasn’t seen them before. But, everyone will be watching to see if he can command his plus-fastball and plus-plus-curve. There’s no doubt that his stuff is excellent, but the walks, as we’ve talked about here at length, have still been a problem. He’s been difficult for batters to hit, but Bradley’s just been plagued time and again by free passes. At this point, he needs to start to turn that corner and this an opportunity to do it. All eyes will be on him for his starts.
Brandon Drury, 3B: while Jake Lamb is getting the third base love at the moment, Drury isn’t far behind. He blew up the competition at Single-A South Bend last year, then tore up High-A Visalia in the first half of 2014 before doing the same at AA Mobile after being promoted again. He just continues to hit, although some inflated BABIPs have likely inflated the numbers a bit. That said, reports suggest that he’s making plenty of hard contact, so a lot of those balls in play are going for hits directly as a result of the swing Drury is putting on the ball.
Where he lines up on the field is questionable at the moment, however. As Nick Piecoro reported yesterday, Drury could see some time at second base in order to get him to the majors more quickly. While I applaud the experiment, I don’t see second being a long-term solution. Drury is a big man and lacks the range to be a good defensive second baseman while putting him at the keystone wastes his arm. I spoke with Ron Shah of FanGraphs, who’s scouted the California League extensively this year, and he felt similarly, saying that Drury as “no chance” of becoming a big league second baseman. No chance might be strong, but his transition is something to watch for. Who knows, maybe the kid finds a way to make it work, but I’m not betting on it. He’ll hit, though, so he’s gotta play somewhere, and I appreciate the D-backs trying to find a way to make it work.
Jimmie Sherfy, RHP: a fast-to-the-majors reliever picked in the 10th round of the 2013 draft, Sherfy hasn’t disappointed. In just a little over one professional season, he’s already pitching effectively in AA. He’s got a funky, deceptive delivery that keeps righty hitters off balance. Walks have become a bit of an issue as he’s climbed the minor league ladder, but he gets the strikeouts needed to balance them. He could see time in the major league bullpen as early as next year and profiles as a 6th or 7th inning guy with more upside quite possible. He closed in college and likes the spotlight, earning saves at every stop he’s made in the minors. A strong showing in the AFL could jump start his 2015 before it begins.
Peter O’Brien, C/OF/1B: if you don’t recall, O’Brien is the player the Diamondbacks got back in exchange for Martin Prado last month. He’s played just four games since then after suffering an injury, but should be healthy in time for the AZL. O’Brien’s a power bat without a position who’s probably best suited for 1B or DH long-term, two spots he will never occupy for the Diamondbacks. This could be a classic showcase opportunity and it’ll be neat to see where the team lines him up in the field. Everyone will be watching and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him change organizations this winter as he simply has no fit for Arizona, unless they firmly believe they can make something work that the Yankees were never able to.
Enrique Burgos, RHP: Burgos is the definition of a flamethrower, being clocked as high as 102mph this season. There’s just one problem: he can’t consistently throw strikes. He’s a true power fastball, power slider pitcher who just can’t harness his stuff. With that said, this year was an improvement and he walked *only* 4.21 batters per nine innings, bringing it down from 9.52 last year. This is an important step for Burgos as he’s made strides and is heading in the right direction. Can he keep the positive momentum going? If so, he could continue to clim the ladder and see the majors by the end of 2015 or early 2016.
Evan Marzilli, OF: a glove-first outfielder, Marzilli has never hit all that much. The 23-year old has held his own at AA in the second half of 2014, however, and will get his biggest chance in the AFL, likely playing off the bench for the Rafters. He’s more of an organizational guy who will possibly be attractive to other teams who might have a need for a speedy outfielder who can take a walk, albeit while showing little power.
Kaleb Fleck, RHP: coming out of the same bullpen as Sherfy above, Fleck has served as the BayBears’ full time closer, and he’s been effective. He’s cut his walk rate for the third consecutive season while increasing his strikeout rate yet gain. At 25, however, the time is now for Fleck, as this is his best chance to grab his dream. He could potentially be a Rule 5 guy for another team, much like Kevin Munson was this season when he was claimed (but later returned) by the Phillies. A strong AZL performance could vault his stock and finally push him to the majors.
We’ll check in on the Arizona Fall League performances once it concludes in early November. For guys like Bradley, Drury and Sherfy, this is a chance to prove that they belong atop their organization’s priorities. For O’Brien, it’s a chance to show he belongs somewhere on the diamond while for Burgos, it’s a chance to prove he can harness his raw stuff. Guys like Marzilli and Fleck may be auditioning for other teams, but have a prime opportunity to prove that they have value. No matter what, all of these guys are fighting for their careers and the Arizona Fall League gives them a premium stage to prove they belong. Let’s sit back and enjoy the show while rooting on our D-back representatives for the Rafters!
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