The Arizona Fall League is upon us once again, which is sort of hard to believe, but I guess time flies when you’re losing a bunch of games. In case you’re not privy, the Arizona Fall League is the premier prospect league of the minor league season and it takes place in the Phoenix metro area in October and November. It’s basically the highlight of the prospect world since there is a high concentration of premier, close-to-the-majors talent. Each team sends a handful of guys to the league and the Diamondbacks are one of them. So, it makes sense to talk a bit about who’s going to represent the D-backs in the AFL this year. Here’s who’ll be going, what to watch for, and a few notes on other Salt River Rafter players from other organizations.
Jorge Despaigne, RHP
Thanks to the Yoan Lopez debacle of 2014, the Diamondbacks have been mostly very quiet on the international front. Despaigne, however, was signed this July out of Cuba and was not subject to international bonus pool rules given his age (he’s 25). He had escaped Cuba a few years back and trying to figure out where he pitched over the last year and a half has proven a bit of a mystery. His bonus is unreported and that’s to say that it wasn’t a large bonus. He’s been available for some time now and no one signed him up until this point. Read into that what you will.
On the mound, he’s noted for some mid 90’s velocity with his fastball but fringy secondaries. There are reports of an ineffective changeup and an inconsistent breaking ball. His mechanics have been blamed for his inability to throw consistent strikes as he’s had trouble with locating his pitches since his days in Cuba. Since being signed, he’s pitched in the Dominican Summer League against primarily teenagers, making him truly a man among boys. He’s struck out 39 in 31 innings to date while walking ten. It’s hard to make much of the stats given his history and age compared to the competition, so he’ll be a really intriguing guy to watch when the AFL kicks off. He’ll likely be used as a reliever as we get our first look at him.
Jared Miller, LHP
A hulking lefty, Miller stands 6’7″ and recently turned 23. While that’s a tad old for a true “breakout prospect,” Miller’s situation is interesting in that he was converted to a relief role in 2016 and has seen the results take off. He’s been hard to hit for opposing batters and he’s struck out 80 in 61.1 innings this year across four levels. An 11th round pick in 2014, he’s showed some interesting reverse platoon splits in 2016, a trend one wouldn’t expect to continue (because they almost never do). He’s been 93-94 out of the bullpen with a reworked slider that’s tremendously improved. Noted as a hard worker, he turned an ugly 2015 campaign into a 2016 breakout, something that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Big lefties don’t grow on trees, so this is a unique and hopeful situation. The AFL will surely prove a challenge.
Gabe Speier, LHP
Just 21, Speier is among the younger players on the Salt River roster. He was acquired from Atlanta in the Shelby Miller trade, but was originally drafted by Boston and found himself dealt for a second time last December. He’s a lefty reliever that’s worked his way up to AA this year after starting the year at Kane County. Speier can generate some ground balls but has never been noted for having a particularly strong arsenal. He has, however, been particularly tough on lefties and that’s about how one should project him: a potential LOOGY if all breaks right. He’s fringy enough, however, that even that projection may be generous.
Kevin Cron, 1B
Cron is a 23-year old first baseman with one calling card: power. It’s generally difficult to get excited about first base prospects given their lack of defensive value and often base-clogging ways on the base paths. That out of the way, Cron has hit 65 professional home runs since being drafted in the 14th round of the 2014 draft out of TCU. Most of those have come in the past two years in full season ball. He hit 27 in Visalia, which is impressive but one has to take the California League’s hitter-friendly confines into account. Better yet, he’s hit 26 to date for Mobile in the pitcher-friendly Southern League, the most of any hitter there this year. He’s racked up 20 doubles, too, suggesting that he really can hit the ball hard. In my looks at him in Spring Training, the bat was obviously loud as one would expect from a towering first baseman. He can struggle to make contact and doesn’t walk a ton, so it’s an all or nothing profile from first base, which severely limits his upside.
Dawel Lugo, 3B
There are breakouts every year for Diamondbacks hitters, it seems, and this season has belonged to Dawel Lugo. He’s fully transitioned to third base where he’s got plenty of range and arm to get the job done. A former shortstop, he should be solid at third base for the long haul. After hitting very well in Visalia, the 21-year old was called up to AA Mobile where he hasn’t cooled off. In 127 games in 2016, he’s hit 23 doubles, seven triples and 17 homers while posting a .311/.339/.492 batting line. Acquired from the Blue Jays in the Cliff Pennington deal, Lugo has turned into a pretty nice get for Arizona. He’s got quick hand ands some feel to hit, which meshes nicely with his power. It’s a potentially everyday regular profile that won’t wow you, but may prove solid enough to get the job done. Lugo is a free-swinger who makes a ton of contact, but doesn’t walk and his full potential may be best realized should he develop more selectivity at the plate.
Jamie Westbrook, 2B
A 5th round choice out of Basha High School in Gilbert, AZ in 2013, Westbrook has a grinder mentality that helps overshadow his lack of raw tools. He hustles, plays hard and plays smart. Scouts have been somewhat lukewarm on him overall, suggesting that the aforementioned lack of loud tools will eventually handicap his progress as he faces tougher competition. He posted a monster season in Visalia at just 20 last year and has found consistently tougher sledding in AA Mobile at 21. The power has dried up as he’s faced AA pitching and this season has been a challenge for the young second baseman. In August, however, he hit three of his season total five home runs, suggesting that he’s at least ending the year strong. The team likely wants to give him more opportunities to grow and that’s what landed him in the AFL. The defense is just okay at second base, and if the bat doesn’t pick back up, he may end up a bench player long term. He’s consistently been young for his level, however, so if he repeats AA for most of 2017, he will still be on track.
Others of Note
Should you find yourself out there watching and rooting for these Diamondbacks this fall, keep an eye on a few of their teammates, including:
Isan Diaz, SS (Brewers) – former D-backs top pick Isan Diaz has turned into some kind of monster. After posting a very good season at the plate in 2015, he was part of the Jean Segura swap and has blossomed for Milwaukee. At just 20, he’s the youngest player on the Rafters’ roster and may be the youngest player in the AFL.
Ozzie Albies, SS (Braves) – Albies has all the makings of a shortstop of the future, except he’s likely blocked there by Diamondbacks castoff Dansby Swanson. He’s got plus-plus speed, a strong arm and a plus hit tool that should make him fun to watch.
Brett Phillips, OF (Brewers) – after a breakout season in 2015, Phillips has struggled to hit in AA this season. He’s got the chops to be an excellent center fielder, however, and his upside with the bat might always be overshadowed by his defensive prowess.
Jacob Nottingham, C (Milwaukee) – Nottingham isn’t the most polished receiver in the minors, but his bat should be enough to give him more time to learn how to catch. He can hit for power and average, though he’s had a bit of a tough season in AA in 2016, making us wonder is 2015 was a mirage.
Ryan McMahon, 3B (Rockies) – continuing the trend of highly-rated prospects having down years, McMahon has all the makings of a solid third baseman. He can hit for both power and average while playing a quality third base defensively.
Spencer Turnbull, RHP (Tigers) – Turnbull missed a ton of innings this season recovering from injury and Detroit will look to build him up in the AFL, getting him some extra work. He has a big fastball and pairs it best with a slider. His changeup lags behind those two offerings.
JaCoby Jones, OF (Tigers) – Jones moved to the outfield in 2016 and played well in a brief stint at AA before being promoted to AAA (and briefly, the majors). He’s yet to consistently tap into the raw power that has been forecast for him, but he’ll get another shot in the AFL to do so.
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