The Arizona Fall League (AFL) is about as divisive a league as there is in minor league baseball. While fans seem to love the attraction of having so many top-end prospects playing in the same league, scouts and baseball analysts all over seem to continuously play down the importance of performances in that league. They point to its short sample size, the tired pitchers, and also the tired defensive players in order to call it a flat out “hitter’s league”. I can’t argue with them at all, but simply say this, the more seasoning all of these guys get, the better it is for their chances of impressing us in 2012.
The question to me is, what has the track record been for Jays players who play in the AFL?
Well, in 2010, the following players participated in the league:
- Marc Rzepczynski: 4-0, 1.16 ERA, 31 IP, 24 hits, 4 ER, 9 BB, 27 Ks, 1.06 whip
- Michael McDade: 88 AB, 33 hits, 11 doubles, 1 triple, 1 HR, 11 BB, 13 SO, and a .375/.450/.557 line.
- Adam Loewen: 54 AB, 18 hits, 3 doubles, 0 triples, 5 HR, 10 BB, 13 SO, and a .333/.438/.667 line.
- Eric Thames: 87 AB, 23 hits, 7 doubles, 0 triples, 3 HR, 14 BB, 24 SO, and a .264/.369/.448 line.
The first thing you’ll notice about the above list is that all of these players were very highly thought of by Jays management. They are not guys who were just thrown out there to see whether or not they deserved to remain with the team in 2011, they were integral parts of the future. And, you’ll also notice that none of them disappointed in their performances. Each of them benefitted from the experience, and each is better off for it in 2011. Rzepczynski has become one of the better Relievers in the majors, Thames is a staple in the Jays lineup and has shown lots of pop, McDade has blossomed as one of the best 1B prospects in the game, and Loewen has surpassed the level everyone had him pegged for by performing extremely well this season. Their collective successes can’t be solely associated with their time in the AFL, but I will say this: it sure didn’t hurt their development and performance the following season!
Fast forward to 2011. The Jays have assigned the following players to play for the Phoenix Desert Dogs (I’ll include my thoughts on each one below each category):
- LHP Aaron Loup (23 – HiA): 45 G, 4.88 ERA, 4-3, 4 saves, 62.2 IP, 65 hits, 27 BB, 54 Ks, .273 AA
- LHP Evan Crawford (25 – AA): 43 GP, 3.51 ERA, 3-5, 2 saves, 48.2 IP, 49 hits, 21 BB, 57 Ks, .266 AA
What’s the one area every single Jays fan has been harping about as a negative this season? The pen. What do the Jays send to the AFL? Two relievers that could certainly come into play in 2012. Sure, Loup hasn’t put up stellar stats this season, but he had a rough start and got better as the season went on. His post all-star break stats are as follows: 24 GP, 2.86 ERA, 34.2 IP, 26 hits, 14 BB, 31 Ks, .218 AA. That looks a whole lot better and is indicative of the reason the Jays are sending him to the AFL. If he can start the 2012 season in AA and impress, the Jays could call him up at some point that season. As for Crawford, he already has the AA experience and would therefore likely get the call before Loup would. RHB have only hit .242 against him this season, which is encouraging, but unlike Loup he has faltered some since the all-star break (4.00 ERA and .311 AA). The most impressive part of Crawford’s game is that he actually allows a lower average against with runners on base (.242) than when they’re empty (.290), which shows us that he rises to the occasion.
- Yan Gomes (24 – AA): 266 AB, 68 hits, 18 doubles, 12 HRs, 23 BB, 68 SO, and a .258/.325/.472 line.
- Adeiny Hechavarria (22 – AA/AAA): 545 AB, 140 hits, 25 doubles, 7 triples, 8 HRs, 32 BB, 93 SO, 20 SB, and a .257/.299/.372 line.
- Anthony Gose (21 – AA): 489 AB, 123 hits, 19 doubles, 7 triples, 15 HR, 60 BB, 147 SO, 66 SB, and a .252/.347/.411 line.
Alright, I’m going to say something here that may get me in a whole heap of trouble: the absolute best trade chip the Jays have in-house right now is Travis d’Arnaud. Therefore, in my mind, there’s a good reason Gomes is getting extra playing time in the AFL. If the Jays do get the right deal where they would include someone like d’Arnaud, Gomes would become a prime candidate for a backup job with Arencibia for 2012 and beyond. Gomes shows a lot of promise behind the plate and has a surpising amount of power. Conversely, if the Jays want to keep a d’Arnaud/Arencibia duo in Toronto instead, they can showcase Gomes in the AFL and use him as a trade chip this winter. In my mind, however, using someone like d’Arnaud to land a player with the caliber of say, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, or Felix Hernandez, seems a lot more likely than trading Gomes in another deal. But that’s just me. As we all know, the Dodgers are having a ton of financial issues and have come to a point where both Kemp’s and Kershaw’s contractual issues are coming to the forefront. Enter the silent assassin….
As for Hechavarria and Gose, I entirely expect at least one of them to be in the lineup at some point in the first two thirds of the 2012 season and that both will be in Toronto come September 2012. Therefore, giving them the opportunity to continue to grow in the AFL makes perfect sense. Both were young for their levels in 2011 and both could use a nice confidence boost in the AFL to kick things off on the right foot come spring training.
While I wouldn’t bet the house on it, I do believe that all of the players the Jays are sending to the AFL this season will become big parts of the 2012 season storyline for an improving team. Having watched guys like Trever Miller, Ocatvio Dotel, and Brian Tallet clog up the pen this season with horrible performances, it would be refreshing to see some younger guys get a shot in the pen. Loup and Crawford will likely join Danny Farquhar as 3 internal candidates for pen spots that have a great chance of earning a role in the pen in 2012. They’ll be joined by injury returnees and newly drafted pitchers such as Alan Farina, Sam Dyson, and John Stilson to provide the Jays with many options.
Gose and Hechavarria will only benefit from their experiences in the AFL and should be able to kick off 2012 in a better state of mind as a result. Meanwhile, Gomes will finally get into the spotlight in the AFL and could surprise many observers with a great performance. He could spend all of 2012 in Las Vegas, in Toronto, or be used as a trade chip, but he’ll certainly benefit from the extra playing time and exposure that the AFL can provide him. After backing up d’Arnaud for most fo the season, he could use the extra time to sharpen his game.
There could be some changes made to all rosters in the AFL and there’s a chance that more – or less – Jays prospects will take part. Nothing is set in stone yet. However, I’m looking forward to seeing what these guys can do and how they’ll handle their new assignments. One thing to remember is that we also know from this list that none of these players will be September call ups, and that it increases the chances for others to get the call ups (such as David Cooper and Moises Sierra, who are both on the 40-man roster).
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