The Arizona Fall League (AFL) is the official fall/winter league of MLB. Teams from across baseball send some of their best prospects to field a league of six teams. It was developed as an alternative to traditional winter league baseball in the Caribbean and allows teams to more closely monitor and control their players. According to MLB.com, alumni of the game include both Roy Halladay and Jered Weaver.
It’s been confirmed to date that the Toronto Blue Jays will be providing seven players to help field the Salt River Rafters rosters. The event kicks off October 8th so I wanted to give a brief overview about the players we could see in Arizona.
Drew Hutchison – P
Hutchison, 23, wasn’t originally listed as on River Rafters roster and is the only player the Blue Jays are sending with MLB experience. He’s recovering from Tommy John surgery and only threw 35.1 innings at various levels of the minors this year so I really like his addition to the event. He showed impeccable control at times and can still rack up the strikeouts but he got beat up a bit in his Triple-A appearances and posted a 6.63 ERA and 4.04 FIP. After the Blue Jays rushed him to the majors in 2011 it appears they are taking a more cautious approach this time around. The AFL should be a good challenge and I’ll be interested to see how he performs against some of baseball’s top prospects.
Aaron Sanchez – P
Sanchez, 21, is pretty much universally regarded as the Toronto Blue Jays top prospect. He suffered a minor shoulder injury back in May so like Hutchison will hopefully benefit from getting some extra work in the AFL. The reviews on Sanchez are glowing and Dunedin Blue Jays pitching coach Danny Knowles said earlier this year that he’s “about as can’t-miss as I’ve ever seen” (h/t Toronto Star). Sanchez packs three plus pitches that many consider among the best in all of the minor leagues. According to the 2013 Top Prospect Watch at MLB.com, Sanchez’s change-up is projected to be “an average offering at least” but if you listen to JD Sussman at FanGraphs it has developed to “rival his 12-6 curveball as his best pitch”. Sanchez still will struggle with control at times and finished his first season in Dunedin with 4.2 BB/9. But the kid is unquestionably electric and hopefully the extra work will help improve his feel for his pitches.
Marcus Stroman – P
Stroman, 22, is probably the Blue Jays prospect that people have been the most excited about this year. He can command his low-to-mid 90s fastball on both sides of plate and he’s made big strides with his change-up this year. Stroman dominated Double-A this year with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and it’s been debated whether or not he should have been a September call-up. He tweeted that he was considering going back to Duke in the Fall to finish his degree but it looks like we will be seeing him on the diamond instead of a classroom in October.
John Stilson – P
Stilson, 23, threw 47.1 innings out of the Buffalo Bisons bullpen this year in what was his first taste of Triple-A ball. The 2011 third-round draft pick allowed only 36 hits and walked 15 batters, posting a 2.09 ERA. His stuff is nasty but according to MLB.com’s Prospect Watch his delivery, which requires a lot of effort combined with his past injury problems could mean he’s destined for the bullpen. The Blue Jays are a big bunched up at the back-end right now but if Stilson can stay healthy and depending on what happens this summer he might have a spot at the Opening Day roster for next year.
Derrick Chung – C
Chung, 25, was a 31st round draft pick in the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft out of California State University Sacramento and is the Blue Jays replacement to A.J. Jimenez at catcher for the event. His late round draft status puts him in Kevin Pillar-type sleeper territory and you should never get too excited about a 25-year old’s High Single-A numbers but he hit for a solid .287 average in Dunedin after batting only .241 in Vancouver last year (his OBP however was an identical .341 both years). Chung is a nice guy and it’s good to see him get a shot but unfortunately what his addition shows is just how thin the Toronto Blue Jays are at catcher within the minor league system.
Andy Burns – 3B/SS
Burns, 23, started off the year on fire and was promoted from Dunedin to New Hampshire about halfway through the year. He played shortstop in Lansing most of 2012 but this year he mostly manned third base. He dominated in Dunedin but struggled a bit with the jump to Double-A, batting only .253/.309/.419. He does have nice pop as evidenced by his 15 home runs across the two level this year (8 Dunedin, 7 New Hampshire).
Kenny Wilson – OF
Wilson, 23, has been in the Blue Jays farm system for so long I almost forgot who he was. He was drafted in the second round of the 2008 MLB Draft out of Sickles HS in Tampa, Florida. He went backwards from Dunedin to Lansing in 2012 before he was moved back up and then promoted to New Hampshire this year. I like that he’s finally starting to show some progress as he continues to move up the ranks but hasn’t shown much overall for a guy with over 2,000 minor league plate appearances.