Playing in the Sand


The Arizona Fall League, or AFL, presents major league teams the opportunity to send up to 8 players to get extra work and evaluation. Many times, these rosters include some of baseball’s top young prospects. This season you can see Bryce Harper, Dustin Ackley, and Brandon Belt along with some guys who have seen substantial time in the majors like Mark Rzepczynski and Brandon Wood. The Houston Astros sent 7 players this year, including 3 from my 2011 preseason top-20 prospects list. Any results from this league must be taken with a good deal of salt since the samples are generally very small. You can’t expect a great read on a prospect from 80 at-bats or 15 innings in the AFL when they’ve played entire seasons elsewhere. With that tempered enthusiasm and inevitable skepticism established, I’ll review how each of the Astros youngsters are doing out in the desert. The Astros players are competing via the Peoria Javelinas. What’s a Javelina, you ask? I have no idea.

Each player’s 2011 prospect rank is in parentheses, if they have one.

How do you post a 3.76 ERA in Double-A with 46 walks in 38.1 innings? You’ll have to ask Matt Nevarez (16th) who did exactly that in 2010. He also struck out 41 batters so you can imagine why scouts think he can be dominating if he can demonstrate some semblance of control. In 6.2 innings with the Peoria Javelinas, Nevarez has walked just 2 but only struck-out 3. It’s a small sample size even for small sample sizes and 4 of his 6 earned runs came during a 2-out outing on Nov. 13. Hopefully Nevarez can continue to limit his walks.

Dave Carpenter has pitched just 7 innings for Peoria thus far but has a 10:4 K:BB ratio. However, he allowed an earned run in 4 straight appearances and multiple hits in 5 straight while only one of those appearances was more than an inning.

22 year old righthander Kyle Greenwalt (39th) has looked strong so far in his stint with the Peoria Javelinas. Over 5 starts, Greenwalt has pitched 15.1 innings allowing 15 hits and 3 walks while striking out 10. Good for a 2.35 ERA.

Pat Urckfitz spent most of 2010 with Lancaster before a late season promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi. Between the two stops he compiled a 4.10 ERA and struck out 107 batters in 109.2 innings. The lefty made 36 appearances, including 13 starts and showed good control walking just 33 batters (2.7 BB/9 and 8.8 K/9). Urckfitz is especially effectively against lefthanded batters but hitters in the AFL regardless of which side of the plate they hit from are batting just .227 against him.

After a rough year at Double-A which saw him post an alarming K rate of 31.6%, Koby Clemens (19th) is off to a great start in Arizona. He’s still showing a lack of selectivity at the plate with 23 strikeouts in his 78 at-bats (29.5%) but in the small sample he’s hitting .295/.345/.474 with 2 homeruns. 2 nights ago he went 2-5 with a double and, more importantly, just 1 strikeout.

Jay Austin (7th) is the youngest player on Peoria’s roster and it shows. Austin hasn’t played since October but in his 45 at-bats against some of the better minor-leaguers around, he had just 7 hits. However, he showed pretty good pitch selection walking 7 times to go with his 9 strikeouts.

Brandon Barnes is tied for 2nd in the AFL with 4 homeruns. The 24-yr old outfielder hit 27 homeruns in 126 games in the California league during 2010. The power is legit but he strikes out a lot and hasn’t played above the low minors yet.

Pitcher turned outfielder, Adam Loewen has been a star for the Javelinas and one of the best hitters in the Arizona Fall League. He’s tied for the league lead with 5 homeruns in his 52 at-bats and also sports a line of .327/.426/.673. I don’t expect his 1.099 OPS to be maintained but the Blue Jays have to be encouraged by their minor leaguer. Loewen was also an Eastern League Midseason All-Star in 2010. However, he isn’t even the best hitter on his team right now.

That title is reserved for Mariners secondbaseman Dustin Ackley, who has been the best hitter in the entire AFL thus far. Ackley has carried the Javelinas with a .424/.581/.758 line. All three are tops in the league. He also has 4 homeruns, 26 walks, and just 11 strikeouts in 66 at-bats. Seattle’s fans definitely have something to be happy about this Holiday Season.