— AFL Recaps —
[ – 2014 Arizona Fall League | Oct. 7 – Nov. 15 | Glendale, Ariz. – ]
The future of both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Indianapolis Indians will be on display in Glendale, Ariz. as baseball’s top prospects square off in Major League Baseball’s annual “offseason” Arizona Fall League from Oct. 7 – Nov. 15.
Comprised of six teams (Glendale, Peoria, Scottsdale, Mesa, Salt River and Surprise) which are each staffed by a combination of the top talent from five different Major League organizations, the prestigious AFL treats fans and baseball personnel alike to a 33-game schedule (for each team) with the game’s upcoming talent.
Potential future Tribe stars suit up with prospects from the New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants organizations to round out a loaded roster for the AFL’s Scottsdale Scorpions. Seven players from Scottsdale’s 36-man squad are currently in Pittsburgh’s system, with 2014 Indians catcher Elias Diaz and right-handed starter Adrian Sampson joining fellow Pirates farmhands Josh Bell, Dan Gamache, Tyler Glasnow, Tom Harlan and Joely Rodriguez on the Scorpions’ roster.
The affiliation breakdown includes:
PIT – 7 (4 pitchers, 3 position)
NYM – 7 (4 pitchers, 3 position)
NYY – 8 (3 pitchers, 5 position)
PHI – 7 (5 pitchers, 2 position)
SF – 7 (4 pitchers, 3 position)
1. C – Elias Diaz
Diaz, 23, is coming off his Double-A and Triple-A debut season in which he hit .328 (107-for-326) in 91 games with Altoona and 5-for-33 in 10 games with Indianapolis. The breakthrough season marked just his sixth year of professional ball after signing with the Pirates as an 18-year-old international free agent in 2008. The young backstop has served as his team’s primary catcher since making his debut with the VSL Pirates, excelling defensively by cutting down 45 percent of runners during his rookie campaign, 41 percent in the Gulf Coast League in 2010, 22 and 27 percent with Lo-A West Virginia in 2011 and 2012, respectively, 26 percent with Hi-A Bradenton in 2013 and an impressive 31 percent combined between stints with the Tribe and Curve.
“(Diaz’s) work ethic, pregame planning, blocking, throwing — all the defense has shown up extremely well, and the bat has shown up as well,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said this season. “He’s a guy we’ll have more conversations about over the winter.”
Diaz’s efforts in 2014 also drew praise from Baseball America with a rating as the “Best Defensive Catcher” in the Eastern League.
2. RHP – Adrian Sampson
Sampson, 23, consistently frustrated Eastern League batters while serving as Altoona’s ace throughout the majority of the most recent season. The Bucs’ fifth-round pick from the 2012 draft (166th overall) went 10-5 with a 2.55 ERA (42 ER/148.0 IP) and 99 strikeouts in 24 starts while in his first action at the Double-A level, and prior to his promotion to the Indians, ranked first among Eastern League hurlers in innings, second in ERA and WHIP (1.05), third in average against (.229), tied for third in wins and sixth in strikeouts. Despite his eventual setbacks during two road for the Tribe, Sampson allowed just three earned runs in 12 2/3 frames over his two starts at Victory Field.
“(He impresses with) his work ethic, the way he prepares and the way he attacks hitters,” Sampson’s Double-A pitching coach, Stan Kyles, said. “…He has a thirst for knowledge. He just wants to learn.”
Sampson went 5-9 with a 4.63 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 36 games (33 starts) between Short-Season State College and Bradenton prior to the 2014 campaign. He was rated by Baseball America as the Pirates’ No. 21 prospect following the 2012 season and No. 27 farmhand prior to 2014.
3. INF/OF – Josh Bell
Bell, 22, is an exciting outfielder who will begin adding “first base” to his Pirates resume during the Fall League. The highly-rated prospect broke onto the scene by hitting .279 with 13 homers and 76 RBI in 119 games during his first full season in the minors with West Virginina in 2013, before recently erupting for a .325 average with nine home runs and 60 RBI in 108 combined games between Altoona and Bradenton in 2014. He capped his breakout year with honors as a Futures Game selection, the Florida State League’s Player of the Year and Pittsburgh’s Minor League Hitter of the Year.
“It’s a good situation, and he is athletically gifted enough [to make the transition to first],” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said both of Bell and the fortune of his AFL development under current Bucs Bench Coach, Jeff Banister. “[But above all] we’re going to continue [our focus of] developing Josh as a hitter.
4. RHP – Tyler Glasnow
Glasnow, 21, enters the Fall League rated not only as the top prospect in Pittsburgh’s system, but also a consensus top-25 talent in all of the minors (No. 16 by MLB.com entering AFL). He has skyrocketed up the organizational rankings by taking home honors as the Pirates’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in each of the previous two seasons, most recently garnering the honor with a 12-5 record, a Florida State League-best 1.74 ERA (24 ER/124.1 IP) and 157 strikeouts during his Hi-A debut with Bradenton. Glasnow’s award-winning totals were also good for second in strikeouts, a share of third in wins among FSL hurlers and set the stage for his postseason recognition as the league’s Pitcher of the Year.
“My goal in the Fall League is to learn to throw breaking balls in non-breaking-ball counts, continue to confidently throw the changeup, and take all that into Double-A,” Glasnow said. “That, and the speed separation between my changeup and fastball…on a good day, the change is 86 [mph] when I’m throwing 96-97 [mph].”
5. LHP – Joely Rodriguez
Rodriguez, 22, bounced back from an elbow stress reaction (and later appendicitis) in 2011 to turn in consecutive solid seasons and reach the Double-A level in 2014. However, Pittsburgh’s power lefty was welcomed to the Eastern League with a tough 4.44 ERA (49 ER/99.1 IP) in 18 starts prior to the All-Star break, and including an additional 11 earned runs in 18 1/3 innings of relief during July and August, concluded the year at 7-11 with a 4.84 ERA (72 ER/134.0 IP) in 30 total games (21 starts) for the Curve. Rodriguez will get the ball in Arizona seeking a return to his 2013 form, which saw the southpaw conclude the year ranked No. 30 in the Bucs’ system by Baseball America.
“He’s a young pitcher and (inconsistency) is what they battle with all the time,” Curve pitching coach Stan Kyles said after Rodriguez fired seven innings with just one hit against Binghamton this past June. “When (young pitchers) throw well, they have a tendency of getting a little overconfident; When they don’t throw as well, there’s a renewed focus of getting back out there and trying to perform well.”
6. INF – Dan Gamache
Gamache, 23, suffered a foot fracture during spring training before returning to hit .275 (38-for-138) with 11 doubles, a career-high six homers, 22 runs and 27 RBI in just 39 Double-A games. The lefty-hitting infielder has spent the majority of his career at both second and third base, and capped the 2014 campaign with nine straight appearances – and hits in eight of those nine games – at second. He has produced a .270 career average in 330 minor league games since being selected out of Auburn University in the sixth round of the 2011 MLB Draft.
“The gameplan is just be ready every day,” Gamache said just prior to the 2014 season. “(The key is) having a good mental approach and don’t take any at-bats off.”
7. LHP – Tom Harlan
Harlan, 24, continued his quick progression through the organization, following his 2012 debut with a combined 2.09 ERA in 34 games (1 start) between West Virginia and Bradenton in 2013 and a 3.15 mark in 32 total outings (10 starts) with the Marauders and Altoona in 2014. The southpaw opened the year with just 14 earned runs in 50 2/3 innings (2.49 ERA) through July 5 with Bradenton and only 10 in his first 39 1/3 frames (2.60 ERA) at the Double-A level, but was tagged for a 6.14 ERA (10 ER/14.2 IP) over his final three outings on the year. Overall, Harlan is 15-15 with a 3.10 ERA (77 ER/223.1 IP), two saves and 183 strikeouts in 86 minor league games (11 starts).
“(Harlan’s success in the rotation) really surprised us because he was never a starter,” Altoona manager Carlos Garcia said. “He is sustaining good pitch-ability. Every day he is covering the innings he’s needed to cover. You know he is going to have a great effort every time he goes to the mound.”
THE OVERALL RANKINGS
[MLB.com’s Top Prospects entering the AFL]
1. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
4. Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
5. Addison Russell, SS, Cubs
9. Archie Bradley, RHP, D-backs
13. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
16. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pirates
29. Josh Bell, 1B, Pirates
38. Raul Mondesi, SS, Royals
40. Jesse Winker, OF, Reds
41. Mark Appel, RHP, Astros
47. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Royals
49. D.J. Peterson, 3B, Mariners
53. C.J. Edwards, RHP, Cubs
60. Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets
71. Hunter Renfroe, OF, Padres
82. Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox
84. Nick Williams, OF, Rangers
85. Daniel Robertson, SS, A’s
86. Hunter Dozier, 3B, Royals
87. Miguel Almonte, RHP, Royals
88. Dalton Pompey, OF, Blue Jays
96. Trea Turner, SS, Padres
98. Matt Olson, 1B, A’s
Follow the Inside Pitch blog for complete coverage from each of Scottsdale’s 33 contests this offseason. All game coverage will be filed under the “game recap” category of the blog, which is located here: http://bit.ly/AFL-Recaps