Amid the frenzy of playoff baseball and D-backs survival, the AFL got underway yesterday, with Arizona's prospects seeing their first action with the Salt River Rafters against the Peoria Javelinas. Sure, sure, why on earth would we bother paying attention to anything in the minors at a time like this? Well, consider this: a year ago, Josh Collmenter was pitching in the Arizona Fall League and Paul Goldschmidt's season at Hi-A Visalia was over. Nights like last night remind me why I love following prospects so much.
Follow after the jump for a quick recap of the performances from D-backs' farmhands in yesterday's action, and a look at some MLB-quality Pitch f/x data for D-backs pitching prospect Charles Brewer, who started the game for the Rafters.
RHP Charles Brewer - Starting pitcher for Salt River - 2.2 IP, 5 H, 5 R (4 ER), 2:2 K:BB, 4:1 GO:AO, throwing error.
Don't worry about the ugly ERA from Brewer's line yesterday. For one, the AFL is a brutal place for pitchers, because of, well, nonsense like this. The biggest things we can take away from Brewer's outing yesterday are that a) he got another 53 pitches of work in after missing a lot of the season with injuries, and b) there is Pitch f/x data available to give us a good idea of Brewer's arsenal.
Brewer was 90-91 mph with his fastball in the first inning but tapered off to 88-89 mph towards the later part of his outing. That's merely average velocity on the radar gun, but it's certainly not career-damning. Plenty of starters have survived in the back end of a big-league rotation with that velocity by commanding and controlling it well, which Brewer has a reputation of doing. Additionally, Brewer seems to get plenty of sink and run in on right-handed hitters on the pitch, getting anywhere from 5-7 inches of break according to Pitch f/x, which should go a long way in preventing Brewer from having immense home run problems that have ruined the careers of many other pitchers with similarly-low velocity.
As far as secondary offerings go, Brewer used his change-up more often than his curveball, throwing the former in the low-80's, typically right around 82 mph, while the latter pitch was an upper-70's offering that typically sat around 77 mph. The change-up has 8-9 inches of break and fading action that mimics the fastball effectively, making the pitch effective, while the curveball is a 12-6 breaker that breaks about a foot, though it seems more to be a round, depth-heavy pitch than a sharp-breaking killer (side note: Ian Kennedy's curveball is a similar, depth-heavy offering that has clearly worked well enough for him). This fastball/change-up/curveball combo gives Brewer three distinct velocity levels to work at, allowing him to change speeds in order to get early or late swings while throwing strikes and getting movement on the ball to limit free passes and induce ground balls.
OF Adam Eaton - batting leadoff, playing in left field - 2-4, 2B, 2 K, 2 BB, SB
Regardless of where he goes or what the level of competition is, Eaton seems to find a way to hit. On one hand, it's the AFL, and it's hardly uncommon for hitters to post utterly absurd batting lines. Additionally, the two strikeouts Eaton posted in this game aren't exactly encouraging. However, even if you think the hits on balls in play were largely flukey, the two walks are true signs of Eaton's patience, and the combination of the stolen base and Eaton's spot in the lineup show that the organization thinks he can develop into a top-of-the-order on-base type hitter in a best-case scenario. I would warn against following Eaton's batting line in the AFL too closely, as they're more likely to mislead than be informative, but I'll be very much looking forward to any scouting reports that leak out on the interwebs.
3B Ryan Wheeler - batting sixth, the designated hitter - 3-5, 2 2B, GIDP
Like with Eaton, Wheeler's AFL numbers aren't going to provide us with any real insight as to what kind of prospect he is. What will be interesting to see are any scouting reports that hit the internet as the AFL schedule progresses to see what kind of projections exist on Wheeler's bat. He's not much of a defender at third base - more of an emergency bench option there - so he's going to have to really hit to have any sort of big-league value. In all likelihood, Wheeler winds up serving as a bench bat, but given how well he hit for his age at Double-A this year, he could be a fine one for the D-backs. It'll be interesting to see if he gets any time at third base, first base, or even in the outfield.
2B David Nick - batting ninth, playing second base - 1-3, K, 2 BB
I'll be paying attention to the kind of numbers Nick puts up in the AFL more so than either Eaton or Wheeler (note: still not a whole lot), because his assignment to the Rafters represents an enormous jump in competition level compared to what Nick faced every day with Hi-A Visalia this year. I'm hoping to see a solid K:BB rate and perhaps a bit of pop, anything that demonstrates that Nick's hitting ability treads water against mostly Double-A or Triple-A level talent in the AFL. I imagine that Nick will see everyday playing time, as he and Detroit's Hernan Perez - assigned to the team as filler after posting a .677 OPS in the Low-A Midwest League this year - are the only second basemen on the roster, and there's also only one shortstop of note on the club in the Dodgers' Jake Lemmerman. Nick is a lock to join Double-A Mobile in 2012, and this will be an interesting small assignment to give us an idea of how well he'll deal with the jump. Of course, I'll still be weighing scouting reports more heavily than any AFL numbers.