The 2013 Arizona Fall League season kicks off tomorrow night, another chance for established prospects to improve their stock and non or fringe prospects to possibly work their way onto the Major League radar. The Yankees will once again be well represented, sending 7 players to join the Scottsdale Scorpions, but unlike last year the 7 representatives aren’t all household names. This year’s group includes everybody from top 3 organizational prospects to a few players whose names you might have never heard. If you aren’t up to date on who’s making the trip this fall, here’s your refresher.
The position player representatives are where you’ll find the most familiar faces. Double-A outfielders Mason Williams and Tyler Austin – 2 of the top 3-5 organizational prospects on most every reputable ranking list – highlight the group, with High-A C/3B Peter O’Brien rounding it out. Both Williams (.317 wOBA/95 wRC+ in High-A Tampa) and Austin (.333/103 in Double-A) had down years offensively after breezing through the lower levels of the system. Williams had his character and attitude questioned multiple times during the season while Austin was hampered by a wrist injury, so both have something to prove to scouts. Even in a hitter’s league, improved on-base skills from Williams and power from Austin would be reassuring to see as they inch closer to consideration for a Major League roster spot.
For O’Brien, the trip to the AZFL is more to see if he can hack it defensively at any position. A college catcher, O’Brien was moved to third base upon his promotion to High-A Tampa this season, where he committed a litany of errors and had a hard time adjusting. He was never expected to catch long term professionally, so the Yankees need to find a spot to hide him defensively if they want to try to turn his power into something useful. At the very least, extra reps at the hot corner should give them an answer on whether or not that’s the place for him moving forward.
On the mound, it’s quite the eclectic group of guys from multiple levels of the farm system. The standout name is Vidal Nuno, the soft-throwing lefty who breezed through the upper levels of the system and made some solid spot appearances in the Majors earlier in 2013. A groin injury limited Nuno to just 45.0 IP between Triple-A and the Majors though, and he spent the better part of his summer rehabbing from the injury. His invite to the AZFL is about getting him some work to make up for missed time, and it’s also another Major League audition for 2014. Expect to see him work in a variety of roles: starter, long reliever, and maybe even as a matchup lefty.
After Nuno, the level of familiarity drops significantly. The next most well known name is Brett Gerritse, a right-handed pitcher who put up a 3.56 ERA (2.39 FIP) in 101.0 IP as a starter and a reliever for Low-A Charleston this season. It was his second full year at the level, second year working multiple roles, and second year that he pitched pretty well in those roles. Him getting selected for the hitter-friendly AZFL is most likely a test to see just how real those Low-A results were.
Lefties Fred Lewis and James Pazos round out the group. Lewis, 26, pitched 58.2 innings across 3 levels this season, including a late cup of coffee in Triple-A. Pazos, 22, has been working as a multi-inning lefty reliever in the low levels of the system after being taken in the 13th round of the 2012 draft. With Boone Logan set to hit free agency and no clear cut replacement around, this is no doubt an attempt by the Yankees to see if they have a possible future lefty specialist or 2 hiding in the weeds.
It’s a diverse group of players this year, in terms of prospect status, ceiling, name recognition, and experience. The decision to bring guys like Lewis and Pazos along with guys like Austin and Nuno may give a little insight into the Yankees’ future plans. They aren’t just looking to see who can help next year, they’re thinking about 2015 already as well. Once those guys get in and pitch against this higher level of hitting competition, we’ll have a better idea of how real their chances are of being a part of those future plans.