The following is the first of a four-part series from new MLB Prospect Watch contributor Kevin Walsh, who spent the last week taking in Arizona Fall League games and saw all six of the league's teams. This series will highlight some of the players that impressed and disappointed during the fall league.
A first rounder last year, Springer stood out in 2012 in the California League. He has ridiculous bat speed and uses it to generate plus-power. Pair that with easy 65 speed and Springer is a very intriguing package. I personally witnessed him hit two of the furthest home runs they have ever seen at Salt River Fields. Springer stands out because of the potential to be a solid outfielder, a plus base runner and hit above .300. He took a couple interesting routes in center field, but his speed and knowledge allow him to correct for those and make the play. He was rated as the best outfielder in the California League and long-term he should stick in center. He put up four extremely quality at-bats in the game I watched, and drew two walks and jacked two home runs. He struggled in a short-stint in AA and his strikeout numbers could slow his ascent, but he just turned 23 at the end of the season and should arrive in Houston for good at some point in 2013. For now don’t be surprised if he spends all spring in big league camp before starting in the Texas League.
Chia-Jen Lo, Houston Astros
Another interesting “non-prospect” due to his age is Lo, a chunky right-hander who is coming off a couple of elbow injuries (red flags) and will be 27 as next year opens. That said, I think he could be a good bullpen arm for the Astros this coming season. Lo’s fastball ranges from 88-96 but typically sits around 92-93. He throws a tight slider (due to his ¾ arm slot this may actually be more of a short-break curve/slurve) at 84-85 that appears to be a strong strikeout offering. He has a change-up and it plays up due to his other offerings. With the Astros moving to the AL West, they will be looking to continue to shore up the bullpen. If he is healthy, I expect Lo will spend the spring looking to break camp with the team, but will likely open in Oklahoma City.
The Rangers have an embarrassment of riches in the middle infield and Alberto adds to that. Despite his listed size of 5’11” 175, he is thicker than you’d expect. The ball comes off his bat loudly and he drives it to all fields well. Some of thoughts I heard on the bat were divided between, “he generates loud at-bats over and over again” and the counter of “that is because of his long-swing.” He doesn’t tend to walk but also doesn’t tend to strike out, rather favoring putting the ball in play and trying to make things happen. He just turned 20 during the fall-league and is in a good position to open 2013 as the AA shortstop for the Rangers. In the field he uses his speed to track down balls and has extremely impressive skills in the field. He earns comparisons to Elvis Andrus at a similar age, but those are unfair as they are not as similar as they appear. For one, while both can be plus fielders, Alberto is more solid with less range and Andrus at the same age displayed ridiculous range but a tendency for errors. For another, his approach isn’t very refined and long-term I think he is still at least two full seasons away from the Majors. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Texas move him as they have Luis Sardinas, Rougned Odor and Odubel Herrera behind him.
I’ve seen Franklin a bunch this season and he is a great example that sometimes you have to trust evaluators and the numbers. Franklin has never enthralled me and quite frankly I am still not sure he’ll be a solid major league regular. I tend to think he profiles more as a backup middle infielder that can play an average shortstop and an above-average second base. I don’t think the power he displayed in 2010 as a 19-year-old is his true power. I think he is more of a 10-13 home run type guy who has doubles power. In my sample of him he showed some movements in the infield, though the range isn’t fantastic. He is reliable and should be a good bench piece for the Mariners. That said, he’ll be 22 next season and could truly breakout and become a really strong major league regular. He is just one player that I am not quite sold on yet.
Anderson has the potential to be a solid back-end of the rotation arm for the D-backs. Anderson sits 92-93 with his fastball and has a big and loopy curve ball. While the curve is a good pitch, evaluators are afraid that the big, loopy break will be a tip off to hitters and it’ll be hit hard at higher levels. He pitched extremely well in Mobile this season and with the D-backs having a ton of upper level starters, I see no reason why he’ll be rushed.
Liriano is built like a linebacker, but he is fleet of foot and produces rockets with his bat. Defensively, Liriano has a very strong arm and uses it effectively. He is not particularly fast, but he is very aware and takes bases well (152 SB in 492 career games). I think he is more likely to land in RF than CF but he is currently playing both and that may continue throughout his career. He is not quite there yet, but he shows signs of being a very solid future MLB player. He is still developing physically and while that may hamper his speed, it will likely boost his power.
Kevin Walsh is a life-long stat head with a penchant for analysis. He has business experience in Major League Baseball and the Media Relations in the Arena Football League. He can be found on Twitter @AltitudeSports and through his blog at altitudesports.blogspot.com.