Every year since 1992, MLB teams have been sending select players to the Arizona Fall League, a league for top prospects to compete against each other in a complex league setting easy for scouts and executives to see them at the end of the year.
From Mike Piazza, Albert Pujols, Bryce Haper, and Mike Trout, several stars have cut their teeth in the showcase setting. Jason Kipnis is the most notable recent AFL graduate to help the Indians.
Last season the Indians sent OF Carlos Moncrief, who has had a tremendous year at Akron, cutting down on strikeouts and showing better pitch recognition overall. Tyler Holt, who has had a solid year in Akron, is an AFL 2012 alumni. INF Ronny Rodriguez, C Alex Monsalve, Ps Matt Packer, TJ House , Trey Haley and Shawn Armstrong were also attendees last year.
Some notes on the Indians 2013 AFL Class:
INF Joe Wendle - Wendle played some playoff games with Lake County towards the end of 2012 after making the New York Penn League All-Star game upon being drafted. He promptly skipped Lake County – not bad for a Division II baseball player.
Currently hitting .295 with 15 homers in the Carolina League, a tough league all around. Splitting time between second and third base this year and fighting back from a broken bone near his eye back in May, Wendle has emerged as a breakout prospect. Having only seen him at third in his time with Mahoning Valley and Lake County, and given the Indians depth at 2B/SS, Wendle is a better fit at 3B. He is easily their top prospect at third base. He has a very simple approach at the plate and overall solid actions at third. I’m not sure where his upside sits, so the AFL will be a good test, as will manning third base at AA-Akron next year, provided Giovanny Urshella doesn’t repeat after a kind of un-inspiring year there.
OF Tyler Naquin – I was a little surprised the Indians sent Moncrief to the AFL last year, but given his age, since he was still just two years removed from converting from a pitcher, it was an aggressive move that paid off. He went to Akron and did something that’s very hard to do at the AA level, learn the strike zone better and improve your approach.
The upside is there for Moncrief, but I don’t believe the upside is the same with Naquin. That being said, he had better numbers and an approach at Carolina this year than Moncrief before he was promoted to Akron, where he hasn’t adjusted quickly. Maybe the Indians think that Naquin will follow Moncrief’s path and hope the experience in the AFL helps him cut down on strikeouts. I will say, the 10 home runs this year are somewhat of a surprise from Naquin, someone not expected to have much more power than that.
C Tony Wolters - Wolters endured a tough year, making the change from middle infielder to catcher. He went back to Arizona briefly to work on the transition before he headed back to Carolina, where he spent the rest of the season. Having not seen Wolters as a M-INF or C defensively, I can only say that the positive for him this year was that he was able to hit .283 and cut down on his strikeouts (104K/36BB 2012 – 55K/41BB in only 76 games so far). Many people like Wolters hands and receiving skills. Playing in the AFL to get more reps at the position will be good for him. The Indians don’t have a ton of catching talent, then again, catching prospects around baseball are few and far between these days.
C Jake Lowery – Lowery has sort of held his own in AA-Akron this year, despite not playing a lot and despite struggling in High-A Carolina last year and part of the year this year. Reportedly Lowery will be a “Taxi Squad player” in the AFL, which means he is only eligible to play Wednesdays and Saturdays. Lowery is hitting .276 with 6 homers in Akron in 67 games with the Aeros. A little surprising of a selection. Lowery will also be participating in the Indians Instructional League. Ill have more on instructional League related news later. It’s a bit of a surprising move to have Lowery sent to the AFL, but teams can only send two players below AA to the AFL and as I said before, there’s a major lack of catching prospects in the Indians organization and in baseball.
The pitchers the Indians will send are to be determined yet. They’ll likely look at guys’ innings and maybe do some physicals to decide who they want to see more innings out of.
One name you can probably eliminate from the pitchers potentially sent to the AFL, is RHP Cody Anderson. Anderson was a college closer and the Indians capped him off last year in August at three innings per start, only allowing him to get to 98 innings.
This year Anderson is at 136 innings and has held up well. Anderson is the kind of arm you’d want to be sent to the AFL, however, he said he doesn’t feel the Indians will push his innings any further. He is also not on the Indians instructional roster. Anderson also won Carolina League pitcher of the year.
One name that’s a slight possibility is reliever Austin Adams. Adams is having a terrific year from a lot of standpoints.
First of all, Adams missed all of 2012 with a serious shoulder surgery on his rotator cuff and labrum. That’s usually the kiss of death for pitchers.
All Adams has done this year, now a reliever: 73K/29BB in 53IP 2.72 ERA. He’s still sitting 94-98 with his fastball. His curveball has been sharp and he’s been healthy all year after the surgery. While Adams said he is unsure if the Indians will try to push him back to starting, if they are comfortable giving him more innings, the AFL would be a great place for Adams. He has back-end bullpen type stuff.
Other odds and ends: Captains pitching coach Steve Karsay, will serve as the pitching coach for the Surprise Saguaros, where the Indians are sending their players.
Cleveland area native Ryan Rua (Amherst – Lake Erie College), playing in the Texas system, is also on the Surprise squad.