Some years the players a team sends to the Arizona Fall League can generate a lot of interest and anticipation among their organization’s fans. Stephen Strasburg last year comes to mind. If you want to think more locally, Scott Sizemore went to the AFL last year as the Tigers likely starting second baseman. But however close a player is to the majors, it’s fun to see them do well and to see how the national prospect watchers react to them.
This season, for the most part, the players the Tigers are sending are really going to have to perform to get that kind of attention. Then again, the AFL could tell us a lot about where these players are in their development. We’ll not only get to see how they do at a high level of competition. We should also get to use Pitch f/x to get a taste of their strengths and weaknesses either from the mound or at the plate.
Brooks Brown, RHP, 25
Brown is not a guy who is going to get ooh’s and ah’s from the fans watching his radar gun readings. He’s a sinker-slider pitcher who’s always said to be trying to improve his changeup. His stuff sounds workable, but it's not fooling many hitters. After an ugly stint in Toledo in 2009, he went back to Erie this year and improved considerably. He reduced his walks, got his strikeouts up to at least a passable rate and kept the ball in the yard. It’s difficult to see him taking this show to the majors - especially in a starting role - but good control and ground balls can work well when things are going your way.
Matt Hoffman, LHP, 22
Hoffman was one of the Tigers’ August 15 signings in the 2007 draft. He just didn’t get the pub of Porcello, Iorg or Crosby. That seems to have come with good reason, as he just doesn’t seem to have the ceiling either of those other players have flashed. His M.O. as a pro has been to excel at one level, and then struggle after getting promoted. He’s usually been described as having passable stuff, but I’ve not heard him described as a future big leaguer. At just 22, though, he has some time to try to find the command he’ll need to figure out the higher levels.
Chance Ruffin, RHP, 22
The Tigers’ second supplemental first round pick is the one Tiger pitcher who I think could make a splash as a prospect in this AFL season. It’s basically his pro debut, and we’ll see just how polished a pitcher he is as he faces AA/AAA competition. His stuff isn’t overpowering, but if he can work his arsenal (fastball, slider, curveball) anywhere near as effectively as he did at Texas the Tigers could have another fast mover.
Brendan Wise, RHP, 24
Wise pitched very effectively for both Erie and Toledo in 2010. I’ve only ever heard vague references to what he throws, but it’s hard to argue that he works pretty well with what he has. He is anything but a strikeout pitcher but he also doesn’t walk many and gets a metric ton of ground balls. I don’t look for a big league future, but it’s not impossible that Leyland could pluck him from Toledo at some point as one of those ground ball relievers he professes to love.
Cale Iorg, SS, 25
We’ve been led to believe that Iorg is this close to breaking out for quite a while now. He started off hot in Toledo and there was a little hubbub, but he eventually settled into his usual ugly rate stats. I don’t doubt at this point that he has the skills to make it; it’s just nearly impossible to look at his stats and believe he will. He’s supposed to be a master at shortstop, but at this point you have to wonder if his offense would play even in that role. I don’t think he’s going to prove his worth as a prospect in his second go-around in the AFL, but it would be nice to see him start it here.
Francisco Martinez, 3B, 20
Martinez jumped from the GCL to the Florida State League and saw across the board improvement. Yes, his numbers still leave people talking about what he can be rather than what he’s done. However, he was impressive enough as a 20-year-old in the FSL that he earned a mention from Baseball America as that league’s 17th best prospect. Third base is starting to get a little crowded in the Tigers’ low minors, but not so much that a good showing here wouldn't get noticed.
Ben Guez, OF, 23
Guez’s role is betrayed a little bit by the fact that he was the Tigers’ third selection in this spot. It was originally going to be Ryan Strieby, then Andy Dirks, and now Guez is getting his shot. Good for him. He hit well at three different levels in 2010, but ended up spending the most time in Toledo. He walks plenty, strikes out plenty more, and has some pop in his bat. He also plays the outfield well enough to have spent a good deal of time in center. The way he was moved last season suggests that he’s more of an organizational bat than a prospect, but those guys get their day sometimes. Jeff Frazier and Max St. Pierre can tell him all about that.
Like I said, don’t comb through the game summaries and league All Star squads expecting to hear accolades for the Tiger contributors. It’s tough for relievers to make much hay in such a short time and the Tigers are sending at least three. It wouldn’t be shocking if Brown was used in that role, too. Among the position players, I’m guessing Iorg and Martinez will be splitting time and an even split is probably optimistic for what Guez should expect. Clearly, this isn’t the strongest class the Tigers have ever sent to Arizona. That said, it’s a good opportunity for these guys since the most promising players are in positions where the Tigers would certainly notice a step forward.