The 2017 Arizona Fall League is almost over. The AFL season spans from the week after MLB’s regular season until it wraps just before Thanksgiving. Play ends with the championship game this coming Saturday, just five days before you’ll be eating turkey and watching football at your relatives’ house.
Six Tigers prospects started the AFL season with the Mesa Solar Sox. Since then, some players were added and some were removed. Seven of Detroit’s prospects remain with the team: Pitchers Mark Ecker, Zac Houston, Gerson Moreno, and Spencer Turnbull, infielders Kody Eaves and A.J. Simcox, and outfielder Cam Gibson are the players that will complete the fall league. Let’s see how they closed out their seasons.
Ecker is a right-handed reliever that has seen limited action in the AFL due to being a late roster addition. In three games, he’s pitched 3 1⁄3 innings, struck out four, walked none, and given up three hits and no runs.
He pitched in 51 games in 2017 between Advanced-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie, finishing the regular season with an ERA just over three. He converted 10 of the 11 save opportunities he was given. He has pitched for four teams over his two-year minor league career, so look for him to be promoted again next season.
The story is similar for Houston. He is also a righty reliever but he’s gotten into a few more AFL games than Ecker. In 9 1⁄3 innings across eight games, Houston has given up four hits, no runs, walked one, and struck out 14. Opponents are batting only .148 against him in the AFL. The 2016 draftee has shown hints of promise in his short minor league career — he has an ERA of 1.54 in 52 games across three levels, not including the AFL.
Moreno is a Dominican Republic native who has a bit of a rough time in 2017, finishing the 2017 regular season with an ERA near four and a half in 50 innings between Advanced-A and Double-A ball. The 22-year-old has had a history of struggling at a new level before figuring it out though. In two seasons, he’s arrived at the Double-A level and, should he continue to improve his command, particularly with his breaking ball, Moreno has an outside shot to reach the majors in 2018.
In the AFL thus far, Moreno has pitched nine innings, given up nine hits and three earned runs, walked three, and struck out 11.
An interesting tidbit on Moreno has emerged from the release of a selection of Statcast data from the Arizona Fall League. Moreno’s fourseam fastball has averaged 96.34 miles per hour this fall, and he’s been known to tip triple digits at times. Especially fascinating is a spin rate of 2993 rpms, which is an elite amount of spin to go with the high velocity.
Turnbull is a right-handed starter who has pitched in five games in the AFL, starting all five. In 18 innings, he has an ERA of 3.00, and he’s given up 19 hits and 11 runs. Only six of those runs were earned. Additionally, Trumbull has walked four and struck out 14, and opponents are batting .268 against him.
The AFL has been a welcome change for Turnbull’s numbers. He was promoted to Double-A Erie in mid-August of this year, and he struggled. Turnbull gave up 14 earned runs in only four starts and 20 1⁄3 innings of work, resulting in a Double-A ERA of 6.20. With any luck, he can use his AFL season to bounce back in 2018.
Eaves is a left-handed batting third baseman. In 70 AFL at-bats, he has an average of .343, nine extra-base hits (two home runs), and 22 strikeouts. He has walked six times and has one stolen base (two caught stealing). In the 2017 regular season, Eaves batting .271 in 332 at-bats between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. He’ll likely get a major league call-up at some point next season.
Simcox is a righty shortstop who’s gotten the most AFL playing time of all the Tigers’ prospects. Unfortunately he hasn’t been terribly successful. In 96 at-bats he has an average of .188, including 18 hits (seven for extra bases). He has struck out 27 times and walked only four times. The only “highlights” are his two home runs and two stolen bases.
Son of Tigers and Dodgers postseason legend Kirk Gibson, Cam has quite a ways to go to live up to his father’s name. The lefty-hitting left fielder has a .169 batting average in 65 AFL at-bats. He has just 11 hits (only four for extra bases,and no home runs) and he’s struck out 22 times. He has, however, walked seven times and stolen four bases.
In the regular season, he batted .262 with 13 home runs and 19 stolen bases between Low-A West Michigan and Advanced-A Lakeland. But he still struck out 91 times in 409 at-bats, so there’s certainly room for improvement in 2018.
In conclusion, some of Detroit’s prospects did decently in the Arizona Fall League this season, while some could have made better use of their time. Because of the small sample of games, and the wide variety of age and experience among the competition, it’s unwise to read too much into any particular performances.
The final AFL game is this Thursday, with the championship game set for Saturday. You could see some Tigers in that game, as the Mesa Solar Sox currently sit atop the AFL East division, leading the Salt River Rafters by 2 1⁄2 games. If the standings remain, Mesa will face the Peoria Javelinas, who lead the AFL West by three games as of Tuesday afternoon. Tune in live to MLB Network on Saturday, Nov 18, at 3:08 p.m. ET to see the championship game at Scottsdale Stadium in Arizona.