Minor league action begins today, except it's in a whole new league and a whole new team. This time, the team we'll be following is the Peoria Javelinas! The AFL starts today and the Astros will have seven (eight?) representatives roaming the fields of Arizona.
The AFL is the top winter/fall league in baseball and every organization sends their top hitting prospects here to get a few more at-bats against top flight pitching competition. The majority of prospects just finished off their seasons at either A+ (like Lancaster) or AA (like Corpus Chisti), with a few recent draftees, like Zack Cox, and some AAA players. Typically, you don't see a whole lot of top flight pitching prospects as most have already hit their innings pitched mark for the year. That's why you don't see Jordan Lyles and Dallas Keuchel on the list of players we'll be sending. But, high profile college pitchers like Mike Leake and Stephen Strasburg will attend the year they were drafted. Most of the pitchers are guys that once had a bright future but something is holding them back. So, the pitching quality is still high.
The exciting part about pitching in the AFL is that there are a few Pitch F/X cameras in the league. So, we will get a chance to really know these guys throw.
After the jump, I'll go over each of our AFL representatives individually in what they will likely be working on as well as what to expect from them.
Koby Clemens, 1B-This was a very important year for Clemens. He had a lot to prove this year after posting such monsterous numbers in Lancaster this year, and he showed that his power is legitimate. Although, Koby has to improve his strikeout rate in order to eventually hold down an everyday job at th major league level. I didn't say his plate discipline because he actually has a really good walk rate. There are just some holes in his swing that he's going to have to close up and the advanced breaking balls that he'll see in the AFL will be good experience.
Unfortunately, playing time could be scarce for Clemens. His team consists of a younger 1B prospect in Michael McDade who's in the Toronto system. Although, McDade hasn't put up as good of numbers as Clemens. There are also rumors of Dustin Ackley getting playing time at 1B since there are two highly rated short stops on the team in Jose Iglesias and Adeiny Hechavarria who could take up time at 2B.
Jay Austin, CF-Austin was one of the youngest players in the California League this year and will be the youngest player on the Javelinas team. He was recently added to this roster, and quite frankly, he may not be ready. His OPS in Lancaster was not very impressive, although he was very young for the level. It's apparent that Austin has power potential as well as outstanding speed. The problem, is that he can't seem to get on-base enough to use that speed. He needs to improve on his plate discipline as well as his approach. The front office has said he needs to work on his bunting and putting the ball on the ground at times to better use his speed.
As far as playing time is concerned, Austin will probably having to compete with our Jack Shuck, Boston's new Cuban signee Juan Carlos Linares, and possibly T.J. Steele. Linares is 26 but just signed in July and is reportedly a gold-glove winning center fielder who is also a slugger. Austin will have to perform very well from the beginning in order to win playing time. I'm skeptical since his results from Lancaster were not the greatest
Jack Shuck, OF-Shuckers had one heck of a season. He started off as the after-thought of the trio of outfielders in Corpus behind the "second coming of Cesar Cedeno" in Steele and the big stick of Jonathan Gaston. But, it was Shuck who became the star of all three as he became the perfect leadoff hitter and replaced Steele in CFafter Steele went to the DL. Shuck was rewarded with a promotion to AAA and performed well. He's not a star because none of his tools standout as truly amazing, expect for possibly his speed. He's a slap hitter with the possibility of having a little more power than most slap hitters and has the speed to be a threat on the basepaths and the field. Unfortunately, his instincts may be lacking.
His instincts in the field and on the basepaths will be the focus of his work in the AFL. He'll probably be able to get playing time a little easier than Austin since he is much more advanced, even if he doesn't have the tools that Austin has.
T.J. Steele, OF (Questionable)-Yeah, the "Cesar Cedeno" comparison isn't working out. It was reported that Steele was pulled from this roster, but his name remains, so he could still make an appearance. I think he has yet to recover from his injury which could be why Jay Austin supposedly replaced him.
Kyle Greenwalt-Baseball America released a list of prospects to watch on every AFL team and of the four pitchers listed for the Javelinas, two were Astros. One of them included Greenwalt. Greenwalt is the perfect sleeper pick as he has solid stuff that includes a low 90s fastball with good sink and above average to plus secondary offerings that include a curveball and changeup. He has a good groundball rate that should bode well for him as he moves up in the system.
He should be used as a starter in the AFL and will probably post some pretty decent numbers. The AFL is a hitters league so don't expect dominant numbers.
Patrick Urckfitz-The lefty is the other Astro to make the list, mostly because he was an undrafted FA a little over a year ago. Urckfitz got moved to the rotation this year because of the struggles of the starters, but will return to the pen in the AFL. He has a good fastball which he can ride a little further in the system. He profiles best as a LOOGY but will be used as a middle reliever.
There are only four lefty's on the team, including Urckfitz. Urckfitz is actually the only one who was used a reliever this year. One has even started at the major league level for a good portion of the season. So, he should get plenty of innings.
David Carpenter-The Carpenter that the Cardinals gave us for the bag of ball known as Pedro Feliz was just added to the roster in the last week or two. He has a strong arm but is still raw in terms of pitchability. He had a good run in Lancaster after the trade. I'm really hoping to see some data on his fastball.
Matt Nevarez-The jewell of the Pudge Rodriguez trade, Matt Nevarez. His fastball is great, but his command is poor. He only pitched 38 1/3 innings because of an injury and some struggles. His struggles with control are bad too, we're talking more walks than strikeouts. That's bad! The AFL will give Nevarez some time to work on his control. The data on his fastball should be awesome.
Nevarez has the potential to be a late inning reliever and may actually get used in that role in the AFL. If he gains command of his fastball, he could blow the AFL away.
There's a preview of what could go down in the AFL. We have some real talent heading to Arizona, but only Jay Austin has huge upside of the group. Unfortunately, I think Austin may be the one who could struggle the most. I'm pretty excited to see what these guys can do up against some of the best prospects in the country. Look for my weekly updates of what's going on with these guys. I'm not sure what day they'll be posted though.