AFL Roundup/Winter League Update

Bob Levey

A review of how the Astros' seven AFL prospects fared in the league's 20th campaign, and a quick look at some notable names playing in the other winter leagues, including Carlos Correa

The 2012 AFL campaign has come to a close, and it was one that had several very promising Astros prospects competing, a change from recent years. The results were mixed, and AFL numbers always have to be taken with a grain of salt, but here's a rundown of what the Astros' properties did in Zona this year.

Jarred Cosart

Jarred threw just 18 innings, and they were probably 18 he'd like to forget. He was ripped for 13 earned runs (and 6 more unearned) on an ugly 25 hits with a 15/9 K/BB mark. He did, however have the same positive ground ball markers that he has carried for the entirety of his professional career, and his AFL performance has done little to sway me on what I think he'll become. If I had to guess right now, I'd say he still has a chance to become a #3 starter type if things break right, but late inning reliever might be a more likely outcome.

Nick Tropeano

The Astros challenged Trope by sending him to the AFL, as he is yet to pitch at a level higher than A+, but he held his own and helped justify his Top 100 hype. Tropeano pitched primarily out of the pen with the Solar Sox, and posted a tidy 3.00 ERA with 18 strikeouts against 5 walks, a healthy ratio. He allowed just 10 hits in his 15 innings pitched, but if there is one negative we can draw from his AFL stint it is that he has looked homer prone as of late. He allowed 8 dingers in 70.2 Cal league innings, and 2 more in his 15 AFL frames. Obviously, these are both very HR-heavy hitting environments, so I'm not panicking, but it's something to watch with Tropeano going forward.

Chia-Jen Lo

After disappearing from the radar for almost two full seasons, Lo came back with a vengeance in the second half of 2012 and carried his success through to the AFL. After posting a miniscule 0.90 ERA in 30 regular season innings between Lancaster and the GCL, Lo threw 15 innings in the AFL, allowing just 4 earned runs. He had a good-not-great 11/4 K/BB and allowed 14 hits, 2 of which were homers. His Pitch F/X data shows an average velocity of 94.2 MPH on his fastball, a promising figure. He was protected from the Rule 5 draft last week and is a dark horse to break with the MLB club.

Alex Sogard

A 6'3", 25 year old lefty, Sogard came into the AFL coming off a season that saw him post some excellent ground ball rates between Lancaster and Corpus Christi. However, in Arizona, he was a disaster- he failed to keep the ball on the ground and was pounded to the tune of 18 hits (including 2 home runs) in 11.1 IP, with a dismal 8/9 K/BB ratio. He likely has no major league future.

Jiovanni Mier

After sitting out the majority of the 2012 regular season with injuries, Mier came to the AFL seeking to prove that the offensive improvements he showed in Lancaster, where he posted a .396 OBP in an even 200 PAs, weren't a fluke. He had a reasonably successful AFL campaign, slashing .297/.333/.422, but he neither hit a home run nor stole a base. He struck out 15 times in 68 PAs for a decent 22.1% K rate, but walked just 4 times in the same span, failing to show the improved patience that was on display in Lancaster. With little power or speed, Jio will have to do more work with the bat to be a part of the Astros future plans.

George Springer

There's no more electrifying set of tools in the Astros' system, and Springer put his skillset on full display in Arizona. He struck out 20 times in 83 PAs (24.1%), but walked 13 times as well which resulted in a .412 OBP. More impressive though were his 11 extra base hits, which included 4 home runs, and his 5/5 mark on stolen base attempts. Springer has a chance to be a special player if he can keep his strikeouts at a manageable clip, as there is little else about his game that can be criticized.

Jonathan Singleton

The player ranked #1 in the system by the TCB writers, Singleton was one of the younger players in the AFL, and performed admirably. He showed the same great plate discipline he had in AA, with 17 walks in 110 PAs, against a reasonable 24 strikeouts. He also clubbed 3 home runs and 6 other extra base hits, and generally looked like the patient middle of the order weapon he's projected to become. He could post some silly numbers in the PCL once he gets his feet under him, and we should see him in blue and orange this summer.

I always caution not to put much stock in AFL numbers, but it's nice to see the generally good performance that the Astros' representatives put up this year, I think it's a sign of the times on the farm as the light at the end of the tunnel continues to grow.

In addition to the higher profile AFL, the Astros have several interesting prospects floating around Central America in MLB's other Winter Leagues. Here's a look at how they're doing.

Dominican Winter League

Jonathan Villar

Villar has not been especially successful at the plate in the DWL, and apparently hasn't earned the trust of his manager who has been deploying him primarily as a defensive replacement. He has just 16 PAs in 17 games played, so there's little to report here.

Rhiner Cruz

Last year's Rule 5 pick is having a surprisingly successful campaign in the Dominican- he has thrown 7.2 IP, striking out 11 and walking 4 while posting a gorgeous 4.00 GO/AO figure. The sample is small, but we know that Rhiner can bring the heat like no one else in the Astros' organization, and I don't think it's crazy to think he could be a contributing member of their bullpen this season.

Jimmy Paredes

Jimmy seems to have some loyal supporters left, but his DWL campaign has not been inspiring. His biggest issue has always been his swing-at-everything mentality, and that's been as present as ever in winter ball where he has walked just 4 times in 114 PAs against 23 strikeouts. I still think his length, athleticism, defensive versatility and speed will make him a valuable utility man, but barring some unexpected strides with his patience I think he's going to be little more than hollow batting average at the plate.

Roberto Clemente League

Carlos Correa

It's not often that a .276/.323/.345 slash line is particularly exciting, but when you're talking about an 18 year old in a league that houses primarily players in their mid-20s, it's truly remarkable. Correa is showing why he went #1 overall by showing this level of polish at such a young age, and has been particularly hot lately, going 7 for his last 18 with 2 doubles and 2 walks against 5 strikeouts. He's not tearing the cover off the ball, but he's getting valuable experience that should give him confidence going into 2013.

Enrique Hernandez

Though he hasn't been great statistically as a minor leaguer, there's something about Hernandez that I like for some reason, and his winter ball run has been very successful. He's seeing the ball incredibly well, hitting .328/.388/.508 with a homer, a triple, 6 doubles and an even 6/6 K/BB. He's played both second base and left field as a minor leaguer, and if this is a sign of things to come with the bat, there's a real chance he can carve out a bit of a role in Houston some day. He's just 21 years old, and could open the year as Corpus Christi's left fielder.

Venezuelan Winter League

Marwin Gonzalez

How MarGo plays in Spring Training will likely determine whether he breaks with the Astros as a utility infielder or heads to OKC, but if he performs like he was in the VWL in ST, it'll likely be the latter. Though he has struck out just 8 times in 61 PAs, he's hitting a paltry .185. There's some bad luck involved there, but for a guy like Marwin who offers little in terms of power, he can be expected to post consistently low BABIPs. His defense will keep him around the organization, but it's legitimate to question if he'll ever hit.

Brandon Barnes

Likely to open the season as a member of the Astros for the first time in his career, Barnes had a very successful run in the VWL. He put up a .292/.353/.491 slash, and though he struck out 29 times in his 117 PAs, he also walked 11 times and smacked 10 extra base hits, 4 of which were home runs. I think these numbers are representative of Barnes' skillset, and he's worthy of some starts across Houston's outfield in 2013.

Jose Altuve

Playing for the love of the game, Altuve has raked in Venezuela even though he's reportedly dealing with nagging injuries. Though he's homerless in 93 plate appearances, he has posted a stellar 9/11 K/BB and is a perfect 7 for 7 on SB attempts. He has done exactly what you'd expect an MLB all star to do in winter ball, and looks primed for a big 2013 season.

Just like with the AFL, it's important to take all these numbers with a grain of salt, but I think for some players, especially Correa, Barnes and Hernandez, they could go a long way in determining whether they start their 2013 seasons, and are worthy of some attention.

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