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Astros Arizona Fall League Preview: Let's Go Prospecting Out West!

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Your new favorite team for the next month is called the Salt River Rafters. Don't ask questions.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Fall League kicked off Wednesday night, an extra month's foray into following prospects. If you're not familiar with it, the AFL is mishmash of MLB's star minor league prospects (names like Buxton, Seager, and Russell), a few guys with brief MLB experience (Anthony DeSclafani of the Marlins and Robbie Ray of the Tigers, to name a few), some mid-level prospects that have upside but youth as well, and some very lesser-known guys that don't exactly jump of the page.

I quite frankly have no idea what kind of criteria the AFL uses in selecting AFL rosters, but that's not what I care about; since the Astros hired A.J. Hinch, I must confess I'm super excited for Astros baseball, and I won't get that for another few months (officially). So by God, let's follow the Arizona Fall League and the Astros farmhands on the Rafters.

Mitchell Lambson, LHP, Corpus Christi (highest 2014 level)

I can't say that Lambson is a super interesting prospect, as a college reliever and all. But, he did spend 2014 pretty much dominating hitters in 55 innings between Lancaster and Corpus. He had a K/9 of 9.55 in Corpus. He probably won't catch anyone's eye in Arizona this month, but he does have a good chance to start in OKC Fresno next season, so his major league prospects are reasonable.

Tyler Heineman, C, Corpus Christi

Heineman didn't do a ton with the bat once he got to Corpus last season. But if nothing else, it's nice to have him catching one of the other guys further down this list in Arizona for the sake of familiarity. Heineman posted a .664 OPS last season in a tough hitting environment (not an excuse, it doesn't get easier from Double-A), and the Astros' catching depth only continues to grow and get stronger.

Tyson Perez, RHP, Corpus Christi

Perez was that one guy that seemed to be pitching in Lancaster for like three straight years (bless his soul if that were true). It wasn't the case, and when he got out of the Cal League he transitioned nicely to a relief role with the Hooks. I saw him pitch in relief in one game back in June against San Antonio; stuff isn't really there (6.75 K/9 in CC), but got guys out. His FIP was higher than the ERA, but the homers were low and his BABIP was a weirdly low .214. Probably not sustainable, and definitely a relief guy from here on out.

Joe Sclafani, 2B/SS/everything, Oklahoma City

Wonder if Dartmouth Joe has visited good old Fresno yet? Sclafani ended 2014 on a tear in OKC and had a few of us TCBers calling for his immediate promotion and inclusion into the everyday lineup (but we got to see Jonathan Villar for another month). Sclafani's range is pretty poor in the middle infield, but man..those PCL numbers. .339 average in OKC, .420 OBP, struck out only one more time than he walked in 192 OKC at-bats. And we know A.J. Hinch will like the brainy players. Sclafani is the guy I'm most interested in terms of what scouts have to say about him.

Andrew Aplin, CF (extraordinaire), OKC

Aplin only got 96 at-bats once he was promoted to OKC...and he wasn't even the full-time centerfielder, which is a darn shame. Tony D went with a weird outfield combination of Ronny Torreyes and some other guys at one point. Yes, the OF logjam in Triple-A could hurt Aplin, but I'm believe the front office really likes what he brings to the table. Andrew Aplin three years down the road is basically John Jay or one of those smallball team centerfielders, who does't hit the ball hard but gets on base and frustrates the hell out of the opposition defense.

Rio Ruiz, 3B, Lancaster

Ah yes, the first of the heavyweights. At 20, Ruiz is certainly one of the youngest players in the AFL . Ruiz had an excellent year in Lancaster but..it's Lancaster. We get it. Ruiz is kind of in a holding pattern until he hits Corpus next season. I imagine he'll start slow in the adjustment to a big pitcher's environment, but his age makes that okay. I'll be interested to see what scouts say about his future power potential at the hot corner.

Vincent Velasquez, RHP, Lancaster

Another guy who had an excellent year at Lancaster, and my darkhose to make the big league club sometime late in 2015 if the Astros are somewhat, in the smallest amount of contention by July or August. If you look at the playoff teams right now, a good number of them promoted really young power pitchers to help in the bullpen this October. See Brandon Finnegan in Kansas City. I'm not saying the Astros are ready for contention, but Velasquez I'm thinking Velasquez is close to being ready to pitch out of an MLB bullpen.

Mark Appel, RHP, Corpus Christi

Another guy who...did not have an excellent year at Lancaster. Not at all. But he did okay in Corpus, you say? The numbers say so. In six starts, Appel posted a 8.77 K/9 and a nice 2.99 FIP. Oh, but what use are numbers when you don't have #want? Or won't get angry on the mound, or throw water coolers in the dugout? This is sarcasm, all of it, and while I'm not defending Appel on the higher-level basis of defending Jeff Luhnow, Appel deserves a fair shake (see: much more than 100 professional innings) to determine if he can't cut it in a big league rotation. Prospect guys are a lot like the stock market speculators, except there's actually no money involved and they're not buying anything (okay, not like the stock market at all). They like to make a definitive, "stud or bust" decision on a guy without letting anything play itself out. Makes no sense, eh?

Appel leads me into the first little review of AFL action for the fall. Marky-Mark pitched three innings for Salt River last night in Scottsdale, allowing just one hit and striking out two. His night may not have been as clean as the box suggests, and that's why the AFL is awesome; it's a big deal for scouts and the aforementioned prospectors, and they'll make a point to publish their personal observations of prospects. Two of my favorite evaluators who have a Twitter presence are Keith Law (the rest of his Twitter presence sucks) and Bernie Pleskoff (former Astros scout) had some thoughts on Appel last night. Appel's outing last night looks like it lined up pretty well with his 2014 season (the better part). Some flashes, even consistently, of good stuff but a lack of command and pinpoint control. There's a video at the bottom of the article from Fangraphs' Eric Longenhagen which caught a portion of Appel's outing last night as well.