Casual fans might not know much about the AFL. In my quick search for images, I drowned in a sea of Tebow, who played there last year. Sorry for that. Quick background: the AFL combines super high end prospects with other intriguing guys, who may be close to MLB, or who missed a lot of time and need reps. They don’t play a lot of games, the teams have too many players so your guy won’t always make the box score. I remember Joe Sclafani nearly won the AFL batting title, and I needed to be reminded how small the sample size was. He was out of the system a few months later.
For Astros fans, we have the good fortune of having two super high-end prospects in the AFL who also missed time and need reps. They are Forrest Whitley and J.B. Bukauskas. Myles Straw is supposed to be on the AFL team, although he’s played so much this year that I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t go there, even if he’s left off the roster later today. Drew Ferguson is taking his place.
Three games have been played. In the first game on Tuesday, Whitley struck out 8 of the first 9, before scuffing a bit in the 4th inning. He was flat-out dominant, throwing 55 pitches, 35 for strikes, and 14 swinging strikes. That’s what dominance looks like. Bukauskas pitched last night and was nearly as good, going 3.1 IP with 0 runs, 3 hits, 1 BB and 5 K. Apparently he threw a 92 MPH changeup. He threw 36 of his 63 pitches for strikes and was touching 98 according to Eric Langenhagen of Fangraphs.
Trent Thornton and Erasmo Pinales also saw action last night, and had lots of traffic on the basepaths. Ronnie Dawson has played in all three games in the OF and is making an impact, slashing 273/467/455 and has stolen two bases. Abraham Toro has played in two games, hitting 375/545/625, and only K’ing once in 11 PAs. Drew Ferguson has not appeared.
Scouts flock to these games. I don’t think Ferguson, Thornton, or Pinales have a future with the Astros, but they might be the 3rd or 4th guy in an offseason trade if another team thinks that Ferguson can be their 4th OF, or Thornton can be an effective swingman in their 2019 rebuild.
Bukauskas has the most helium potential of the AFL Astros. He has pedigree but disappeared for almost a year after getting drafted. He came on super strong in the 2nd half of 2018, still flying a bit under the radar on the national level. A strong AFL season makes him a consensus top 100 guy going into the offseason. More importantly, the Astros can assess whether he can be depth for the 2019 season, which will affect how they approach the offseason. Toro has long been a TCB favorite. He struggled at AA, and it’s good to see him off to a strong start. He has the potential to be a plus defender at 3b with plus power. He’s still just 21 and I doubt he played baseball all year round in Canada as a kid, so he’s like 19 in Texas baseball years. Both he and Dawson are toolsy prospects who will turn heads if they continue to hit and tap into their power.
Thanks for reading, as we have a few more hours of being cruelly deprived of playoff baseball.