The seven players that the Detroit Tigers announced as their seven delegates to the Arizona Fall League will begin play today as members of the Mesa Solar Sox. The 38-man Mesa team will be comprised of players from the organizations of the Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The word on the AFL is that it’s offense-heavy. Teams like to send their position player prospects to get in extra work against advanced competition, but the pitching talent tends toward the “organizational depth” type of player (or perhaps players that have recently changed roles). That’s not to say the pitchers in the AFL can’t or won’t make the big leagues, it’s just that you’re more likely to see a Luke Putkonen and less likely to see a Jacob Turner. Teams are skittish about overworking their golden arms, especially in a mixed-roster setting where the coaches and managers aren’t necessarily from your own organization.
The Tigers will send four pitchers to Arizona: Luke Putkonen, Matt Hoffman, Tyler Clark, and Michael Morrison. They’re all guys who the organization seems to like a fair bit, but each one carries substantial question marks going forward. This AFL season will help them judge what exactly they have in each player.
Putkonen, who was transitioning from a starting role to a relief role this season, struggled with his ERA at both the major league and Triple-A levels. Hoffman, who may very well have the highest ceiling of the bunch, regressed a little bit in his ERA and WHIP numbers from 2011 to 2012; the good news for him was his ability to rebound in the second half of the year (2.45 ERA) after a shaky first half (4.81 ERA). Clark, who’s not known as a “stuff” guy, put up stupid-good numbers in Lakeland (a 0.63 ERA) for most of the year before earning a late season call up to Erie where he struggled in seven appearances (7.36 ERA). Morrison put up good numbers in Erie in the ERA (3.14) and strikeout department (10.3 per nine innings), but he had a problem issuing walks (5.7 per nine).
Three hitters will join them in Arizona: Nick Castellanos, James McCann, and Aaron Westlake. As a group they’re much more interesting than the pitchers, but, outside of Castellanos, probably aren’t going to wow us with eye-popping numbers this fall.
Castellanos is obviously the sexy name here. He ripped through Advance-A ball in Lakeland (.405/.461/.553) before earning a promotion to Erie where he struggled a bit down the stretch (.264/.296/.381). He’s always been extremely young for his age (this past season was his age-20 season), so there are bound to be bumps along the way, but he’s shown the plus hit tool at every stop so far.
McCann would probably be the “catcher of the future” if not for Alex Avila. He posted a pretty nice batting line in Lakeland (.288/.345/.350) before moving up to Erie. He struggled to hit against the more advanced pitching (.200/.227/.282), but, at just 22 years of age, was seeing a fairly aggressive assignment.
Westlake had an interesting season at West Michigan. He hardly hit a lick before the All Star break (.199/.276/.340), but turned it on during the second half (.311/.374/.455) to finish with respectable numbers. Much of the difference was due to a wild swing in BABIP, but it’s hard to tell who the real Aaron Westlake is. He’s a first base prospect which means he’s going to need to mash at every level if he’s going to make it to the show. I’m wondering if the Tigers are hoping to assign him to aggressively next spring and are hoping he validates his second-half numbers with a good AFL showing.