AFL Report: Hitters on the horizon

The Arizona Fall League -- Major League Baseball's annual showcase for minor league talent -- doesn't have the same star appeal that it did a year ago. This year's rosters lack head-turning names like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole and Danny Hultzen, all of whom participated in 2011, but several players familiar to Fantasy owners in long-term keeper leagues packed their bags for an extended stay in the desert this fall. Billy Hamilton, George Springer, Christian Yelich, Robbie Erlin, James Paxton and Jarred Cosart are some of the more notable prospects seeing AFL action. However, in this first review of the 2012 AFL class, we'll focus on players who have a chance to have a Fantasy impact in 2013, including a few who have been ignored in long-term keeper formats.

Below are ten AFL hitters who are worth keeping in mind in various formats on draft day next spring. I'll save the pitchers for a little later, since only a handful have amassed as many as 10 innings so far. For each hitter, I have identified a reason as to why he could be Fantasy-relevant as well as an area where he needs to improve in order to make an impact. AFL stats cited are current for games through Sunday, October 28.

Nick Castellanos, 3B/OF, Tigers
Reason to get excited: He has demonstrated gap power at Class A and Double-A, showing strong potential for a high batting average.
Needs to work on: Home run power. Castellanos got a power boost upon his promotion to Double-A, banging seven homers in 79 games, but he was aided by playing home games in hitter-friendly Erie.
Early AFL returns: 50 AB, .220 Avg, 4 2B, 1 HR, 7 Runs.
2013 potential: Castellanos has a chance to compete to be the Tigers' everyday left fielder next spring, and if that happens, he would be draftable in deeper mixed leagues.

Mike Zunino, C, Mariners
Reason to get excited: The 2012 first-rounder mashed at Double-A (albeit in 51 at-bats) after getting skipped over Advanced Class A. In addition to power, Zunino demonstrated good plate discipline in his first exposure to pro ball.
Needs to work on: No clear weaknesses yet, but we will have to see how he fares as he logs more at-bats in the upper minors.
Early AFL returns: 46 AB, .283 Avg, 2 2B, 1 HR, 9 RBI.
2013 potential: Zunino ould become the Mariners' starting backstop at some point next season, though he's a long shot to make the team in the spring.

Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals
Reason to get excited: Wong is a speedy contact hitter who could supply steals, runs and a high batting average.
Needs to work on: Power hitting. Wong had the benefit of playing in a great hitter's park in Springfield (Texas League), but he produced just nine homers and 23 doubles in a full season.
Early AFL returns: 48 AB, .354 Avg, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 1 SB/3 CS.
2013 potential: There aren't any major roadblocks at second base, so by midseason, it could be the right time for Wong in St. Louis. As a starter, he could have some low-end appeal in standard mixed leagues.

Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals
Reason to get excited: The former Rice University standout has shown tremendous plate discipline during his limited time in the minors, and there have been some early signs of power as well. Owners should not be discouraged by Rendon's .162 batting average at Double-A Harrisburg; he appeared to be a victim of horrendous luck on balls in play (.163 BABIP).
Needs to work on: Staying healthy. A fractured ankle kept Rendon out for the majority of the 2012 season after he had been hampered by a shoulder injury during his college career.
Early AFL returns: 39 AB, .231 Avg, 4 2B, 0 HR, 5 RBI.
2013 potential: Rendon has the skills to contribute in Fantasy sometime in 2013, but a lack of opportunity could continue to be an obstacle. Rendon's primary position is third base, and he has been playing there in the AFL, but he is blocked in Washington by Ryan Zimmerman. A move to second base could be in Rendon's future, though the Nationals would need to move incumbent Danny Espinosa.

Grant Green, 2B, Athletics
Reason to get excited: After a disappointing 2011 campaign, Green's power numbers rebounded in 2012, and he also cut back on strikeouts and produced 13 steals.
Needs to work on: Patience. Green has yet to register a high walk rate, so he will have to maintain his gains in his strikeout rate if he is to help owners in leagues that use OBP.
Early AFL returns: 38 AB, .263 Avg, .349 OBP, 0 HR, 4 RBI.
2013 potential: After playing shortstop and outfield for most of his minor league career, Green's future now appears to be at second base. Not only does that move give him a better chance at playing time, but at that position, Green could have value for owners in deeper mixed leagues, should he become a regular.

Gary Brown, OF, Giants
Reason to get excited: Though he's not quite Billy Hamilton, Brown's 86 steals over the last two years bode well for future contributions in that category. His combination of speed and contact skills also provide the potential for a .300 average, though that promise wasn't met in Double-A, where Brown batted .279.
Needs to work on: Hitting the long ball. Brown's home run power faded after leaving the hitter-happy California League, and barring signs of development, owners should probably not expect him to hit double-digit homers as a big leaguer.
Early AFL returns: 35 AB, .257 Avg, 0 HR, 3 Runs, 1 SB/3 CS.
2013 potential: Brown probably won't contribute much in '13, but if he takes a step forward in the minors and the Giants need reinforcements down the stretch, he could be a handy late-season pickup.

Nick Franklin, SS, Mariners
Reason to get excited: Franklin maintained his power after making the jump from Double-A to Triple-A in June.
Needs to work on: Reducing flyouts and strikeouts. Increases in both rates left Franklin with a .240 batting average at Triple-A Tacoma.
Early AFL returns: 38 AB, .342 Avg, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 7 Ks.
2013 potential: Franklin has been playing second base in the AFL, which is not a good sign for those who envisioned him as a power-hitting shortstop. He also has a bigger roadblock at the keystone, which should be occupied for years to come by Dustin Ackley. The Seattle Times has reported that the M's have concerns about Franklin's defense at shortstop, so his short-term future doesn't look nearly as bright as it did earlier this year.

Didi Gregorius, SS, Reds
Reason to get excited: The 22-year-old is a good contact hitter who has shown a little bit of pop in a few of his minor league stops. In fact, Gregorius had been the last qualifying batter to strike out in the AFL heading into last weekend..
Needs to work on: Drawing walks. Also, though Gregorius has been a good triples hitter, his speed hasn't translated into many stolen bases.
Early AFL returns: 43 AB, .302 Avg, 3 2B, 0 HR, 3 BBs.
2013 potential: There is nowhere for Gregorius to play in Cincinnati, but with an injury to Zack Cozart or a trade of either him of Cozart, Gregorius would have a chance to show his stuff. As a regular or a utility player with consistent playing time, he would have value for owners in deeper leagues.

Kyle Jensen, OF, Marlins
Reason to get excited: Jensen has power aplenty. While he knocked out 24 home runs at Double-A Jacksonville this past season, it's even more impressive that he belted 22 in the offense-squelching Florida State League in 2011.
Needs to work on: Contact skills. Jensen's penchant for striking out has worsened as he has climbed the Marlins' organizational ladder, and he fanned 162 times in 445 at-bats at Jacksonville.
Early AFL returns: 49 AB, .408 Avg, 5 2B, 2 HR, 11 Ks.
2013 potential: It depends on how the Marlins' address their left field situation in the offseason. Jensen is likely to start the year in Triple-A, but if Logan Morrison shifts to first base and the team fails to find a reliable left field option, the door could be open for Jensen by midseason.

Rafael Ynoa, 2B, Dodgers
Reason to get excited: Speed and plate discipline. Ynoa has the potential to be a stolen base threat and his .364 on-base percentage at Double-A Chattanooga speaks to his promise as a leadoff hitter and run scorer.
Needs to work on: Hitting for power. While Ynoa showed a little bit of home run thump at lower levels, he failed to leave the park in 421 at-bats at Double-A.
Early AFL returns: 47 AB, .319 Avg, .358 OBP, 2 HR, 9 RBI.
2013 potential: The 25-year-old is hardly a prospect, but he has shown some intriguing skills at various stages of his career so far. The combination of a strong showing at Triple-A and a Mark Ellis injury could open the door for an opportunity to help deep league owners.

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Data Analyst

Al Melchior has been playing Fantasy Baseball since 1994, getting his start in the Southern Maryland Anthropomorphic Baseball League (SMABL). He has been writing about Fantasy Baseball since 2000, getting... Full Bio

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