Arizona Fall League Preview

Over the next few days, Deep Leagues will be providing information about the top prospects in the Arizona Fall League.

For those who don’t know, the AFL is a post-season league where teams give their best prospects the chance to play a few extra games. Many notable major leaguers began their careers with breakout performances in the AFL. The performance of Atlanta starter Tommy Hanson provides a good example, as Hanson quelled any doubt that he would become a solid player. Different organizations have different strategies regarding which players they send to the AFL. Some teams send their best prospects while others prefer to rest their prospects for fear of injury. Other teams still send their best prospects to Winter Leagues in Latin America. I have always wondered if the AFL was created after major league teams began realizing the careers of certain 21-23 year old Americans may not thrive during an all expense paid trip to the Dominican Republic.

I am glad we waited several games before writing this preview because the standings are the exact opposite that I would have predicted. The teams with the most recognizable prospects are struggling while the teams with many players I have never heard of are doing great.  But that’s what’s great about the AFL.  It’s a chance to preview talent and begin to track some prospects so that you know to pick them up before anyone else in your league has ever heard of them.  So when you check the box scores from AFL games don’t just look at the stud prospects, keep track of who is playing well and watch to see if that turns into an invitation to Spring Training.

This season, among the prospects sent to the AFL, there are four standouts who we consider to be among the top 10 prospects heading into 2010:

1. Stephen Strasburg (SP, Nationals)—Strasburg is the most heralded pitching prospect in several seasons. Selected #1 in this season’s draft and signed to a record contract, Strasburg hopes to begin next season in the Major Leagues. A large amount of the media coverage surrounding the AFL arises from his debut.

2. Jason Heyward (CF, Braves)—Heyward is the most anticipated Braves outfield prospect since Andruw Jones. He is the type of “five-tool outfielder” scouts love talking about, and is a possible rookie of the year candidate next season. Heyward’s stint in the AFL was relatively brief, however, as he went down with a hamstring injury during the first week.

3. Buster Posey (C, Giants)—Posey, a multi-talented Catcher from Florida State, should be starting in San Francisco next season. Tampa has faced criticism for not selecting him first in the ’08 draft.

4. Mike Stanton (OF, Marlins)—Stanton draws comparisons to Dave Winfield because of his combination of size, athleticism, and intangibles. He has ascended steadily through the prospect rankings, posting impressive numbers each season. Stay tuned. Over the next two days, we will summarize the prospects on each team participating in the Arizona Fall League.