The Arizona Fall League is known for being hitter-friendly and not just because of the dry desert air. The quality of the league's hitters tends to be greater than that of its pitchers, and unlike last season, there is no one with the prospect buzz of a Gerrit Cole or a Danny Hultzen participating this time around.
That doesn't mean there aren't good pitching prospects in Arizona or that AFL rosters are bereft of arms who will have Fantasy relevance in the comning year. Sometimes a pitcher can raise his profile with a strong AFL campaign, like Josh Collmenter did two years ago or Cole De Vries did last year. In this review of 10 pitchers to watch in this year's AFL, we will focus both on some of the bigger names, like Robbie Erlin, Jarred Cosart and James Paxton, as well as a few lesser-appreciated pitchers who have a chance at helping Fantasy owners in 2013 and beyond.
As I did in my recent column on AFL hitters, I'll point out why these pitchers could matter in Fantasy for the coming year, what they'll need to accomplish in order to be relevant and what they have achieved so far in this year's AFL. We'll begin with Erlin, who has the best chance at helping mixed league owners. Each of the others are more likely to be targets in deeper leagues in the short term, though several have the potential to develop into top-flight starters in the coming years. Stats cited are current for AFL games through Tuesday, November 6. Ground out-to-air out ratios are from milb.com.
Robbie Erlin, Padres
Reason to get excited: Erlin has missed a lot of bats at every level. Most recently, at Double-A San Antonio, he notched 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings, even though he missed more than half the season with elbow tendinitis.
Needs to work on: Reducing his flyball tendencies. Erlin doesn't get many grounders, and that wouldn't have been a problem at PETCO Park up through this season. With the fences coming in, he could give up his fair share of dingers.
AFL stats: 14 2/3 INN, 3.07 ERA, 17 Ks, 5 BBs, 1.00 ground out-to-air out ratio (GO/AO).
2013 potential: Having spent the bulk of the last two seasons at Double-A, Erlin should start next season at Triple-A. If he builds on the progress he made this year, Erlin should not only be ready for a midseason callup, but he would probably be one of the more coveted free agent pickups in mixed leagues.
James Paxton, Mariners
Reason to get excited: In his first full season at Double-A Jackson, Paxton continued to strike batters out at a rate of more than one per inning.
Needs to work on: Control. The hard-throwing lefty walked more than a batter every other inning at Jackson this season, and he has had problems with location at Class A as well.
AFL stats: 12 2/3 INN, 5.68 ERA, 16 Ks, 6 BBs, 0.75 GO/AO.
2013 potential: Paxton is expected to reach the majors sometime in 2013. The Mariners have a glut of young pitching, and other teams have shown interest in Paxton, so he could easily make his debut somewhere outside of the Pacific Northwest.
Kyle Gibson, Twins
Reason to get excited: He has been registering higher strikeout rates in the minors since returning from Tommy John surgery this year.
Needs to work on: Now that he is on the mend, there are no clear causes for concern with Gibson, though he has struggled with stranding baserunners in the upper minors.
AFL stats: 15 INN, 4.20 ERA, 20 Ks, 3 BBs, 3.60 GO/AO.
2013 potential: Gibson probably needs a little more time in Triple-A, but barring a setback or injury, it's hard to imagine that he won't be in the Twins' rotation sometime next season.
Jarred Cosart, Astros
Reason to get excited: Cosart has compiled high ground ball rates at each stop in the minors. Unfortunately, this won't help him as much in the Astros' new division -- the AL West -- as it would have in the NL Central.
Needs to work on: Command. Cosart's strikeout and walk rates have not been impressive above Class A.
AFL stats: 11 INN, 7.36 ERA, 7 Ks, 6 BBs, 2.86 GO/AO.
2013 potential: Cosart is expected to start the 2013 season at Triple-A Oklahoma City. The Astros don't exactly have a stacked rotation, so a quick start in Triple-A could lead to an early-season promotion.
Chase Anderson, Diamondbacks
Reason to get excited: Anderson rebounded from a strained flexor tendon in his right elbow that cost him most of the 2011 season. Moving up to Double-A Mobile, he exhibited the same sharp command that was in evidence in the lower minors.
Needs to work on: Keeping the ball down. Anderson's middling ground ball tendencies could get him into trouble when he pitches at Chase Field.
AFL stats: 13 2/3 INN, 3.29 ERA, 19 Ks, 5 BBs, 1.20 GO/AO.
2013 potential: The Diamondbacks are loaded with promising young arms, so there may not be room for Anderson to contribute in 2013. Based on performance alone, though, he appears to be on course to be major league-ready by late next season.
Brian Flynn, Marlins
Reason to get excited: Flynn doesn't suffer from the wildness that has plagued several of the pitchers on this list, and the strong flyball tendencies that he showed in the lower minors would play well at Marlins Park.
Needs to work on: Inducing less contact. Not only have batters been able to avoid strikeouts against Flynn, but they have been getting hits on balls in play at a very high rate. That could just be random fluctuation, or maybe it's a sign that he's been just plain hittable.
AFL stats: 15 INN, 3.60 ERA, 12 Ks, 1 BB, 1.21 GO/AO.
2013 potential: Aside from Jose Fernandez, the Marlins don't have any top-tier pitching prospects waiting in the wings, so injuries or poor performances from Nate Eovaldi or Jacob Turner could present an opportunity for Flynn sooner than later.
Deck McGuire, Blue Jays
Reason to get excited: None, at least if you're going by McGuire's 2012 performance, but his 2011 professional debut showed that the former first-round pick has potential.
Needs to work on: Location. McGuire's command withered with the move to Double-A New Hampshire, and it showed in his 1.6 K/BB and 1.4 HR/9 ratios.
AFL stats: 8 2/3 INN, 6.23 ERA, 8 Ks, 5 BBs, 0.64 GO/AO.
2013 potential: The Blue Jays are still a little short on rotation depth, as Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison are both recovering from Tommy John surgery. If McGuire can get his act together next spring, he could have an opportunity to debut with Toronto by mid-summer.
Johnny Hellweg, Brewers
Reason to get excited: Hellweg's fastball can touch triple digits, and he gets ground balls galore, though he has not racked up big strikeout rates as a starter.
Needs to work on: Cutting back on walks. His minor league career 6.4 BB/9 rate simply won't cut it at the big league level.
AFL stats: 9 INN, 2.00 ERA, 5 Ks, 7 BBs, 5.00 GO/AO.
2013 potential: Hellweg is worth owning in long-term keeper leagues, but he could be a long shot for a callup next season. Then again, if he can hammer out his control issues, a late-season promotion wouldn't be out of the question. Should the Brewers decide to use him as a reliever, he would have little value even with a callup.
Dellin Betances, Yankees
Reason to get excited: Betances has posted high strikeout rates at every level of the minors.
Needs to work on: Control. After walking nearly a batter per inning at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Betances was demoted to Double-A Trenton. He improved, but his 4.8 BB/9 at Double-A still needs pruning.
AFL stats: 8 INN, 6.75 ERA, 11 Ks, 4 BBs, 0.86 GO/AO.
2013 potential: Betances is just two years removed from having good control, so if he can rediscover the strike zone this fall and next spring, he could have a shot at making an impact in Fantasy in 2013. Just bear in mind that right now, that looks like a long shot.
Jimmy Nelson, Brewers
Reason to get excited: Like fellow Brewer farmhand Hellweg, Nelson has been good at inducing grounders, and he's been far better at getting batters to strike out.
Needs to work on: Throwing strikes. While Nelson made strides in his control at Advanced Class A, he regressed at Double-A, dishing out 7.2 walks per nine innings.
AFL stats: 14 2/3 INN, 3.07 ERA, 16 Ks, 8 BBs, 2.71 GO/AO.
2013 potential: Nelson has made just 10 starts above Advanced Class A, so his chances of making a contribution next season are slim, but he is still worth keeping on your radar.
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