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Desert Report: Big names kick off Arizona Fall League

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How great would it be to see wunderkinds Bryce Harper and Mike Trout play in the same outfield? Or to see the first two picks from the 2011 amateur draft, Gerrit Cole and Danny Hultzen, face their first batters as professionals? All it takes is a trip to the Phoenix area, as Harper, Trout, Cole, Hultzen and dozens of other prospects are facing off in a league made just for them.

Ever since 1992, minor leaguers and newly minted major leaguers looking to gain some additional experience have played in the Arizona Fall League. The AFL is home to six teams that are populated with prospects from the upper minors, along with a handful of relatively green major leaguers. Not everyone who plays in the AFL is a top prospect, and not every big-name minor leaguer finds his way to the Grand Canyon State to participate in this annual circuit, which typically holds its schedule from early October until mid-November.

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Tracking the AFL can give Fantasy owners a leg up on developments that may unfold next year, from spring training on forward. Performances in the league aren't always a good indication of what to expect in the near future; for example, AL Rookie of the Year candidate Eric Hosmer hit just .203 in the AFL last year, while rookie disappointment Brandon Belt tore things up with a .372 batting average and a 1.043 OPS. Then again, many rookies-to-be can raise their profiles in the AFL. Dustin Ackley led the league with a .424 average a year ago, though he was on the fast track in any event. However, Chris Parmelee, Adam Loewen, Josh Harrison, Cord Phelps and Andy Parrino all had strong showings last fall, and all may owe their callups this season, at least in part, to their AFL success of a year ago.

The AFL, given its location, tends to favor hitters, so even good pitching prospects often put up ugly numbers there. Danny Duffy and Alex Cobb, for example, were among the pitchers to post ERAs over 6.00 in 2010, which didn't prevent either from playing an important role for their respective big league teams this past season. Then again, pitchers occasionally do shine in Arizona, and in the cases of Josh Collmenter (3.04 ERA in 2010's AFL) and Steve Cishek (18 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings), it can open the door to unexpected opportunities the following season.

For the next month, we will check in once a week to see how a handful of players are faring in the AFL. We will certainly keep tabs on top prospects like Harper, Trout, Cole and Hultzen, but we will also see which lesser-known names are making a splash. After all, even if Harper or Cole bombs this fall, both will be popular targets in drafts next year, especially in keeper leagues, but we also have a chance to spot the next Collmenter.

Teams have only played seven or eight games so far, but it's not too early to zero in on some players to watch. Below is a list of some key players grouped together by their AFL team. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but rather a short list of some important names to track along with a few of the early notable performances.

Mesa Solar Sox

Feeder organizations: Cubs, Orioles, Pirates, Twins, White Sox

Andrew Cashner, SP, Cubs: Cashner won the Cubs' fifth starter job last spring, only to wind up losing nearly the whole season to a strained right rotator cuff. Now he has an opportunity to make his case to be back in the rotation next spring. In his first appearance, pitching an inning in relief, Cashner drew attention by hitting 100 mph on the radar gun.

Gerrit Cole, SP, Pirates: This will be Cole's first exposure to professional ball since the Pirates made him the first pick overall in the amateur draft this past June.

Aaron Hicks, OF, Twins: Hicks struggled to hit for power this year in the Florida State League, but he is going to work on hitting from the left side during his AFL stint. The switch-hitter has already shown an ability to get on base and steal bases.

Josh Vitters, 3B, Cubs: Vitters cut back on his strikeouts in his first full year in Double-A, but will he develop the power he needs to be an impact Fantasy player down the line? It wasn't there in hitter-friendly Tennessee, but already he has two homers and two doubles in his first seven AFL games this year.

Peoria Javelinas

Feeder organizations: Brewers, Cardinals, Mariners, Mets, Padres

Anthony Bass, SP, San Diego: Bass got to make a couple of starts for the Padres after spending most of the second half of 2011 in their bullpen. The Detroit-area native has allowed only two runs in his first seven innings, as he tries to position himself for a key role on the Padres' staff in 2012.

Jaff Decker, OF, Padres: Decker put up decent power numbers at pitcher-friendly Double-A San Antonio this year. He's not doing much extra-base damage yet in the desert, but Decker is off to a hot start nonetheless, going 11-for-22 (.500).

Nick Franklin, SS, Mariners:The 20-year-old Franklin got promoted to Double-A in August, and he responded with a .325 batting average, seven extra-base hits and five steals in 21 games. A good AFL performance could help propel Franklin to Seattle sometime in 2012, though he has only two hits in 14 at-bats through his first five games.

Danny Hultzen, SP, Mariners: Hultzen made his first professional start last Friday, allowing a run in two innings with a pair of strikeouts. The southpaw from the University of Virginia could be in the Mariners' rotation as soon as sometime next season.

Phoenix Desert Dogs

Feeder organizations: A's, Blue Jays, Indians, Reds, Yankees

Michael Choice, OF, A's: Choice is making a good early impression, going 8-for-17 (.471) with three home runs in his first four games. The 21-year-old's power is unquestioned, but how much he can improve his contact skills will have a lot to say about his progression over the next couple of years.

Anthony Gose, OF, Blue Jays: Gose is at a crossroads, as the athletic outfielder will need to show that he can hit for power and get on base as he advances to Triple-A. He stole 69 bases for Double-A New Hampshire this year, so if he can make strides at the plate, he could be someone to target in long-term keeper leagues.

Yasmani Grandal, C, Reds: Devin Mesoraco should get the first crack at the Reds' catching job next year, but Grandal isn't far behind. He has appeared in just two AFL games so far.

Tyson Ross, SP, A's: Ross is getting some work in after missing part of the season with shoulder and oblique injuries. He could contend for a spot in the A's rotation next year, after spending a brief time there this season.

Salt River Rafters

Feeder organizations: Astros, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Rockies, Tigers

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies: The Rockies have a potential opening at third base, but Arenado isn't ready yet, having just completed a season at Advanced Class A. Already, he has shown that he can hit for power and contact, making him one of the majors' top third base prospects. So far, he is 8-for-21 (.381) with three doubles in AFL action.

Jason Castro, C, Astros: Castro's stint in the AFL will be his latest step in recovering from knee surgery he underwent in March. His entry into the league was delayed by a ribcage injury, but he made his debut on Tuesday.

Andrew Oliver, SP, Tigers: Oliver may not be far from joining the Tigers' rotation, but the lefty needs to work on his control. Time will tell if he can improve on the nine walks in 16 innings that he posted in his last trip to the AFL, back in 2009.

Tim Wheeler, OF, Rockies: Wheeler had a major breakthrough this year, mashing 33 homers and stealing 21 bases at Double-A Tulsa. A good AFL campaign can only hasten his major league debut, which could come sometime next season. Wheeler is struggling early, getting just seven hits in his first 27 at-bats.

Scottsdale Scorpions

Feeder organizations: Angels, Giants, Nationals, Phillies, Red Sox

Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals: Harper is probably the most highly touted prospect at the AFL this year. So far, he has disappointed onlookers with just one hit in his first 19 at-bats.

Matt Purke, SP, Nationals: Purke, along with Harper and catcher Derek Norris, is part of a talented Nationals' contingent in the AFL. His first appearance in Arizona will mark his professional debut. The Nationals drafted Purke in the third round this June, and he is coming off of a shoulder injury that limited his innings in his final year at TCU.

Jean Segura, 2B, Angels: Segura is a developing speed and power threat, but an injury limited him to just 44 games at Advanced Class A. Though he initially came up as a second baseman, he began a conversion to shortstop this season, and Segura has been playing shortstop in the AFL.

Mike Trout, OF, Angels: Like Segura, Trout is a prolific base stealer who could thrive playing under run-happy Angels manager Mike Scioscia. He has already shown flashes of power in his first exposure to major league pitching, so the 20-year-old could be one of next season's top rookies.

Surprise Saguaros

Feeder organizations: Braves, Marlins, Rays, Rangers, Royals

Nate Adcock, SP, Royals: Dayton Moore, the Royals' general manager, has stated that Adcock's appearance in the AFL is part of a "tryout" to make the team, and possibly the rotation, in 2012. Adcock showed some promise as a Rule 5 pick this past season, posting a 4.62 ERA with a 56 percent ground ball rate, after not having pitched at any level higher than Advanced Class A.

Christian Bethancourt, C, Braves: Bethancourt struggled upon his promotion to Advanced Class A, but he is still considered to be one of the top catching prospects in the minors. He will be the youngest player on the Surprise roster, and if he fares well in the AFL, that bodes well for his long-term value. So far, it's been so good for Bethancourt, as he has gone 6-for-12 (.500) in his first three games.

William Myers, OF, Royals: Myers has shown that he can take a walk, but his power has diminished with each level he has reached in the minors. Now that Myers has converted from catcher to the outfield, Fantasy owners will look for signs of improved offense, especially since his production fell off with his promotion to Double-A this year.

Alex Sanabia, SP, Marlins: Sanabia missed most of the season with a strained forearm, so the AFL will give him a chance to get some innings in. It will also give him an opportunity to showcase himself as a rotation candidate for next year. Sanabia has already made one start, allowing a single run over three innings.

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Player News
Jimmy Nelson gets the call Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:35 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Jimmy Nelson has been called up Thursday.

Nelson will take the roster spot of Wei-Chung Wang, who hit the disabled list. It's unclear whether Nelson will pitch out of the rotation or the bullpen. Nelson has been rumored to be a candidate to replace Marco Estrada in the team's rotation, but they haven't announced the move yet. Nelson has a 1.46 ERA over 111 innings in Triple-A. 


Wei-Chung Wang hits disabled list with shoulder issue
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:21 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Wei-Chung Wang has been placed on the disabled list due to shoulder tightness.

Wang has struggled this season, posting an 11.12 ERA over 17 innings. He gave up two earned runs over one inning of work Thursday, which likely led to his placement on the disabled list. 


Joe Mauer unlikely to return immediately after the break
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:00 pm ET) Twins first baseman Joe Mauer is unlikely to return immediately after the All-Star break, according to MLB.com.

Mauer is sidelined with an oblique injury, and there's a sense he could need some rehab games before he's ready to return. Mauer doesn't have an exact timetable for a return just yet. He's hitting .271/.342/.353 over 303 at-bats. 


Andrew Miller picks up relief win in extras
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:40 pm ET) Red Sox reliever Andrew Miller took the win Thursday afternoon against the White Sox in extras.

Miller allowed one hit and one walk in a scoreless 10th inning while the offense scored in the bottom of the frame to secure a 4-3 win for the Red Sox. He owns a 2.27 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP over 35 2/3 innings of relief this season.

Koji Uehara suffers rare blown save
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:38 pm ET) Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara was charged with a blown save Thursday afternoon at home against the White Sox.

Uehara served up a game-tying two-run home run to Conor Gillaspie in the ninth inning, which sent the game to extras. He was charged with two runs on two hits and no walks while striking out two over one inning of work in a 4-3 victory. He owns a 1.65 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP over 43 2/3 innings of relief.

Travis d'Arnaud emerging as mixed-league catcher
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7:35 pm ET) It's too early to tell anything -- most any player can go off for a two-week stretch -- but the timing of this particular hot streak and the history of the player in question make it too enticing to ignore.

In 13 games since returning from the minors, Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud is hitting .300 (15 for 50) with three home runs and a .900 OPS.

No, his plate discipline hasn't been especially good -- he has 13 strikeouts to just three walks during that stretch -- but that wasn't exactly his calling card in the minors either. He was just a good hitter, routinely hitting well over .300 with plus power.

It's worth noting he hit .436 (24 for 55) with six home runs and a 1.384 OPS during his stint in the minors, but that was at Triple-A Las Vegas of the Pacific Coast League, a level he dominated while in the Blue Jays organization as well. Still, it all plays into d'Arnaud's theory that he was simply trying to do too much in his previous stints in the majors.

So a former top prospect who struggles to find his footing in the majors gets sent down, rediscovers his stroke and comes back to put up the numbers everyone from him all along. Again, it's not an open-and-shut case, but if you need a catcher (perhaps if you lost Yadier Molina), it's reason enough to act.


Ronald Belisario takes the loss in extras vs. Boston
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:35 pm ET) White Sox pitcher Ronald Belisario was charged with the loss Thursday against the Red Sox in Boston.

Belisario allowed a run-scoring single to Mike Carp in the 10th inning, which proved to be the difference. He was charged with one run on one hit and two walks over two-thirds of an inning in a 4-3 defeat. He owns a 5.16 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP over 45 1/3 innings of relief.

Arismendy Alcantara picks up four hits Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:31 pm ET) Cubs infielder Arismendy Alcantara picked up four hits Thursday against the Reds.

After striking out in his first at-bat, and hitting a sac fly his second time up, Alcantara quickly turned things around. He doubled in his third plate appearance, singled his fourth time up and clubbed a triple his fifth time at the plate. He would go on to add another single his final time up. Alcantara finished 4 for 5, with two runs scored and three RBI. The strong performance likely played a role in the Cubs keeping Alcantara on the active roster following the game. 


Clint Robinson designated for assignment Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:23 pm ET) Dodgers infielder Clint Robinson has been designated for assignment Thursday.

The club needed to make space on the roster for Carl Crawford, and decided to get rid of Robinson. Robinson had a .333 average over nine at-bats in the majors this season. 


Danny Santana will start rehab assignment this week
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:19 pm ET) Twins rookie shortstop Danny Santana will start a minor-league rehab assignment this weekend for Class A Fort Myers, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. Santana remains hopeful of returning to the Twins for the homestand starting July 18.

 
 
 
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