With the Arizona Fall League’s Rising Stars Game taking place tonight, I figured this would be as good a time as any to update you guys on the performance of the Yankee prospects who are playing in the AFL this season. There are 7 Yankee prospects who have been playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs and manager Don Mattingly. Here’s how they have been doing so far. Standard warnings about small sample sizes apply, and in addition, it is important to remember that the AFL is traditionally a hitter-friendly league. In these small samples, scouting will often be more informative than stats.
Manny Banuelos: Banuelos’ performance in the AFL has been up and down so far. The diminutive lefty is 0-2 with a 5.06 ERA in 5 starts, throwing 16 innings with 10 strikeouts and 5 walks. These stats don’t include his outing in the Rising Stars Game, in which he gave up an unearned run in 2 innings, struck out 3, and allowed 3 hits. In this outing, he struck out top prospects Dustin Ackley of Seattle and Jose Iglesias of Boston, and also retired guys like Eric Hosmer of KC and Ben Revere of Minnesota.
While the stats have not been incredibly impressive so far, reports from people watching Banuelos, have been very positive. Ben Badler of Baseball America tweeted about Manny’s “Easy, easy velo (93-95 mph), and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus remarked on his “multiple swing and miss offerings.” Tonight they included the aforementioned fastball, a changeup, a curveball, and a slider (according to Gameday, though it could be mis-classifying the curve). These positive reports seem to indicate the Banuelos has maintained the increased velocity he showed at the end of the minor league season, and bodes well for Manny’s prospect status and future performance.
Craig Heyer: Nowhere near the prospect that Banuelos is, Heyer nonetheless has put together a fine performance in Arizona. In 2 starts and 3 relief appearences, Heyer is 0-2 with a 2.25 ERA, and 6 strikeouts against 3 walks in 12 innings. Coming up on age 25, Heyer is mostly filler at this point, and will likely find himself in the bullpen in Trenton.
George Kontos: Kontos has been hit hard in Arizona, giving up 9 earned runs on 16 hits and 6 walks in 10 innings, good for an 8.10 ERA. The one bright spot is the 10 strikeouts in 10 innings (all in relief). Kontos has been inconsistent and injury-prone over his minor league career, so this AFL stint is more about getting him some innings and showing he can stay healthy, while handling a bullpen role.
Ryan Pope: After a solid but not overwhelming season in Trenton, in which he spent significant time working out of the bullpen, Pope headed to Arizona hoping to continue to show his bullpen value. He has looked pretty solid in Arizona so far, with a 3.38 ERA in 8 innings, striking out 7 and walking just 1. He’s likely to stay in the bullpen, as he has been surpassed by a number of younger and more successful starter prospects.
Austin Romine: Romine has posted a solid but not super impressive .288/.315/.362 line in Arizona so far. Of his 15 hits, only 3, all doubles, have gone for extra bases. He was also 1 for 3 with an RBI single in tonight’s Rising Stars Game. This performance is more or less in line with his season stats, which were posted in the pitcher-friendly environment in Trenton. Of more importance, perhaps, are reports on Romine’s defense, which have been pretty positive. Adam Foster and Lincoln Hamilton of Project Prospect both tweeted about Romine looking good behind the dish. Foster referred to Romine throwing “lasers” and posting pop times of 1.84, 1.87, and 1.90, which are well above average (around 2 seconds). Hamilton wrote that Romine showed “quick feet/transfer and has a gun. There’s more than enough bat to play.” These reports are encouraging considering that Romine’s throwing was not great this season for Trenton (though his low CS% could be a function of the pitchers not holding runners well). He may never hit like Montero, but if he can become a plus or even above-average defender behind the plate, Romine will be a very valuable commodity.
Jose Pirela: Facing more advanced pitching than he is used to, Pirela has struggled in Arizona. In 58 at bats, he is 11 for 58 (.190) with 13 strikeouts against just 4 walks. 2 hits, both doubles, have gone for extra bases. He has stolen 2 bases, but has also been caught twice. I haven’t heard any reports on his defense, or where they have been playing him (I would assume mostly at short, but he could have seen time at 2nd or 3rd).
Brandon Laird: After a breakout 2010 campaign, many probably expected Laird to tear up the AFL. This hasn’t quite happened, as he has posted a .236/.304/.458 line through 18 games. While his batting average is low, 10 of Laird’s 17 hits have gone for extra bases, including 7 doubles and 3 homers. He has struck out 17 times and walked 6. Of greater interest than Laird’s hitting, however, is his defense, as he was sent to the AFL to learn the outfield. I haven’t seen any fielding stats or heard many scouting reports one way or the other, but hopefully Laird is using his time in Arizona to become more comfortable with a new position. He has more value to the Yankees if he has the versatility to play 1st, 3rd, and the corner outfield positions, so it makes sense that they have been trying him there this fall.
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