Friday, November 14, 2014

So what has been going on in Arizona* anyhow?

* - the Fall League, not the Winter Meetings...

The Astros contribute to the 35-man roster of the Salt River Rafters, along with the Marlins, the Twinkies, the and the Astros' two "interleague rival clubs", the Diamondbacks and the Rockies.  Man, I bet all that rivalry makes for some tense bus trips to away games.

Anywho, despite all that tension between prospects that are forced to hate one another, the Salt River Rafters won the AFL East Division with a 17-11-4 record.  There must have been something good about those bus trips, because they managed a 10-4 record on the road, and only managed a .500 record at home.  They play the Championship Game tomorrow (Saturday) - against the Peoria Javelinas, who clinched the West in the last game of the season.  I think it will be on the MLB network, and kicks off a 1pm MST, or 2 Central and 3 Eastern.

So lets have a look at how the Astros prospects went during the "regular" season of the AFL.  And who knows - perhaps  Cockroach or myself may whip together a game recap for the final.  Stranger things have happened!

Mark Appel:
Warning: sarcasm ahead...

You may have heard of this guy.  Former #1 pick, got lazy and out-of-shape, washed out of Lancaster, then went for a anti-baseball bullpen visit to MMP, which he TOTALLY didn't earn.  After that, I blocked his name from my browser, so I have no idea how the rest of the season ended.  I imagine he wound up in the GCL somewhere, trying to keep his ERA below 9.

/end sarcasm

Well, he had a pretty decent AFL.  He garnered some attention - this time of the good sort! - over the seven starts that he made.  Filthy slider!!  His overall stats resulted in him throwing 31 innings, allowing 18 hits, 10 runs (9 earned) with one lone home run.  He struck out 24, and walked 8.

Looking at the game log also gave cause for a little optimism.  Four of his starts (17 innings) were scoreless.  In those 17 innings, he allowed a total of 5 hits, 3 walks and 17 strikeouts.  Those starts weren't all against patsies either - he beat the Scottsdale Scorpions (12-20-0), the Surprise Saguaros (16-15-1), the Mesa Solar Sox (15-14-2) and the AFL West-winning Peoria Javelinas (15-14-3).

The others starts were (obviously) worse, but he never allowed more than five hits (the shortest outing was 4 innings), and never walked more than three.  He had a 6ER/5R outing against Scottsdale, where he gave up 5 hits, walked 3 and struck out 2.  In the start before that, he gave up 3R/ER, 5 hits, 1 walk and three strikeouts against the Peoria Javelinas - his second start in a row against them - and in the last game of the season, he allowed 1 run on 3 hits and a walk.  The final earned run came on a solo shot.  So only one of the starts was a disaster, and even then, he only gave up one more hit than innings pitched in that start.

So a pretty good AFL for Appel, and he definitely could see Houston at some stage in 2015.  His form may have factored into the Tropeano decision, which netted Houston "switch-hitting" Hank Conger.

Mitchell Lambson:
Lambson is a left handed reliever who spent the season between Lancaster and Corpus.  He was taken in the 19th round of the 2011 draft out of Arizona State, so he should have been plenty familiar with the climate.  His time in the Texas League was fairly strong, yielding a 1.36 ERA over 33 innings, striking out more than a batter an inning.

Lambson continued his solid year in the AFL, making 10 appearances, throwing 14-and-1/3 innings, and allowing 2 earned runs.  That resulted in an ERA of 1.26.  He struck out 17, and walked 7.  One of his earned runs was via a solo home run.

Lambson certainly didn't hurt his stock in the AFL at all, and his IP per appearance logs indicate that he is more than a LOOGY.  He will start the season in AA or AAA, and could potentially get a sniff at Houston late in 2015.

Tyson Perez:
Perez is a right handed reliever who also split the year between Lancaster and Corpus.  Like Lambson, his showing in Corpus (ERA 2.09) was also better than in Lancaster (5.87).

Perez certainly didn't hurt his stock in the AFL either.  Working as a reliever who threw multiple-innings on a number of occasions, he also appeared in 10 games, also throwing 14-and-1/3.  He allowed 11 hits, struck out 11, and walked one.  He allowed only 1 earned run, resulting in an ERA of 0.63.  However, he also allowed 2 unearned runs on three hits in his last appearance of the year.

Prior to his last two appearances (where all three runs scored), he had allowed 6 hits in 11 innings, while striking out 10.

Perez turns 25 in December, so his time is soon.  He also didn't hurt his chances to either sniff Houston in 2015, and will probably open the season at Fresno.

Vincent Velasquez:
Velazquez needs little introduction, besides a reminder than he turned 22 in June and finished the season in Lancaster.  His career has been continually hampered by injury.  He managed only 64 innings this year between the GCL Astros (where he was sent on a rehab assignment) and Lancaster, so his appearance in Arizona was likely an attempt to simply get him more innings.

Velasquez had a rough AFL, throwing 13-and-two-thirds innings over 5 total appearances, with 4 starts.  He allowed 14 hits, walked three and struck out 13.  His ground-out : air-out ratio was in positive territory which is consistent with his results over the year.  However, he had two disaster starts - one against the Glendale Desert Dogs (3IP, 6H, 5R/ER, 2HR allowed, 2K) and one against the Mesa Solar Sox (0.2IP, 4H, 3R/ER, BB, K).  He was scored upon in one other outing (5IP, 2H, 1R/ER, BB, 6K).  His overall ERA was a lofty 6.59

(An anonymous yet undoubtedly handsome AC Commentator pointed out that Velasquez left his shortest (0.2IP) and final start - where he is recorded as allowing three earned runs - due to injury, and that all of the runs recorded against him were allowed to score by the "relief" pitcher.  Without that start, his ERA would have been 4.84 - 7 runs in 13 innings, but five of the seven remaining runs scored were in one outing.  Thanks for the extra info.)

The verdict is probably that Velasquez has probably not done much to make the 40-man decision any easier.  He will have to be added, or risk being lost in the Rule V draft in December.  A pitching-poor team, looking for a potential starter could easily stash him in the 'pen in long relief.  It will be an interesting decision.

Rio Ruiz:
Ruiz had a big year - at least in terms of games played - appearing in 131 games at Lancaster, with a solid (albeit offensively swollen) line of .293/.387/.436.  The scouting reports that I have read on him are generally positive, but tend to doubt how much power he could get out of his stroke.  However, at 20, he has a lot of time to work it all out, and getting some time in the AFL was probably more about exposing him to better pitching than anything else.

Ruiz had a bit of a struggle, eventually getting 87 plate appearances which yielded a .187/.292/.227 triple-slash.  He managed 12 walks versus 17 strikeouts.  Out of his 14 hits, three were doubles.  This may not be his last trip through the AFL, but will nearly certainly be is least productive, because a year at AA next year is going to say a lot about his ability to hit better pitching in a less offence-friendly environment.

Joe Sclafani:
Sclafani's rise will be well known amongst fans of the Astros' minor-league system.  Sclafani started his professional career at Tri-Cities in 2012 as a Dartmouth grad, after being drafted in the 14th round.  The following year, he played 19 games at Quad Cities (.241/.430/.293) and 92 at Lancaster (.302/.396/.474).  He opened 2014 in Corpus (.285/.333/.361), but was promoted after 36 games to OKC, where he continued to hit and walk in 62 games (.339/.420/.438).  He has fielded all over the diamond, starting his career in the lower minors as a middle-infielder, then getting some third-base reps at Lancaster.  At Corpus, he played 4 positions (2B, 3B, LF, RF) and at Oklahoma he was used only as an infielder, including one game at shortstop (which he hasn't played since Hi-A).  As a switch-hitting contact-and-walk guy who doesn't strike out (1181PA, 147K, 138BB, career line .295/.384/.404), there is nearly-immediate potential value here, á la Kiké Hernandez.  In fact, Sclafani may have been the reason that the Astros felt they were able to trade Hernandez.

Well, Sclafani continued to "rake" in the AFL - at least his particular brand of raking.  He managed 51 plate appearances, walked 5 times while striking out 11 times.  He managed 17 hits, five of which were doubles.  That all amounted to a a .370/.431/.543 line, which is very solid.

Note that the Rafters had only 4 outfielders on the roster, so Sclafani saw time at both outfield corners.

Sclafani is 24-and-a-half, so his time is soon as well, and he has done nothing to worsen his position in the Astros' depth chart.  He would need to be added to the 40-man to see time in the Bigs, but I imagine that he will be going to Florida in February with a realistic chance to battle Matty D for the 3B job, Mike-Bob Grossman for the LF job, or Mar-Go for a super-utility job - if Gonzalez isn't the starting shortstop.

Andrew Aplin:
Andrew Ahyim Aplin should also be well-familiar with the Arizona climate, also coming out of Arizona State, but this time in the 2012 draft.  Aplin split 2014 between Corpus and Oklahoma, finishing the season with a combined .265/.372/.345 line.  As a lefty would patrols a decent CF, he wouldn't be without supporters watching his career closely.

Aplin saw action in 19 AFL games, resulting in a triple-slash of .269/.388/.358.  He may have been tired (126 games on the year, heading into the AFL), because his last ten games saw him slash .188/.395/.188.  He had 79PA, which yielded 18 hits (1x2B, 1x3B, 1xHR) and 12 walks versus 18 strikeouts.  He stole four bases, but was caught stealing five times.

At 23 years, 7 months, Aplin has a little more time to put it all together.  That is not saying that he isn't putting it together now, of course, but at this stage it would be nice to see the average and/or slugging percentage creep up a little.  Still, not a bad season overall.

In all, the Astros prospects - as a whole - did little to dent their reputations.  Appel and Sclafani probably did their stock a lot of good, Lambson and Perez had pretty decent stints for relief pitchers, and Aplin did fine.  Ruiz and Velasquez - who are both quite young - probably didn't do their stock any harm, but only after age is taken into account.  As mentioned previously, the Astros have an interesting and difficult decision to make on Velasquez shortly.

Feel free to add information or express opinions in the comments below!