AFL Preview: 2011 Draft Picks To Watch

The Arizona Fall League is already underway, but's league coverage is just beginning. Throughout the duration of the AFL schedule we'll be providing first hand scouting reports and video on the league's top talents. First, let's take a look at some of the 2011 draft picks who are already competing in baseball's most prestigious development league.

Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Mesa Solar Sox)

It won't make Gerrit Cole any less of an elite prospect, but don't be too surprised if the flame throwing righty has some significant struggles in the Arizona Fall League. The biggest complaint about his game among scouts is that his fastball tends to flatten out up in the zone and he gets hit much harder than his upper 90s fastball indicates that he should. This isn't to say the league will light him up, but pure domination isn't something I'd expect from the top pick just yet. He'll need to keep his fastball down in the zone and be sure to establish his outstanding secondary offerings early in counts.

Danny Hultzen, LHP, Seattle Mariners (Peoria Javelinas)

Few pitchers in recent years have come out of college ball with the polish that Hultzen has. For that reason, it's reasonable to expect a strong AFL season out of the Mariners' southpaw. He keeps the ball down extremely well, which should bode well for him in the typically home run happy fall league. A good fall also figures to put him squarely onto the fast track with Seattle, a track most scouts predicted he'd be on when he was drafted.

Mikie Mahtook, OF, Tampa Bay Rays (Surprise Saguaros)

Mahtook has a very difficult challenge on his plate this fall. He has no professional experience under his belt heading into the fall and he's not exactly the type of player that will automatically have immediate success. There are some flaws in his swing I'll be monitoring all fall to see how he adjusts. But, it would not be surprising to see him having some struggles at least in the early going this fall. Mahtook slid in the draft partially because of some doubts about his bat, so he absolutely has an opportunity to answer some questions in the coming months.

Matt Purke, LHP, Washington Nationals (Scottsdale Scorpions)

Even if he wasn't participating in the fall league, few players drafted in 2011 are as intriguing as Matt Purke. Entering the spring he was a consensus top ten talent in the draft class, only to slide down the board due to injury concerns. Washington will look for his plus velocity to return, as it fluctuated drastically in the spring. In other words, health and arm strength will be the things to watch when it comes to Purke. If he's right, the success should be immediate. His stuff and command stack up with any pitcher in the league when he's on top of his game.

Sean Gilmartin, LHP, Atlanta Braves (Surprise Saguaros)

If there's one pitcher on this list who could thrive beyond expectations in the Arizona Fall League it's Gilmartin. While he doesn't have the knockout plus stuff of a Gerrit Cole, his command of his fastball and plus curveball should allow him to have immediate AFL success. A strong performance could also mean the beginning of a fast track ascension through Atlanta's farm system. They have not been afraid to advance pitchers quickly in the past and Gilmartin has the type of ability to force their hand. Fastball movement and ability to get early strikes on that 89-92 mph fastball will be something I'll be keeping a close eye on this fall.

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