The Arizona Fall League is often referred as a “finishing school” for prospects while gaining them exposure to scouts and executives all around baseball. In other cases, the fall league is an opportunity for a prospect who suffered an injury-plagued season to gain lost innings, at-bats, and/or for repetition purposes.
As the major-league playoffs concluded several weeks ago, the fall league is the only remaining source of US professional baseball, being played out in the Grand Canyon State. The Cardinals have seven representatives participating in the AFL as members of the Surprise Saguaros. Pitchers include top prospect Alex Reyes, 2014 first round pick Luke Weaver, relievers Dean Kiekhefer and Robby Rowland. Position players include 3B Patrick Wisdom, OF Charlie Tilson, C Michael Ohlman and MIF Aledmys Diaz.
However – as first reported by The Cardinal Nation - Reyes was pulled from the AFL and would not make his scheduled start in the Fall Stars Game on Saturday night. The reason became public on Monday with the Major League Commissioner's Office issuing a press release that the Cardinals’ top prospect has been suspended for 50 games after a second positive drug test revealed marijuana in his system.
All that aside, the fall league season is winding down and I thought the timing was perfect to reach out to MLB.com and MLBPipeline scout/analyst, Bernie Pleskoff, who has witnessed Cardinals prospects over the course of this fall season to talk prospects. Pleskoff has previously scouted for Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.
In the following exclusive interview, Pleskoff outlines the approach in scouting the fall league, comparing the difficulty of scouting an AFL game to a minor league game, pitch clocks and updates TCN on the current development of the Cardinals prospects.
Derek Shore: The Arizona Fall League tends to inflate offensive numbers giving the pitchers at times a disadvantage. Given that, as a scout is there anything that differs in your approach?
Bernie Pleskoff: "I agree with you that the hitters are far ahead of tired or rehabilitating pitchers in the AFL. I look mostly for the following in all players: mechanics, are they playing/throwing free and easy. Skillset, fundamentals, attitude, work ethic and results as well."
DS: Most position players or the occasional pitcher that played a full season can be physically depleted once the AFL season starts. Does this alter your scouting report on a player that's not quite at full strength to showcase his optimum ability?
BP: "I do take into account that many players are worn out. However, there are a good number of them that are limited due to injury and have at-bats or innings to make up. I view each player individually depending upon his circumstances and reasons for being in the league."
DS: There’s obviously a higher level of talent on display, but is the AFL more or less difficult to evaluate than a minor league game of the same caliber of competition?
BP: "The only thing that differs in a Fall League game from a Minor League game may be the hard infields and high blue skies in Arizona. However, there are similar or distinct conditions like high humidity in some Minor League parks during the season."
DS: The AFL was the first testing grounds of the pitch clock last fall. In your opinion, does the clock reach the big leagues shortly?
BP: "No, I do not think the pitch clock reaches the big leagues. I don't think you will ever see a clock used in the big leagues. However, the between innings clock is a success and does help move the game along."
DS: The main focus of this interview will be about Cardinals prospects. Arguably the best pitching prospect across minor league baseball was slated to start in the Fall Stars Game before being pulled out of the league entirely. What did you think of Alex Reyes in your viewings of him?
BP: "I have watched Alex Reyes in three starts. Two were excellent. He had command and control and was dominant. In his third start, he scuffled. He wasn't the same guy out of the stretch. His ball straightened out, and he didn't look comfortable, confident or relaxed. He didn't repeat his delivery from the windup or the stretch and got hit hard. His control and command were way off."
DS (follow-up): What are your thoughts on Reyes's makeup after a second positive drug test?
BP: “This is a huge setback for Reyes. He will have to do two things now: pitch extremely well on a consistent basis and work hard to regain trust that he is clean and can be trusted to be available to take the ball as opposed to being suspended. This situation casts doubt on his character, but others have returned and done well. It is a strike against him, but by far not a fatal blow.”
DS: What have you seen from Luke Weaver?
BP: "Right-handed pitcher Luke Weaver was one of the best pitchers in the league, in my honest opinion. Throws up to 97 with a fabulous change-up as an out pitch. His slider is his third best pitch. Weaver keeps the ball down in the zone. Fly ball pitcher, but from weak contact. Guys just don't center the ball on him. He's a stud, and he'll be a rotation starter someday."
DS (follow-up): Can Weaver develop his slider into a serviceable third pitch?
BP: “I think the slider is the pitch he has to perfect before he can be considered for the rotation. He can work in relief with his fastball/changeup combination, but he has work to do on his slider. Much has to do with gaining confidence in using the pitch at any count and having that third pitch in his arsenal. I think he doesn't have confidence in the slider yet. He will.”
DS: The last of two Cardinal pitching prospects in AFL pitching for the Surprise Saguaros are Dean Kiekhefer and Robby Rowland. Assuming you’ve gotten a chance to see them, what kind of potential do they offer in relief?
BP: “I'm tremendously impressed with Kiekhefer so far. I don't think he's walked a hitter and has lots of swing and miss in his pitches. He's another fine pitching prospect. I had never seen him before but I'm impressed so far. I want to see more. The results have not been favorable for Rowland. I haven't seen him much, but he looks lost at times.”
DS: (follow-up): Based off Kiekhefer’s AFL performance and ability to get lefties out, can you see a team grabbing him in the Rule 5 draft in December?
BP: “I'm not sure he'll be made available. If he is, yes, I think another team will certainly grab him based upon what they've seen in the AFL.”
DS: On the position player side, the Cardinals have Aledmys Diaz and Patrick Wisdom as priority players for Surprise. What have you seen from Wisdom’s bat? Also, he has played some first base this fall, but do you see his natural position as being the hot corner?
BP: "I like both Diaz and Wisdom both on offense and defense. I find they are both underrated. They can play. Wisdom is an outstanding third baseman, and I think his bat will come around in time.
"Diaz is better in the field than people credit him. I think his bat may eventually play, but his swing and hands are slow. His bat is alright, and his defense is alright. Both players could find themselves on big league rosters, in my opinion."
DS: You’ve raved about Diaz’ defensive ability at shortstop. Does he have enough arm strength to make long throws from deep in the hole?
BP: "Diaz does have issues with his arm strength. I think it is the weakest part of his defense. He may be a better second baseman, and that's where I'd play him."
DS: Two players that have seen limited time for the Saguaros are Charlie Tilson and Mike Ohlman. Have you established an impression of them?
BP: "Charlie Tilson is a scrappy guy with a good hit tool. He has good instincts and is probably a fourth outfield type. I think he may scuffle with consistency.
"Mike Ohlman has had some tough moments behind the plate when I've watched. The Orioles need catching and let him go. Scouts differ on him. He isn't hitting here at all. I was much higher on him in the past than I am now."
DS (follow-up): How has Tilson fared in center field in his sporadic time in the field?
BP: "I think Tilson has looked fine. He has good speed."
You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter at @BerniePleskoff while keeping up with his tremendous work over at MLBPipeline.com covering all things prospects. Pleskoff’s personal blog can be found at Bernie's Baseball World, a site dedicated to sharing his thoughts and opinions on the game.
Next for members of The Cardinal Nation: Exclusive interviews with the Cardinals prospects competing in the AFL, including a talk with Alex Reyes just before his suspension.
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