Watching an Arizona Fall League game is like taking a glimpse into the near future. A higher percentage of players from the AFL make the major leagues than do Triple-A prospects. Usually about 20-25% of major league All-Star rosters are comprised of players who spent time in the AFL at one point. These are players about whom their parent organizations are really excited. These players are nearly major-league ready. These players are about to face tougher competition than they have at any point in their careers and likely the highest level of competition they will face until they reach the major leagues.
Here, then, are the four pitchers and three position players that represent the Arizona Diamondbacks on the Scottsdale Scorpions this fall.
RHP Josh Collmenter, Age 24
Splitting the 2010 season among three affiliates, Josh Colmenter led the Diamondbacks organization with 14 wins. He also finished second in both WHIP (1.23) and BAA (.239) plus third in strikeouts (133) and ERA (3.38). As most pitchers do, the big right-hander struggled during his time at Reno. Take away those ten starts, and Collmenter went 10-3 with 94 strikeouts, 24 walks, and a 1.91 ERA over 94.1 combined innings between Hi-A and Double-A.
"It seems like one time through the order, you throw a pitch that works the first at-bat, [but] the second time they're looking for it," Collmenter said of pitching in Triple-A. "They make a lot of adjustments to you, and you have to make adjustments, also, as the game goes on."
In order to succeed at the Triple-A level and beyond, Collmenter will need more consistency from his curveball. He currently shuts down inexperienced hitters despite having mid-to-upper 80s velocity on his fastball due to a deceptive delivery and a power changeup. Without that third pitch, Collmenter may be relegated to relief duty, which would be a shame given how durable he appears to be. He may be used in the pen this fall to see how he responds to that role.
RHP Bryan Shaw, Age 22
Shaw has been shuttled between the rotation and the bullpen himself the past two seasons after spending his entire college career as a reliever. This season, he had a 3.19 ERA and .223 BAA as a reliever with the Mobile BayBears but a 4.73 ERA and .283 BAA as a starter.
"I actually like starting a lot," Shaw said. "You throw more innings, face more hitters. It's just fun being the guy who walks out on the mound to start the game and hear the anthem on the mound."
It is difficult to say which role Shaw will ultimately settle into. He does throw harder as a reliever, but has an arsenal of five different pitches that he can use as a starter in order to give hitters a different look every time through the lineup. Shaw figures to work exclusively out of the bullpen this fall; it should be enough of a challenge to face AFL hitters as the youngest of the D-backs pitchers in the league and the fifth-youngest pitcher on the Scorpions.
RHP Bryan Woodall, Age 23
In 2009, Bryan Woodall strung together a streak of 28.2 innings without allowing an earned run. What did he do for an encore? He went the first two months of 2010 without allowing an earned run before finally breaking that streak in early June. He finished the year with a 2.15 ERA with the Rawhide and a 3.70 ERA with the BayBears, plus an overall strikeout-to-walk ratio of 76:13. He's managed that success primarily with a fastball that doesn't quite reach 90 mph, but has good movement and a superb slider.
"I actually have a changeup, but when I can command my breaking ball and my fastball on the same day, there are times when I feel like I don't need to use it," explained Woodall. "I definitely need to work on it a little more, and hopefully in the future it's something that will help me out."
If Woodall struggles in the AFL, it could happen because coaches will emphasize having him work on a consistent third pitch, either the changeup or a slow curveball which he shows occasionally. The thinking is that his below average velocity will cause him to struggle against advanced hitters if he can't do more to change speeds off it. His impeccable command and incredible success so far are reasons for considerable optimism.
RHP Daniel Stange, Age 24
Stange was only 21 when he first reached Double-A. Tommy John surgery soon followed, and a fastball that once hit 99 mph now only gets up to 94 mph for Stange. He accompanies that offering with a good slider but inconsistent command. As a result, he had a 1.69 ERA with Mobile, a 6.17 ERA with Reno, and a 13.50 ERA in the majors, albeit in only four innings.
"I don't know exactly why the arm injury happened the way it happened," said Stange. "The delivery's still a little violent, but it's gotten better, so I wouldn't really attribute it to the delivery. I haven't done anything really to change the delivery except for a few mechanical things here and there."
Stange needs to change something. He turns 25 in December, so the time for him to prove that he can hang with the best hitting prospects in the game is now. Otherwise, he could find himself off the 40-man roster before long.
C Konrad Schmidt, Age 26
Schmidt joins Stange as the two D-backs both on the AFL roster and the 40-man roster. His .315 batting average, .490 slugging average, and .863 on-base-plus-slugging led the BayBears while his 30 doubles, 11 homers, and 65 RBI ranked second. That earned Schmidt a callup to the majors once Mobile got eliminated from the postseason.
"It was a surprise," Schmidt said of his promotion. "It had been a long road, and when you finally hear that you were going, it was shocking."
That promotion - along with his selection to the AFL roster - shows that Schmidt is clearly the next in line for the major leagues should anything happen to Miguel Montero or John Hester. Schmidt's combination of offensive and defensive prowess make him at minimum a formidable platoon player, particularly since he hit .345 versus southpaws this season.
OF Marc Krauss, Age 23
Marc Krauss is a rare AFLer who comes in with no Double-A experience. His performance at Hi-A Visalia suggests that he won't be overmatched this fall, however. Krauss batted .302 with 25 homers and 87 RBI, ranking among the top 10 hitters in the California League in homers, RBI, runs, hits, slugging, and OPS. He also amassed 11 outfield assists and showed surprising range and athleticism for a man who stands at 6-foot-3 and weighs 235 pounds.
"All along, we felt he would hit for power and we had no doubts he'd hold an average too," touted farm director Mike Berger. "He had a wonderful year."
His year was so wonderful that it isn't over yet. Hopefully having the past month off rejuvenates Krauss; he hit just .248 over his final 33 games of the regular season. Wearing down a bit isn't unusual for a youngster in his first full pro season. Even if he struggles in the AFL, expect Krauss to bounce back with a big 2011 season at Double-A.
OF A.J. Pollock, Age 22
Even more rare than Krauss' situation, A.J. Pollock will play in the Arizona Fall League despite having not even played above Low-A ball. Pollock would have began the season with his good friend Krauss at Hi-A Visalia if not for a fractured growth plate in his right elbow that sidelined him for the entire regular season."I was planning on it being a half-a-year kind of thing so I could salvage the end of the year," Pollock told AZCentral.com in August. "To be honest, there were no setbacks. I've felt phenomenal the whole way through. But this injury is a little strange because you don't see it too much. That's what made them pull back on it a little bit. It's not like Tommy John, where they know each step of the way what a person can be feeling. It's such a different injury."
Pollock spent some time in the Instructional League the past few weeks to get up to speed, but he has the unenviable task of trying to hit some of the best pitching prospects in baseball six months removed from truly competitive play and twelve months removed from slugging just .376 in the Midwest League. If Pollock manages to even hit .250 in the AFL, it would have to be considered a positive sign.
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