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Twins CF Byron Buxton was #1 in my midseason prospect rankings and I'm pretty sure he'll keep that spot when I go rank them again this winter. So, expectations were very high coming into the AFL coming off of a scorching hot full-season debut at .334/.424/.520 split between Lo-A and Hi-A that surprised even his biggest supporters. From seeing him in high school, instructs, this past season and the AFL, Buxton never had standout offense results in the games I saw (and that continued in the AFL) but I did see growth in his game.
The tools, his age and his performance on days that I'm not on the ballpark are outstanding: literally off-the-charts speed, near unprecedented quick-twitchness, at least a 70 arm, at least 70 defense, raw power that's already a little above average, a surprisingly improved approach and feel to hit in games to all fields at age 19. As early as a year before, the first four things were true but the other three weren't really that close to being true, which is why his breakout this year took some by surprise, including me, the guy that ranked Albert Almora ahead of Buxton as an amateur (an admittedly unpopular opinion at the time and now).
In 57 plate appearances in the AFL, Buxton's plate discipline numbers are worse, his BABIP has taken a nosedive while his triple slash numbers (.212/.288/.404) are bad in a hitter-friendly league but it doesn't really change my updated rating from this spring. This is Buxton's longest season by a lot against the best pitching he's ever seen and in a sample 1/10th of his breakout 2013 season, so it's important not to overreact. That said, I saw some cracks in Buxton's armor the AFL: pitchers that can command and sequence above average stuff can get him off-balance at times like the raw hitter I saw in 2012. The fact that it took nearly 600 AB and facing AA arms to find a crack in a 19 year old with obscene tools that was universally considered raw one year prior tells you about the athleticism and aptitude of Buxton. I graded his other four tools and while it's still a little early to get a good sense of what his bat could be, I'll toss a 60 on the tool with his speed an insurance policy for his batting average if the pure hitting ability falls a little short.
Reds OF Yorman Rodriguez has been a high profile prospect since he signed at age 16 out of the Dominican Republic for $2.5 million. The 6'3/195 projectable athlete has developed his tools since signing, with 65 raw power, deceptive above average to plus speed and a solid-average arm. He fits in right field long-term but wasn't bad in center field in a limited look. The big question is how well the long-limbed Rodriguez will hit for average and get on base.
Rodriguez's plate discipline went from atrocious to just below average this season, with his walk rate doubling to just over 8% but his strikeout rate staying steady at about 27%. I say it with nearly every player this size, but hitting for average will be a problem for Rodriguez due to the length of his limbs, though his physical gifts and improved patience give him a chance to succeed, which I wouldn't have given him at this point last year. His swings will vary in game as he just turned 21 and is still growing into his frame and he's adjusted his swing path to be much flatter, letting his above average bat speed, leverage and strength create the power.
Rodriguez is a pull-oriented, somewhat erratic mechanically, flyball-leaning slugger but Rodriguez has the raw tools to be one of the few that can make that work at the big league level if he can make enough contact. I think Rodriguez is loose enough with enough bat control to have a chance to be an MLB regular, but I don't like how his first move with his hands is down, a bad habit when the pitching improves at higher levels and the margin for error is lower.
He'll never be more than a 50 bat due to his size and aggressiveness but 50 is still possible and could be enough to get to his 30 homer potential with some base running and defensive value as well. It's a high-risk, high-reward proposition and the combination of age and new-found aptitude have me intrigued. The upside here is along the lines of Nelson Cruz, a 50 bat, toolsy RF that has averaged 27 homers the last five years, though the body types are a little different. Rodriguez will return to AA after holding his own the second half of 2013 and succeeding in the AFL. If he can continue this positive momentum and convert more of his raw power into game power (only 13 HR in 560 PA in 2013 regular season) in an age-21 return to AA, we'll have something exciting on our hands.
I only got a quick look at Reds OF Ryan LaMarre and while his stats (1658 career AB, .264/.347/.369) make him seem like a bench bat at best, he showed tools more commensurate with his draft status (2nd round in 2010 out of Michigan). Lamarre has a solid, athletic 6'2/185 frame, above average arm strength and speed (and the speed may be a tick better) that can play all three outfield positions. He shows impressive power in BP, which I graded out as a 50 until he let loose in the last round, flashing 60 raw, though it was a home run derby type swing, so I'd give him 55 usable game power.
We've got a good size guy that can play all three outfield positions with above average raw power, average plate discipline and a swing that's simple and solid mechanically: why is he not hitting more? Lamarre's swing is a little stiffer than Rodriguez's with a higher maintenance leg kick and he bars out his lead arm. Even in BP, I wrote that it may be a grooved swing; one that lacks bat control/looseness and only works on certain velocities on a certain plane, normally fastballs in the middle of the zone.
To the layman that may not see this, just imagine Lamarre squaring up a bad pitch on a hit and run (a bit of a stretch) and now imagine Vladimir Guerrero (no problem): that's looseness and bat control. I see Lamarre as a backup MLB outfield candidate in 2015 after a year in AAA with his tools giving him the upside to hang around and maybe figure something out at the plate, but I'd put a 40 or 45 OFP on him.
I can cover two other corner outfielders from Glendale quickly, Dodgers LF Brian Cavazos-Galvez and Marlins LF Brent Keys. Cavazos-Galvez has average raw power but is a 26 year old, AA fill right/right left fielder with a 30 arm and some stiffness and effort to his swing. Keys has a 40 arm and lacks power, so he's backed into a tough profile but he has a solid lefty swing, is a fringy runner and has a good approach. He's raked everywhere he's been (career .315/.390/.377) and will be 23/24 this year in AA, so I can't rule out a cup of coffee, but he'll have to continue beating expectations and would be a pinch-hit only guy if everything works out.