AFL Scouting Report: October 31

Russ Rohlicek was one of those pitchers that teams draft and know that they have a project on their hands. When the Cubs acquired Rohlicek from Houston, he became their project and he's turning out to be a very pleasant piece of work. Plus, news on how three Phillies wound up disappointed in a recent AFL game.

Lefties who can get lefties out can pitch forever. Russ Rohlicek just needs to get started.

The Astros made Rohlicek their 6th round pick out of Long Beach State University Rohlicek in 2001 and was traded to the Cubs as part of the Tom Gordon deal back in '02. He was widely considered to have all the tools, but be as raw as they come out of college. Once he got into the Astros system his numbers, and confidence improved. Both have only gotten stronger since joining the Cubs. At 6'6" he's a nightmare for left handed hitters, and knows that is likely to be his role.

"I was a starter in college, I've been long relief, I've pitched in a lot of different situations. But I'm happy in that specialist role. I've got the stuff for it, I'm comfortable in it." Rohlicek said this week as he warmed up with his Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League.

"That's what I'm down here to work on, my command, and working against lefties. I know I'm not exactly where I want to be, the arm's a little tired, but I'm making progress." In 60 games this season with the Cubs AA affiliate West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx Rohlicek posted just a 5-5 record but had a superb 2.09 ERA. He was was firmly entrenched in his role already, throwing just 69 innings pitched in those 60 appearances. The biggest flaw in Rohlicek's game, 42 walks. Hence the work on his command.

"[White Sox rep and Solar Sox pitching coach] Sean Snedeker has been working with me a lot on my arm slot and my footwork. Just fine tuning things so I really do have consistent command." If he does show consistency he knows there could be openings on the Cubs next season for someone with his skills. "The Cubs always need lefty pitching, so I know I've got an opportunity."

As far as his performance in the AFL, Rohlicek isn't worried. "The velocity is down a little, I just don't have that pop on my fastball, but its almost good for me to not have it, because it means I've got to spot the ball even better." Like many pitchers down here Rohlicek admits quietly that adding another month to his season means he's not going to be at his best in the AFL, but also adds, "It's worth it though. The work you get down here, the one on one stuff, you can't beat that. I'll have plenty of off season's to rest my arm after I make the big leagues."

Cubs fans everywhere would be thrilled to see an effective lefty come out of their own organization, and Rohlicek knows he could be that guy, but doesn't let the pressure get to him. "I put a lot of pressure on myself, for my family, but the club really is good about not pressuring us. I think they know that everybody comes along at different speeds. I'm making progress, the Cubs see that, they've got people out here everyday watching, and I'm happy with where I am. After the [AFL] season is over, I'll go home, rest for awhile, and then hopefully I'll get an invite to the big league Spring Training. If I get that invite, then I can try to make the club. Right now, its about learning, getting better, fine tuning. The stuff I learn here is the reason I'll have a shot in the Spring."

Phillies in the desert: Ryan Howard went 3-for-4 Friday, but was thinking most about the time that he didn't get a hit. He came up with the bases loaded and one out and hit into an inning ending double-play. Howard is now 3-19-.385 with ten doubles in the Arizona Fall League… Chris Roberson went 2-for-4 Friday, but like Howard, the most notable stat was that he was thrown out attempting to steal. Roberson is only 3-for-7 in the AFL and his ability to use his speed is one part of his game that does appear to need some work. On the season, Roberson is hitting .260 for Phoenix… Keith Bucktrot was as close to dominating as you can get Friday and it looked like he might get his first AFL win. Unfortunately, he tired a little in the sixth and the bullpen fell apart. Bucktrot threw 5 1/3 innings, allowing two hits and a walk while striking out five. The only run he allowed was unearned. Bucktrot is now 0-1, 1.71 in the AFL and has struck out 18 in 21 innings, while allowing just 17 hits.

James Renwick is the managing editor of FutureBacks.com and is covering the AFL for Scout.com.

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