Drawing Conclusions From The AFL
The Arizona Fall League is winding down and prospect followers are looking for valuable information from statistics in a league where Sam Fuld was once its MVP. After a lights out month of November 2007, Fuld was drafted in dynasty leagues and discussed as an overlooked asset and potential center fielder of the future for the Cubs.
When beat writers have little to cover, minds begin to wander. Nothing against Fuld, but the outfielder was regarded as the player he is currently prior to his AFL heroics. As it turns out, the headline of his baseball resume did nothing to improve Fuld’s play, only his helium.
This fall’s leader board has three former first round picks ranked in the top six for OPS (Kris Bryant, Jared Mitchell and C.J. Cron). The remaining three include a Cuban defector (Henry Urrutia) and a pair of organizational first baseman (Travis Shaw and Jason Rogers). From this list, it appears success in the AFL has little rhyme or reason. Kris Bryant is regarded as a beast, while Jared Mitchell was written off as a bust a season or two ago.
Remember when Slade Heathcott leveraged a strong AFL into feel good stories and a ranking as the Yankees second best prospect?
How about 2011 when Mike Olt took the prospect world by storm?
In 2010, Dustin Ackley had an OPS 200 points better than any player in the league.
Yikes, maybe trying to draw conclusions about prospects from this league is a waste of time after all. If one tempers expectations, it doesn’t have to be.
The examples above are me cherry picking to prove a point. Temper your enthusiasm about prospect surges in November. Like a scout of thirty years told me, “More mistakes are made in March and November than April through September combined.”
Here are some quick strategies to maximize AFL value while not going overboard.
1. Prospects recovering from seasons shortened by injury should perform better than players fresh off of a 140 game season. This is common sense, right? Jared Mitchell played 90 games in 2013 and is in the AFL working to make up for lost development time. Slade Heathcott played just 65 games before going off in the AFL in 2012. If a player is full recovered from injury, expect fresh legs and quick hands to dominate exhausted counterparts. Adjust value down accordingly, or, view these players as sell high candidates and pawn them off to some poor sucker.
2. The AFL is geared for older prospects. Kris Bryant leading the league in OPS at 1.182 is impressive, but he’s 21. I’m more impressed with Addison Russel’s .797 mark as a 19-year old. Albert Almora‘s .814 OPS is awesome too. All three are considered young for a league dominated by 24-25 year old players. Use a sliding scale to move numbers up and down. Don’t take them at face value.
3. Take the league with a grain of salt. This winter, many pieces will be written about strong AFL performances propelling prospects to greatness in 2014. Historically, it really doesn’t work that way. Maybe it’s because I’m in Atlanta, but Tommy La Stella is being discussed as a player primed to overtake Dan Uggla next spring. Between arbitration clocks and the fact the AFL is dominated by AAAA pitching, it’s a pipe dream 99% of the time. Henry Urrutia is the only player with a realistic shot of breaking camp with the big club.
Temper expectations and AFL stats become fun to watch when nothing else is going on. It’s not a time to buy low on prospects, but opportunities to sell high will be there.
4 Feb 2014 / Mike Newman /
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