Not the case quite yet, but the Arizona Fall League soon will be the only baseball game in town -- at least stateside anyway. It will become a circuit even more under the microscope as players show off their skills in front of the undivided attention of scouts and other
Not the case quite yet, but the Arizona Fall League soon will be the only baseball game in town -- at least stateside anyway. It will become a circuit even more under the microscope as players show off their skills in front of the undivided attention of scouts and other Major League front-office members.
Part of this evaluation process now includes Statcast, which has become en vogue in recent years for its ability to provide data such as exit velocity, sprint speed, spin rate and more. The information can help fans understand, for example, exactly how a player hits a home run or what makes his curveball so effective. Major League organizations have gotten on the bandwagon in the Minors through their use of Trackman data, but the only time this type of data really becomes publicly available for prospects is during the Fall League, where Statcast measures all games that happen at Salt River's Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. That's not a huge sample, obviously, but it helps.
This edition of Toolshed dips into some of the data Statcast has found on prominent AFL prospects so far. All pitching data can be found at MLBFarm.com. The position player data isn't publicized anywhere but is kept by the folks in the MLB research and development department, so a hat tip to Daren Willman -- a must-follow on Twitter @darenw -- for sharing that info for the purposes of this story.
Michael Chavis, exit velocity: It doesn't take Statcast to tell you that a top-100 prospect who hit 31 home runs during the regular season is someone who can probably hit the ball really hard. But it certainly helps build the case. In Chavis' lone game at Salt River on Oct. 16, he posted two of the top five exit velocities measured in the Fall League this season. The hardest of the two was a 113.507 mph shot that went for a double to left field. (Only Logan Hill at 113.54 mph has hit a ball harder in Salt River.) Anything in triple digits feels impressive, but context is key here. That two-bagger would've been the fifth-hardest-hit ball in this Major League postseason, beating out anything off the bat of Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant or Carlos Correa. Of course, these players can generate power on a more consistent basis than Chavis would be able to do in the Majors right now, but it's still telling that he has the strength to be mentioned with that group, despite having played only 67 games at Double-A.
Earlier in the same game, he smacked a 111.557 mph shot to left field for a single -- the fifth-hardest ball in Salt River so far. Of all the hitters to play in Salt River during this campaign, no one else has two of the top 10 exit velocities posted, never mind two of the top five -- just in case you needed another reason to believe Chavis' bat is legit.
Estevan Florial, arm strength: Here's where things really get interesting. For hitting tools, we have traditional and advanced metrics to give us a good idea of how they translate in games. For something like arm strength for a position player, you basically have to be watching the play to know how good a defender's arm is. Assists can tell us something, but certainly not everything. Enter Statcast. Think of Brett Phillips, who was thought to have a plus-plus arm already. However, we found out just how good it is when he uncorked a few triple-digit throws from the Brewers outfield this summer.
There isn't anyone on that level in the Fall League yet, but Estevan Florial has shown the best arm of the outfield bunch with a recorded throw from right field of 94.487 mph on Oct. 12. Again, we knew that the Yankees' No. 3 prospect has a strong arm; MLB.com has given it a 65 grade on the 20-80 scale, but now we have some hard data. It's that arm that has allowed him to move over to right, even though he's got the speed to handle center. It's one thing to know Florial has four outfield assists, but learning that he's capable of firing a mid-90s heater from the grass adds even more to his profile.
Victor Reyes, sprint speed: The D-backs' No. 19 prospect is a solid outfield prospect, though not much has stood out on his stat sheet. He hit .292 with four homers, 18 steals and a .731 OPS at Double-A Jackson as a 22-year-old this season. But in front of Statcast, he's shown there's more there. He's recorded the second- and fourth-highest sprint speeds at Salt River at 28.873 and 28.615 feet per second. If Reyes were to maintain those numbers as his average speed in the Majors, that'd put him around the top 40 runners at the game's highest level. Right now, Reyes is listed as a 55-grade runner, but a continued strong showing could change that perception. As an average hitter with little power, he'll need all the speed he can muster to work his way through the Arizona ranks.
Gerson Moreno, average velocity and spin rate: If there's a pitcher that Fall League Statcast adores, it's the Tigers' No. 25 prospect. He's thrown the hardest measured pitch with a 98.1 mph four-seam fastball. His four-seamer is the second fastest average pitch in the AFL at 96.3 mph. His two-seamer ranks third at 96.2. His changeup (3,049 rpm), four-seamer (2,993) and two-seamer (2,977) all rank in the top 10 measured pitches in terms of average spin rate. It's generally believed that spin rate can be a positive indicator for performance. The sample size is limited as Moreno only threw one inning at Salt River back on Oct. 17, but it's still incredibly encouraging. (Note: it was a scoreless inning during which Moreno only allowed one walk.) Saying Moreno has a good fastball isn't breaking new ground. He's regularly measured in the upper-90s on radar guns and has been given a 70 grade for his fastball by MLB.com. But if even his changeup (considered a 40) is posting high spin rates, that's a positive sign that the 22-year-old right-hander is putting things together, especially after he posted a 6.43 ERA with 36 strikeouts and 17 walks in 28 innings at Double-A Erie to end the regular season. Moreno has struck out eight of the 19 AFL batters he's faced and has allowed one run on three hits and just one walk in 5 1/3 frames.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.