Monday, August 29, 2016
Looking Ahead: Arizona Fall League and Australian League Projections
Even though the MLB season is far from over, minor league play heads into its last week of the regular season today, and that means it's time to look ahead and see which Blue Jays prospects may further their baseball educations in either the Arizona Fall League, or the Australian Baseball League.
The two leagues are vastly different, but both serve as a means of furthering players' development. The AFL was founded in 1992 as a place for top prospects at the AA or AAA levels (teams are allowed two A ball players) could hone their skills against elite competition under conditions that are generally more favourable than most winter ball assignments. This year, the Blue Jays will send a half dozen prospects to play for the Mesa Solar Sox - all teams are in the Phoenix area. Dalton Pompey, Aaron Sanchez, Rowdy Tellez, Marcus Stroman, Andy Burns, and Dwight Smith Jr are among the more recent Blue Jays AFL alumni.
The Aussie League has had a couple of incarnations, the most recent starting in 2010. The Blue Jays have had a very successful partnership with the Canberra Cavalry, one of the more successful franchises in the league. Pompey, Anthony Alford, and Jason Leblebijian have all spent time down under furthering their skills. The ABL had its funding cut off by MLB this summer, so it faces a very uncertain future. The schedule has been truncated (begins in mid-November, as opposed to late October, and finishes in late January), and this may be the last season the Blue Jays send prospects there.
Choosing players for the two leagues can be a challenge. Generally, the team wants to send players who have lost time to injury, work on a position/role change, or to give them a taste of that elite competition when selecting players to go to Arizona. Alford certainly fits that bill, and so probably does IF Christian Lopes, who had fallen off the prospect radar, but has quietly put up a .294/.356/.404 line at New Hampshire, and has re-gained some of his former prospect lustre. Derrick Loveless also turned his career around with New Hampshire this year, and might be a candidate. Leblebijian likely would merit consideration, too, but after spending the season with Canberra last year has played a lot of baseball in the last 10 months. Conner Greene certainly would benefit from the challenge, but if he does head southwest his innings will likely be extremely limited after pitching about 150 this year. RHP Taylor Cole may be a good candidate - he lost time due to injury this year, and the team may want to think about harnessing his fastball by moving him to the bullpen. RHP John Stilson has also lost considerable time to injury over the course of the year, and it's possible a trip to Arizona could be in his plans for this fall. Utility guy Emilio Guerrero more than held his own in AA this year, and might benefit from playing a variety of positions in Arizona this fall. Dunedin C Danny Jansen has missed much playing time in each of his three minor league seasons so far, and may make up for lost time with Mesa. Depending on his injury status, Sean Reid-Foley would have to be a decent bet to travel to Arizona, but he hasn't pitched since August 10th.
The Aussie League experience is a different one than the Arizonan. Many of the pitchers are veteran types, and as Alford discovered two years ago, they pitch you backward. Living in a foreign country, far from home, is not for everyone, so the Blue Jays must carefully consider who they send. Still, the experience is entirely beneficial, and the crash course in pitch recognition Alford took in Australia after giving up his football commitment was part of the reason for his breakout season in 2015. Again, players who have missed time (but are not at AA) for one reason or another, or need to have their development accelerated are good candidates to make the long trip. We've just learned that reliever Andrew Case, who was suspended 50 games in the off season for missing a drug test. The New Brunswick native returned to play with Lansing in early July, and has saved 8 games in 9 opportunities. IF Dickie Joe Thon Jr, a highly regarded 2010 5th rounder, has really not shown much until this year, and his development might be furthered with time in Australia. Lansing OF Lane Thomas missed some time this year, and could be headed down under. Dunedin OF J.D. Davis has had a really solid season after missing time in past years, and could be under consideration as well. If Jansen is not headed to Arizona, Australia might be a good situation for him. As far as pitchers go, the team prefers to send relievers, so a bullpen arm or two more from Dunedin or Lansing may be making the trip. As an added bonus, ABL games are televised, and while the broadcast quality varies, it's easy to check up on these prospects on the ABL channel on YouTube.
What we don't know's banged up, who needs to work on some things, and who is playing winter ball, so sometimes putting these lists together is just a matter of speculation. For the prospects who aren't under consideration for travel to Arizona or Australia, the Florida Instructional League begins in late September.
Even though the season is winding down, there's still plenty of baseball ahead for many Blue Jays prospects.