Stars Rising or Falling in the 2012 AFL
While the offseason league being played in Arizona contains many of the best prospects in baseball, other bright future stars are playing in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. In repeatedly mentioning how many of the top prospects were in Saturday’s showcase event, the telecast would have benefited from at least noting the Winter Leagues in Latin America where players like Miguel Sano and Gary Sanchez are honing their craft. Nevertheless, the Rising Stars game provides an opportunity to get a better look at some of the prospects that we are all talking about, for better or for worse.
The most impressive player in this year’s game was Rymer Liriano who displayed an approach that belied his mediocre 2012 hitting statistics. In his first at bat against Cosart, Liriano fouled off multiple pitches and then when behind in the count was able to take two breaking pitches off the plate to get the count full. After another foul, he used his one-handed swing to rope an opposite field line drive to the warning track for a double. In this at bat, Liriano revealed his strength and advanced approach. Similarly in his second at bat against Chase Anderson, Liriano took the first three pitches and worked a favorable 3-1 count. In his fourth at bat, Liriano took a 93mph fastball right back up the middle for a well-struck single to center field. As a lesser discussed player with an underwhelming 2012 statistical regular season, Rymer advanced his status as a prospect as much as anyone else in the Rising Stars event.
If there was a falling star in Saturday’s showcase event, it had to be Hak-Ju Lee. Although Hak-Ju is not known for his hitting, on Saturday he appeared completely overwhelmed at the plate. In his first at bat he went ahead in the count against Cosart 3-0. Instead of taking Cosart’s next offering which was really a borderline strike, Lee swung extremely late and missed. On the next pitch, Lee was again late on a Cosart fastball and fouled it off. Lee then struck out swinging on the 3-2 fastball. Against Chase Anderson, Lee swung and missed three more times on changeups. Hak-Ju was finally able to muster a weak ground ball in his third at bat that got through a drawn-in infield for an rbi single. On defense Hak-Ju showed off less than excellent range on a groundball single by left-handed hitting Jonathan Singleton that arguably should not have gotten by the young shortstop. Unless Hak-Ju Lee has a 70 glove and arm, it’s not clear how he can make himself an everyday shortstop.
At the end of his one inning of work, Paxton went into his dugout shaking his head, probably thinking it should not have been that hard. James Paxton has the kind of stuff that will allow him to have a lot of easy innings eventually. Against, Gary Brown, Paxton got ahead with his startling bending curveball. Both Brown and Jonathan Singleton had very uncomfortable moments against the tall lefty when Paxton fired fastballs in on their hands. Each time the inside pitches sent both hitters back-peddling out of the batter’s box. In his one inning, Paxton got both Gary Brown and Kaleb Cowart to swing and miss on high fastballs for third strikes. Although he gave up a well struck single to Nick Castellanos, Paxton continued to impress as he did in the 2011 Futures Game.
Yankee fans should be taking note of the righty reliever Mark Montgomery who finished his 2012 minor league season in Trenton. Probably no one in their minor league system is more likely to make a definitive impact in the Bronx in 2013 than Montgomery. In his one inning of work, Montgomery struck out the side getting all three hitters, including Bryce Brentz and Nick Ahmed to go down swinging. Montgomery’s best pitch was his slider which had hitters biting at balls in the dirt. Also he flashed some good movement on his two seem fastball. Montgomery will help sure up a Yankee bullpen that will most likely have to deal with the loss of Soriano.
Gibson’s prospect stock has risen and fallen over the past few years after an initial strong start to his professional career in 2010 and then Tommy John surgery in August of 2011. Just as prognosticators may have been too high on Gibson after 2010, they seemed to have gotten too down on him in 2012. The Rising Stars telecast more or less questioned the fact that mlb.com recently ranked Gibson as the 16th best prospect in the Twins system. That questioning is with good reason. Despite giving up a homerun to Goodwin in the first inning, Kyle Gibson looked good. Gibson used a nice four pitch mix to get some weak groundouts and swings and misses. Gibson induced a weak ground out from Gary Brown on a curve in the first and picked up swinging strikeouts against both Owings and Goodwin on Sliders in the second. Assuming he can stay reasonably healthy going forward, Gibson could be a very good addition to the Minnesota rotation in the near future.