I don't know much about the Arizona Fall League. There is only so much RAM available for use in my head and for some reason, I've mostly chosen to not follow the AFL in my life. I eat up winter meetings, go bananas for minor league reports, and the words "spring training" ring just the same as the words "merry Christmas" in my ears.
But something I've started to realize; this AFL business is worth paying some attention to. The biggest story from my recent memory that centered around the yearly tournament was the early signal that Nolan Arenado might be something special.
Nothing quite so dramatic happened for the organization this year. In fact,Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com ranked the top 25 prospects who participated and there isn't a Rockie among them.
But that doesn't mean there were no bright spots for Rockies fans.
Jayson Aquino: 3.38 ERA, 7.31 K/9, 2.25 BB/9, 16.0 IP
It was an ... interesting ... year for Jayson Aquino who seemed to get better each time his competition got better albeit in limited sample sizes.
He pitched in only four games, winning two, for the Salt River Rafters, which is a reference to river-rafting and not as my silly brain for some reason previously thought, a reference to ceiling beams.
Aquino began the season pitching for the Rockies A+ team in Modesto to lackluster results. He was posting a 5.40 ERA when he was called up to Double-A. It may have seemed a strange move at the time but a look inside his peripherals suggest otherwise.
He was still striking out over seven batters per nine innings and walking under three, which is pretty much par for the course with him, and had a FIP nearly a full point lower than his ERA at 4.47. He was also giving up a pretty lofty .353 BABIP. So up he was called and answer it he did ... sort of.
His two starts for Tulsa, like his four in the AFL, are too small a sample size to draw any conclusions but the early signs are good. Aquino posted a 3.00 ERA in two starts and still struck out near seven per nine but there was one big red flag: a 6.00 BB/9, which means he walked six guys in both outings.
These kinds of things happen but I think it is worth noting that against even better hitters, Aquino got the walks under control in the AFL, back down to his usual area of 2.25 BB/9.
It's too early to know what any of this means. If we were doing PuRPs lists currently, I have no idea where he would be on mine.
My position on Aquino at the moment is one of extremely cautious and distant hope that could be lit on fire by a good season in 2015. Maybe he started to figure some things out. A lefty with good strikeout stuff is exciting until he completely implodes. Maybe he is, as Dan O'Dowd suggested, a competitor who relishes the chance to play against the best. Or maybe it's just that the stink of Modesto's season got all over Aquino and he is ready to shake it off Taylor Swift style and return to the prospect status many of us felt he would achieve.
Y'know, or maybe not.
Christian Bergman: 4.43 ERA, 8.20 K/9, 0.96 BB/9, 18.2 IP
I would really like to see what Christian Bergman can do in a bullpen role for the Rockies next season and not just because his overall hair setup is even more glorious in person than on TV which I didn't think was possible.
He doesn't have the scariest stuff in the world, but he doesn't have to scare you, he just has to keep you off base, and more and more I'm believing that Bergman has a deep understanding at a high level of how to do that.
As if he were purposefully addressing concerns that he doesn't have good enough swing-and-miss stuff, Bergman posted a damned impressive 8.20 K/9 while only walking -- wait, what? -- 0.96 batters per? You might also guess that with peripherals that good and an ERA that high he might have been extraordinarily unlucky on balls in play and you would be right as his 2.22 FIP suggests.
Yes, it was in only 18.2 innings and the Berg Man does have more big league experience than most of those guys.
But I don't care who you are or what league you are pitching in, those are masterful control numbers. Even watching him this season it always felt like he could keep hitters off balance with excellent control around the edges of the plate for at least a few innings before losing it a bit and/or hitters making adjustments as his stuff flattened out due to natural fatigue.
This could make him the perfect candidate to fill what I think is a glaring hole on the Rockies roster; the long reliever. Important in blowout wins and losses as well as extra inning games or in the event of injury (yeah, like that's ever going to happen) the long reliever is essential in not only preserving the bullpen but in winning individual games.
Christian Bergman's stellar command pitching out of the pen in the AFL is at worst nice to see as a sign that he doesn't take to the role with disgust or fear.
Being able to employ his entire arsenal of wibbly-wobbly deceptive pitches without concern for tipping them for later on -- since he will be pitching at most three innings -- could, and I'll go ahead and stress could, just be the perfect fit for both him and the Rockies.
Taylor Featherston: .294/.355/.456, 1 HR, 4 SB, 121 wRC+
Featherston was fourth in batting average (.294) among players with at least 70 plate appearances for the champion Salt River Rafters.
He and Ryan Casteel were instrumental in winning the final game (check out this link for some good video).
Taylor doesn't have the same prospect pedigree as fellow Rafter and Rockies middle infielder Trevor Story, but he has put up four consecutive seasons of a wRC+ of at least 114 in the minors and he is known more for his defense than his offense, though according to FanGraphs, neither is projected to be elite.
It's entirely possible, though, that Featherston will never be an elite player, or even a very good player, but may grow into a pretty good bench player on an MLB team. Or maybe he is just a late bloomer. I've never seen him play but the main hesitation comes in realizing he is only a few days younger than Kyle Parker who has already played in major league baseball games ... kind of.
Featherston put up a 116 wRC+ in his first season at Double-A ball this year, though his strikeout numbers were worrisome, hovering around the 20 percent mark and jumping up to 29 in the AFL, though he did blast 16 home runs, which is pretty good for a second baseman.
He was solid all-around for the Rafters, though, scoring 15 runs and driving in ten in addition to the numbers already discussed. That at least can't hurt his prospect stock.
Ryan Casteel: .258/.321/.355, 0 HR, 0 SB, 86 wRC+
Despite playing a pivotal role in the decisive game, Casteel didn't have an AFL to write home about. The 125 wRC+ he posted during the regular season with Tulsa shrank to a measly 86 but I'm not ready to give up on the 23-year old catcher who is likely to end up as a first baseman.
He missed some time with injury but still managed 16 home runs in 113 games but if you are going to read anything into his AFL performance it's likely that he at least needs more seasoning before we know what we have with Casteel. He is still a bat worth keeping an eye on.
Trevor Story: .256/.340/.419, 1 HR, 3 SB, 107 wRC+
The numbers don't exactly jump off the page but I think it is worth noting that since moving up a level, Trevor Story has basically become Adam Dunn at the plate.
He strikes out a lot, the batting average numbers can make you cringe, but when he does make contact, he hits the ball really, really hard.
That's how you can hit .256 and still post a 107 wRC+ or, as he did for Tulsa this season, hit .200 (yuck) but still have a 98 wRC+ or barely below average. In 56 games, the short stop (who has been playing more second base lately) hit nine home runs. It's extreme feast or famine but that he is feasting at all is promising and still at the age of 22 he still has time to develop some consistency.
Chris O'Dowd: .231/.310/.423, 1 HR, 0 SB, 101 wRC+
O'Dowd's 101 wRC+ in only nine games catching for the rafters matched his output from the regular season exactly. Like Story, his value came from his slugging which made up for lack of production in other areas.
Chris' ultimate value, though, will come from his ability behind the plate and I didn't see enough of him in the AFL to speak intelligently on the matter. Still, the 101 wRC+ is slightly above average offense for the league so any lingering accusations of nepotism should be put to rest. I don't see him making many PuRPs lists soon, but he may be one of those guys who carves out a nice career as a defense first, backup catcher in the league.