The Arizona Fall League season kicks off today, as Glendale hosts Mesa and Peoria hosts Surprise in the afternoon, while Salt River hosts Scottsdale at night.
The KC Royals will be sending seven players to the AFL to play for the Surprise Saguaros. With renovations being done in Surprise, the Saguaros will be playing all of their home games at Salt River, while playing most of their games in the afternoon Arizona heat (just two night games).
Important dates in the AFL include the Bowman Hitting Challenge on Saturday and the Fall Stars Game on November 7th (both from Salt River) and the Championship Game on November 21st from Scottsdale. The Military Appreciation Game, which is usually televised on MLB Network, will be held on November 14th, as the Saguaros face the Rafters.
When rosters were originally announced, the Royals were only sending six players. I expected them to add a seventh (most teams do) and I expected it to be a player coming off injury (I was thinking Eric Skoglund).
Right-hander Bryan Brickhouse was added. Due to Tommy John surgery, Brickhouse has missed much of the last three seasons. In 2013, he threw just 60 innings for Low-A Lexington (June 7th was his last appearance) after being a third round pick in 2011 and making his professional debut in 2012. In 2014, he threw just 27.2 innings for rookie level Idaho Falls.
This past season, Brickhouse threw just 15.1 combined innings with the AZL Royals and the Chukars. He then added two starts with the Chukars during the postseason (7.2IP, 9H, 4R, 2BB, 7K).
Another player who missed significant time over the last two seasons is fellow right-hander Brooks Pounders. He also underwent Tommy John surgery (after the 2013 seasons) and a lat injury during this year’s spring training held him out until the end of June.
Pounders made four starts with the AZL Royals, one start with Idaho Falls, and two with High-A Wilmington (his second of which was very good), before moving on to Double-A NW Arkansas (where he ended his 2013 season). With the Naturals in eight regular season starts, he was just 3-4, but had a 2.19 ERA and struck out 32 in 49.1 innings.
In the postseason with the Naturals, Pounders made just one start. He allowed three runs on four hits, two walks, and a hit batter over 5.1 innings. He struck out four in earning the Division Series clinching win.
In his first full season, right-hander Kevin McCarthy started the year with Low-A Lexington, but was in Double-A by August. In six relief appearances with the Legends, he struck out eight over 12 innings and had a 1.50 ERA. McCarthy went 4-for-5 in save opportunities with the Blue Rocks and had a 1.64 ERA in 33 innings (five walks to 23 strikeouts).
McCarthy struggled with NW Arkansas, as opponents hit .308 against him (24 hits in 17.1 innings). He also walked eight compared to nine strikeouts. He pitched in two playoff games with the Naturals, with one being good (two perfect innings with two strikeouts) and one being bad (2IP, 4H, 3R, HR, BB, 2K).
2015 was called the “make or break season” for former top pick Bubba Starling. He didn’t disappoint early on. He returned to High-A Wilmington to start the season and hit .386 with 12 RBIs in the Blue Rocks first 12 games. After being promoted to NWA at the end of April, he hit .310 in nine May games.
Starling struggled in June (.213), but he turned it around to hit .333 in July, though he did strike out 29 times in 99 at-bats. However, he cooled off at the end of the season, hitting just .224 in August and .143 in September (and just .211 in the playoffs with six strikeouts in 19 at-bats).
Starling’s defense has never been an issue (zero errors and four outfield assists in 2015), but he needs to find some consistency at the plate. He will look to have a better showing in his second straight AFL appearance.
Catcher Zane Evans also returned to the Blue Rocks to start the 2015 season. He hit .271 in 28 games and moved up to NWA, where he hit .252 in 65 games. Combined, Evans hit a career-high ten home runs and 56 RBIs.
However, Evans went just 1-for-16 in five playoff games with the Naturals and struck out seven times.
Defensively, he committed eight combined errors and had five passed balls. He did throw out 32% of base stealers in Double-A.
Second baseman Ramon Torres also returned to Wilmington to start the 2015 season. He earned Carolina League All-Star honors and despite just 18 RBIs, most were of the walk off variety. He ended up hitting .257 in 71 games with the Blue Rocks. He committed seven errors (and three more at shortstop).
Torres was promoted to Double-A after the Fourth of July and hit .275 in 51 games. He walked 17 times compared to 23 strikeouts. He also had the same amount of doubles (ten) in less at-bats. He also tightened up his defense after his promotion, committing just one error at second base (in 24 games) and two at shortstop (in 24 games).
During the postseason for the Naturals, Torres went 7-for-25.
Right-hander Andrew Edwards is the lone original Royals representative to have not reached Double-A in 2015. He missed about a month due to an ankle injury, which really seemed to set him back. Edwards turned it around late in the year, throwing seven straight scoreless outings prior to the postseason.
Overall, he had a 3.86 ERA in just 29 games. Over 42 innings, opponents hit .223 against him and he walked 19 compared to 30 strikeouts.
While Edwards had a scoreless outing in the postseason, he did allow the winning run to score, as he entered in the 10th inning with a runner on base and allowed it to score in Game 1 of the Championship Series.
Outside of Starling and Brickhouse, the Royals are not sending big name prospects to the AFL. However, any of them could turn themselves into prospects with a good showing. I will be keeping an eye on both McCarthy and Edwards, as both could put themselves on the map as potential big league relievers.