Every year some of the top prospects from around the majors take part in the Arizona Fall League. With the quality of the players involved, it provides a chance to see how certain players stack up against quality opposition. It's worth noting that offensive numbers are inflated because most pitchers there are less refined.
It isn't often a breeding ground for players with immediate fantasy value, but a few players have been known to make the jump from AFL standout to fantasy option in the same season. It is even more crucial for dynasty leaguers to pay attention.
Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore Orioles
The uber-prospect can do everything: catch, manage a pitching staff, hit for power, hit for average and play remarkable defense. He displayed his average in the AFL (.301) while driving in 12 runs in 20 games. Single-year and dynasty owners alike take notice as Wieters could be the starter come Opening Day.
J.P. Arencibia, C, Toronto Blue Jays
The catching prospect has power and displayed it during the AFL (four home runs, eight doubles and 23 RBIs), though he needs to show better discipline at the plate. He is a solid long-term fantasy target that could develop into a respectable power option at the position in the next year or two.
Tyler Flowers, C, Chicago White Sox
Acquired in the Javier Vazquez deal, Flowers has unquestionable power. He led the AFL with 12 home runs while batting .387 and driving in 23 runs. What scouts do question is his defense, leading some to believe he might be best suited as a designated hitter. Either way, he should already be on dynasty radars as A.J. Pierzynski's successor.
Justin Smoak, 1B, Texas Rangers
The Goose Creek, S.C., native split time between two AFL clubs, though he managed to hit .353 in 51 at-bats despite hitting just two homers. His defense is questionable, but the Rangers might overlook that given his solid power. Keep him on your long-term cheat sheets as he is still at least one year away.
Rhyne Hughes, 1B, Tampa Bay Rays
Hughes finished with a .394-5-27 line. The homers and RBIs were something he failed to show at similar levels during his 2008 minor league season. At this point, he is not someone to consider for single-year leagues, but he should be added to watch lists in dynasty leagues.
Jeff Larish, 1B, Detroit Tigers
Larish filled up stat sheets at the AFL with a .331 average, 34 runs, six homers and 29 RBIs. He reached the majors last year, hitting .260 with two homers and 16 RBIs in 104 at-bats. Larish, 26, is blocked at his natural position but used his AFL time to start playing third base. He should be on AL-only radars as he might break through as a part-time player, though he'll probably start 2009 at Triple-A.
Wes Hodges, 3B, Cleveland Indians
Hodges enjoyed a surprising AFL season with a .349 average, six homers and 26 RBIs in 109 at-bats. His bat isn't a problem (he can hit for power and average), but he will need to improve his defense and visit Triple-A before reaching the major league level. There's a chance he can battle for the third base job sometime within the next year.
Carlos Triunfel, SS, Seattle Mariners
At just 18 years old, Triunfel was the youngest player to take part in the AFL. He has one of the best infield arms, but there are questions whether he can handle playing shortstop. He may never develop power skills (.298-1-10 in Arizona), and he is likely a couple of years away from the majors. When he arrives, he is scheduled to take over at second base, third base or shortstop.
Gordon Beckham, SS, Chicago White Sox
The talented Beckham batted .394 with 20 runs in 66 at-bats during the AFL and showed he's a capable shortstop that has the ability to play second if need be. Second might be where he has the first shot as the 27-year-old Alexei Ramirez has locked down shortstop. Beckham is slated to test the Double-A waters this season.
Julio Borbon, OF, Texas Rangers
Borbon, a speedy outfielder, finished with a .287 average, 19 runs and seven steals in 87 AFL at-bats. He is a consistent contact hitter that can smack the ball in all directions while contributing in speed and average, and he could battle for a spot with Texas after this season.
Sean Doolittle, OF, Oakland Athletics
Doolittle could also slide in at first, where he has Gold Glove-caliber fielding skills, though he was able to make a smooth transition to the outfield. His bat (.293) and power (eight homers, seven doubles) were positives in the AFL, but 2009 might be too soon for the 22-year-old.
Austin Jackson, OF, New York Yankees
The athletic but somewhat unpolished Jackson split the field at the AFL - some felt he could be an everyday outfielder while others didn't think his game was up to par. He hit just .246 and his other numbers were rather pedestrian (17 runs, 18 RBIs and one homer in 114 at-bats). Look for him in 2010 rather than 2009 as the Yanks are grooming him for a starting role.
Casper Wells, OF, Detroit Tigers
Wells hit surprisingly well (.321) given his .269 combined average during the 2008 minor league season, but his slugging was on display during the AFL (eight homers, .705 slugging percentage). He moved further up the organizational depth chart with his AFL showing, though there doesn't appear to be room for him in the majors just yet.
Brian Matusz, SP, Baltimore Orioles
Some felt the tall lefty is already major-league ready after he struck out 31 batters despite posting a 4.73 ERA in 26 2/3 innings in the AFL. That might be a bit presumptuous, but with uncertainty in both the Orioles bullpen and rotation, he should be up in the majors sooner rather than later. He projects as a front-end starter.
Aaron Poreda, SP, Chicago White Sox
The 2007 first-round pick was limited to just one-inning appearances during the AFL; his ERA didn't come out well (7.71 ERA) but his live arm earned him high praise (12 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings). Although he's a long shot, Poreda will challenge for the No. 5 spot in the Sox rotation in spring training but may instead settle into the bullpen. Keep an eye on him in AL-only universes for this season.
Daniel Cortes, SP, Kansas City Royals
Cortes' AFL season didn't live up to the standards set during his stellar 2008 campaign at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. In the desert he finished with a 7.24 ERA and .333 opponents' average but still managed 26 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings. Given the uncertainty in the Royals rotation, Cortes could find a spot there later in the year.
Jeff Manship, SP, Minnesota Twins
Manship didn't enjoy a successful AFL, posting just a 5.01 ERA, but he managed 29 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings. He might not ever turn into a top-of-the-rotation starter, but he could settle in as a mid-rotation innings eater. The Twins are stacked with promising young starters, though, so his future role remains up in the air.
John Bannister, RP, Texas Rangers
The righty fanned 19 in 18 innings (12 appearances) in the AFL and has a shot at a bullpen spot with Texas for 2009. He averaged 8.1 K's per nine minor league innings. Consider him a deep AL-only sleeper this year, but he may have to stop at Triple-A Oklahoma first.