There are always plenty of empty seats at the AFL games
The 2011 Arizona Fall League will begin tomorrow, so it's about time that I posted the AFL preview for 2011. Before we look at the upcoming season, however, let's reflect back on last year how the Dodgers' AFL players from 2010 fared in 2011. A year ago the Dodgers sent 9 guys to the AFL, and 5 of those players spent time in the MLB in 2011. Javy Guerra and Scott Elbert were integral parts of the Dodgers bullpen, while Jerry Sands, Trayvon Robinson, and Ivan De Jesus also spent time in the big leagues this past season. The remaining players from the 2010 AFL team that didn't make it to the big leagues (Justin Miller, Jon Link, Steven Ames, and Matt Wallach) all took a step back in 2011, with the exception of Ames who had a great minor league season in 2011 and is returned to the AFL this year.
Based on last year's AFL players, you can see the importance of the players who spend time in this advanced fall league. This year's Dodger prospects will all be part of the newest AFL team named the Salt River Rafters, with the exception of Angelo Songco who will be on the Surprise Saguaros due to positional needs. Other organizations sending players to the Rafters are the Rockies, the Dbacks, the Tigers, and the Astros, and some of the notable prospects from these other teams are Drew Pomeranz, Andy Oliver, David Nick, Tim Wheeler, and Alex Castellanos.
AFL Dodger Pitching Prospects
Steven Ames - RHP - 23.5 years old - Ames got knocked around in the AFL in 2010, but he was outstanding during the 2011 regular season which he split between Rancho Cucamonga and Chattanooga. In his 48 innings combined between the two levels, Ames had a 2.06 ERA, a 2.22 FIP, a K/9 of 12.9, and 14 saves. The AFL will give him great experience against some of the games' top prospects, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he made his major league debut in 2012.
Stephen Fife - RHP - 25 years old - Fife was acquired by the Red Sox in the trade for Trayvon Robinson, and he is a guy that doesn't seem to offer a whole lot of upside. His career numbers show an ERA of around 4 and a K/9 of below 7. He may have enough stuff to be a spot starter in the big leagues a la Jon Ely, but I just don't think he'll ever be a significant major league player. Maybe he'll prove me wrong with a solid showing in the AFL.
Cole St. Clair - LHP - 25 years old - St. Clair had a breakout season in 2011 despite struggling down the stretch. The big lefty was nearly unhittable over the first 3 months of the season and had allowed just 3 earned runs through the month of June, which turned a lot of heads and had some minor league fans calling for a promotion. Unfortunately he gave up 14 earned runs in July and August which left his season ERA at a more pedestrian 3.04. Cole only threw 50.1 innings in 2011 compared to 72.2 in 2010 so I don't think his slump was related to fatigue, but whatever the case he'll use the AFL to try and get back into a groove.
Josh Wall - RHP - 24.5 years old - After spending 6 seasons as a starting pitcher without much success, Wall moved to the bullpen in 2011 and seems to have found new life. While his overall stats weren't all that impressive and he ended the season with a in a bit of a slump, Wall put together a few solid months of work and gives me hope for his future. He's already resigned with the Dodgers for next season, and a strong push in the AFL could really put Wall and his mid-90's fastball back on the Dodger prospect radar.
AFL Dodger Hitting Prospects
Griff Erickson - C - 23.5 years old - Erickson is the perfect prospect for the Arizona Fall League as he is a young emerging player coming off a breakout season. After struggling to the tune of a .215 average in 2010 with the Loons, the switch hitting catcher showed huge improvement in 2011 and finished the season all the way up AA. Throughout his minor league career Griff had always posted strong walk to strikeout ratios, but this past season he added power to his resume as he almost tripled his previous career high in homers and finished with 13 bombs. It will be interesting to see how Erickson fares in the AFL against some of the game's top players.
Jake Lemmerman - SS - 22.5 years old - After an MVP campaign in 2010 with the Raptors, Late Night had a solid yet unspectacular sophomore season in 2011 that was split between HiA and AA. Lemmerman hit a combined .283 with 10 jacks and a .785 OPS while playing mediocre defense at shortstop. He's the best middle infield prospect the Dodgers have, and with Dee Gordon looking more and more like the Dodgers shortstop of the future, the AFL would be a perfect opportunity for Lemmerman to play a little 2nd and 3rd base.
Alex Castellanos - OF - 25 years old - The Dodgers got Castellanos from the Cardinals in the Furcal trade, and he proved his worth in his 32 games with the Lookouts. While he's not much of a physical specimen, Castle cranked out 23 bombs during the 2011 season and posted an OPS of .958. Given his age I'm not sure that anyone really sees Alex as a future starting big league starting outfielder, but a good showing in the AFL should put him on track to play in AAA in 2012; and from there you just never know when you're going to get the call.
Kyle Russell - OF - 25 years old - Russell had a predictable season in 2011, reaching the 20 HR plateau for the 3rd straight year while striking out a ton. The bad news is that Kyle hit a career low .255, and after posting an OPS above .900 in his first three professional seasons, his OPS was "just" .831 in 2011. Russell did earn a late season promotion to AAA where he struggled through 11 games, and that is where he should expect to spend 2012. Since he's on the taxi squad he's only be eligible to play twice a week (Wed and Sat) for the Rafters.
Angelo Songco - 1B - 23 years old - Songco had a huge season in 2011, but he might be a big lonely in the AFL because he's been separated from the rest of his Dodger teammates and will play for the Surprise Saguaros. Apparently this is due to positional needs, but I still find this a bit strange. Anyways, Songco shot up the Dodger prospect charts last season thanks to his 29 homers and 114 RBI. He's switched positions from left field to 1st base, and he has the power to get stick there. Like Russell he's on the taxi squad playing just twice a week, and this will be great experience for Songco before heading to AA in 2012. (EDIT: Songco is no longer listed on the Surprise roster, so we'll just have to wait and see if he is actually going to be playing in the AFL)