Arizona Fall League Begins With Seven Phillies Prospects
While the closest thing to Phillies news at the Major League level is the preponderance of 2008 heroes on other teams in the playoffs, there is some news going on at the Minor League level. In Scottsdale, Arizona, seven Phillies prospects joined prospects from the 29 other teams in the Arizona Fall League on Tuesday.
On the Scottsdale Scorpions, the Phillies players join those from the Angels, Mets, Yankees, and Giants. None of Philadelphia’s highest ranked prospects are here (although Scott Kingery is probably near the team’s top 10), but it is an important opportunity for these interesting players to develop and potentially demonstrate enough progress to earn a 40-man roster spot. Below is a quick guide to the seven players representing the Phillies.
Victor Arano – RHP
A 21-year old righty, Victor Arano was an interesting piece brought over from the Dodgers in the 2014 Roberto Hernandez trade. At the time of the deal, he was generally considered one of the top 20 prospects in Los Angeles’ farm system, and was noted for his advanced physical maturity for his age, advanced feel for pitching, low 90s fastball, and above-average slider. He spent 2015 in the high-A Clearwater rotation where his strikeout rate (and results) dropped precipitously. He was still only one of the youngest players in the league, but converted to relief in 2016 after a dominant Mexican Winter League stint in the bullpen.
He’s since been called one of the best relief prospects in the farm system. The only solid velocity reports I’ve found are spoken in this video from July, where his fastball sat 94 mph (hitting 97 mph), and his slider was in the low-mid 80s. Anecdotally, his command was also very strong in that appearance. This increase in velocity is backed up by his 23.8 percent K-BB rate in high-A and double-A this season. He’s still a year away from being Rule 5 eligible, so there’s no rush make a decision here (and likely no roster space anyway), but a continuation of his dominant season in the AFL could feasibly fast-track Arano to begin next season in Lehigh Valley. He could certainly pitch Major League innings in 2017.
Brandon Leibrandt – LHP
Leibrandt, the Phillies’ sixth round pick in 2014, is a 6’4″ lefty from Florida State who spent most of 2016 recovering from shoulder surgery. In college, he featured a fastball sitting 84-88 mph (touching 90 mph), but with a plus changeup and command. That isn’t the most exciting profile, but a little-cited comment by Kiley McDaniel in 2014 at least mentioned that Leibrandt’s velocity hit the low 90s in his draft year. At minimum, he has a potential Major League future.
He has also featured one of the most immediately impressive stat lines of any Phillies’ Minor League pitcher. Over his career (including 10 starts in 2016), Leibrandt has managed to maintain a 2.76 ERA, a 16 percent K-BB rate, and a ground ball rate hovering in the mid-40 percent range. Expect those rates to tighten up as he continues to climb the ladder, but he’s considered to have the potential to be a back-end starting pitcher. For Leibrandt, the Fall League is mostly an opportunity to make up some of the time he lost due to injury last season. A good performance in Arizona may result in his addition to the double-A Reading roster out of Spring Training.
Miguel Nunez – RHP
Miguel Nunez is another hard-throwing pitcher who saw his strikeout rate jump after a conversion to the bullpen. His fastball is reported to sit 95-96 mph, with unexciting secondaries. With a 13.9 percent walk rate, the velocity he’s added has also come at the cost of some command. He can get some whiffs with the fastball, which is very encouraging, but can still struggle to repeat his release point.
For most Minor League pitchers with that velocity, it is an issue of “who cares?”, because they’re still developing and have time to fix it. However, as a pending Minor League free agent, this is the time where the Phillies are deciding if they’ll add him to the 40-man roster. With a roster crunch this offseason, he’s an edge case, aided by the literal requirement that the Phillies’ field a full Major League bullpen next season. For Nunez, the Arizona Fall League has more consequence than for the other prospects sent by Philadelphia. Even if he isn’t added to the Phillies’ roster, he’s auditioning for all 30 teams in the event that he leaves as an MiLB free agent.
Jeff Singer – LHP
A lefty who went undrafted out of college, Singer is a local product who impressed team scouts during his time with the independent league Camden Riversharks in 2015. He well surpassed expectations in his first affiliated season, producing a 22.2 percent K-BB rate, 50 percent groundball rate, and a 1.79 ERA across three levels in his MiLB debut. He’s only 6’0″ tall and had a 90 mph fastball in what was his draft year, but a great profile by Phil Anastasia revealed that his fastball now sits at 95 mph, while hitting 99 mph. Especially as a lefty with a deceptive delivery, that’s an impact pitch. He also features a curveball and changeup.
Such an unheralded signing makes for an unusual AFL participant, but like Leibrandt, it seems like Singer is trying to get more time in against even tougher competition. He spent the early part of the season in extended Spring Training until the short-season leagues began, and only pitched 40.1 innings in total during the regular season.
Scott Kingery – 2B
Kingery is undoubtedly the highest profile prospect being sent by the Phillies to the Fall League. He was the team’s second round pick in 2015 out of the University of Arizona, and is an above-average hitter who projects to stay at second base in the Major Leagues. After a very strong performance in Clearwater this season (128 wRC+, 26 stolen bases in 94 games), he struggled in his promotion to Reading (64 wRC+, with a jump in strikeouts in 37 games).
It isn’t totally clear how much of his late season struggles were caused by facing tougher competition, and how much was just wearing down at the end of his longest season yet. Regardless, the Fall League provides Kingery an opportunity to tackle both problems, as he gets used to an even further extended season (more closely approximating length of a full Major League season) against top prospects. Regardless of what happens over the next few weeks, he’ll almost certainly begin 2017 back in Reading, but he may make an appearance at Major League Spring Training.
Mitch Walding – 3B
Walding, an over-slot fifth round pick in 2011, had a similar season to Kingery in 2016. With the Clearwater Threshers, he excelled in the Florida State League (137 wRC+ over 100 games) but regressed in the hitter’s paradise in Reading (103 wRC+ in 23 games). With a high strikeout rate (and a .371 BABIP propelling his early season success), there are some major holes in his profile. He has above-average power and isn’t afraid to take a walk when necessary, but it’s unlikely that he hits at the Major League level.
Like Nunez, the Phillies are also making a decision on his 40-man roster status this winter. He is one of the many Rule 5 eligible players in the Phillies’ system, and in the AFL he also gets to extend his season against strong competition. Because I doubt he’ll be picked in the Rule 5 draft, I don’t think there’s a high likelihood that the Phillies are making too much of an actual decision with him at the AFL. Presuming he remains, he’ll likely return to Reading next season.
Aaron Brown – OF
Brown was the team’s third round pick out of Pepperdine in 2014, and in 2016, was promoted to double-A Reading. He struggled during his time there (88 wRC+ in 74 games), but was one of the Phillies’ representatives in the 2016 Futures Game. He has the ability to play in all three outfield positions, has an above-average arm, and above-average raw power. While he did improve his walk rate this year, he still strike out more than you’d like, and hasn’t gotten to his power yet. However, he dealt with a wrist injury in July, shortening his season.
The circumstances of that injury are unclear, so we don’t know how long that affected his production prior to hitting the disabled list, but like everyone else, he gets to make up for lost time in the AFL. There are no real roster considerations related to Brown this offseason, but where ends up on opening day in 2017 is an interesting question. I certainly don’t have any information about this, but it’s possible he returns to Reading with a plan for a quick promotion if he proves he’s mastered the level.