AFL rosters were announced today, but first I want to go over a quick explanation of the AFL for those that don't know. The Arizona Fall League is a prospect league that operates in October and early November. There are only 6 teams in the AFL and each is comprised of prospects from 5 different MLB teams. Each major league team is required to send 6 prospects. Of those 6 prospects, teams name a priority position/player which guarantees that prospect more playing time.
You can think of the AFL as a sort of finishing school for some of the better prospects, though not all that go are top prospects. Sometimes teams will sends prospects there to showcase them as a precursor to an offseason trade. There are good prospects from every team in one place so it's a great opportunity for scouts and talent evaluators of which there will be many in attendance.
Last year the Brewers sent Jason Rogers, Mitchell Haniger (last year's priority player), Taylor Jungmann, David Goforth, Tyler Cravy, Kevin Shackelford, and Adam Weisenburger to the AFL. They played for the Surprise Saguaros. This year the Brewers prospects will be playing for the Glendale Desert Dogs. Here are the players being sent this year:
Tyrone Taylor: 20 yrs old, RHH CF, drafted 2nd round 2012, 2014- A+: 275/327/396, 6 HR, 21 SB, 105 wRC+
Teams are only allowed to include one player from below the AA level. Tyrone Taylor is that player for the Brewers. At first glance one might find Taylor's offensive numbers to be a bit underwhelming. I find his numbers encouraging. When drafted he was considered raw and has actually progressed more quickly than first envisioned. He's only 20 years old so he's still filling out his frame and when he does, some of the 36 doubles he hit this year will turn into home runs. He's also an above average fielding center fielder. The Brewers saw enough from him to make him their priority player.
This is just conjecture, but I wonder if the fact that the Brewers are sending Tyrone Taylor to the AFL means they're ready to accelerate his path to the majors. To this point he's tackled one level per year. However once a prospect reaches AA they sometimes start splitting seasons between levels. If Taylor splits next year between AA and AAA, that could push his MLB arrival date to mid-2016 instead of 2017. That would be very exciting as he projects to be the future center fielder. Again, this is just my thought and not necessarily what the Brewers are thinking.
Nick Ramirez: 25 yrs old, LHH 1B, drafted 4th round 2011, 2014-AA: 235/315/421, 19 HR, 102 wRC+
Ramirez is more than a non-prospect, but he's not a future regular. He has decent power, though it's a bit underwhelming for a first baseman and he strikes out a lot. This is the first year he's had a double digit walk rate and his strikeout rate did drop a bit for the second year in a row (though still too high). These could be signs of improvement, but at 25 he is old for his level, so we should curb our enthusiasm.
Even though Hunter Morris has not impressed these last two years, I don't see much from Nick Ramirez to supplant his position in AAA. Despite his assignment to the AFL, I wouldn't be surprised to see Ramirez begin 2015 back in AA. I think the best case with him is probably the strong side of a platoon at first base if he reaches the majors at all. So perhaps the real best case would be for him to impress a team somewhere enough to be an interesting throw-in piece of a trade.
Hector Gomez: 26 yrs old, RHH SS, acquired on waivers 2012, 2014-AAA: 280/321/486, 15 HR, 104 wRC+
This is interesting. I wrote about Gomez as a possible September call-up, but he was recently placed on the DL making it very unlikely. He's a set to become a minor league free agent after this year unless the Brewers place him on the 40-man roster. His inclusion in the AFL all but makes that a guarantee.
He was always a good fielder, but this year he finally took a step forward with his bat. He has very good power for a middle infielder. If he's finally turning a corner he could be a legitimate option as a starting shortstop. He is only 26 after all. With Segura's struggles this year (and the second half of last year) the door is at least cracked open a little. I would expect Segura to be starting next year (with a very long leash), Elian Herrera as the back up, and Gomez starting at AAA. However Hector Gomez could become the primary back-up at some point with the potential for more if Segura's struggles continue. At this point it's still a pipe dream though.
Shawn Zarraga: 25 yrs old, RHH C, 44th rd 2007, 2014-AA: 340/445/432, 151 wRC+/AAA: 213/304/355, 51 wRC+
Zarraga is more of a non-prospect/org filler than anything. I've read he's not very good behind the plate so he's not a realistic option at the major league level. He's going to the AFL as part of the taxi squad. That means he's only eligible to play on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Basically, he's going to give guys days off.
Wei-Chung Wang: 22 yrs old, LH SP, acquired in 2014 Rule 5 draft, 2014-MLB: 4.4 K-BB%, 11.12 ERA
Okay, this is fun. I recently learned the most recent Rule 5 picks were eligible for the AFL and was really hoping Wang would be included. His MLB numbers look awful, but you have to understand, this is a kid who had never pitched an inning above Rookie League baseball. The Brewers never truly expected him to succeed at the major league level. That wasn't why they grabbed him. What they hoped and are still hopeful for is that in about 2 or 3 years he can be a competent MLB starter.
His growth as a pitcher might have been stunted a little by spending half the year as a seldom used reliever, but after getting "hurt" he was able to make a few rehab starts. Now he's going to get several more starts in the AFL basically to make up for missed time. Next year he'll likely start in A+ ball. I would expect him to play 2016 at the AA level and 2017 at the AAA. After that his minor league options will be up and hopefully he'll be ready for the majors.
Ty Wagner: 23 yrs old, RH SP, 4th rd 2012, 2014-A+: 12.4 K-BB%, 1.91 ERA
This is surprising (and a little confusing). I was under the impression that teams could only send one player from below the AA level to the AFL. Now I'm thinking it's one pitcher and one position player. Wagner flew under the radar a bit, but really impressed this year. I can only assume the Brewers will allow him to continue starting in AA next year and if things go well he could perhaps be in the discussion for the back end of a rotation by 2017 or even a mid-season call up as soon as 2016. With the new found pitching depth in the Brewers farm system, his inclusion in the AFL could also be as a showcase before being included in a trade at some point.
Brooks Hall: 24 yrs old, RH SP, 4th rd 2009, 2014-AA 8.3 K-BB%, 2.77 ERA
Hall's season was cut short by an undisclosed injury (edit: He had bone spurs removed from his elbow). He's mostly been a starter though has pitched in relief a bit each season. His inclusion in the AFL is likely to help him make up for missed time due to injury. It's possible this could also be preparation for converting him to full time relief next year. He's lower on the SP depth chart than Tyler Thornburg, Mike Fiers, Taylor Jungmann, and Jed Bradley so it's unlikely he'd get a chance in the rotation with the big league club any time soon. As always, a trade is a possibility.
Ariel Pena: 25 yrs old, RH SP, acquired in Zack Greinke deal, 2014-AAA: 11.9 K-BB%, 4.56 ERA
This is just a guess, but I think Pena is going to the AFL as a reliever. He's out of minor league options after this year so the Brewers will either have to include him on the major league roster next year or risk losing him on waivers. There is no place for him in the rotation (nor has he shown he's deserving of starting at the MLB level) but he could fit as the long man. He's always had solid strikeout numbers and a fastball in the upper 90s. His problems is his absurdly high walk rate. He probably couldn't survive as a starter, but shorter stints out of the bullpen would help his stuff play up and probably let him add a mile to his already impressive velocity. Again, as always, a trade is a possibility.
I'm pretty excited about this group of prospects. It's a lot more talented than the group the Brewers sent last year. Tyrone Taylor alone makes me want to pay attention. I'm also very pleased to see Wei-Chung Wang and Ty Wagner going. In a perfect world, they could be rotation mates for the Brewers some day. Ariel Pena and Hector Gomez are also intriguing inclusions for their proximity to the majors.