The Arizona Fall League (AFL) season begins tomorrow. For anyone unfamiliar with it, the AFL is a league of six teams made up of prospects from all 30 major league organizations. These are often some of a team's best prospects and it is an opportunity for them to play against other top prospects. The Twins, at least, usually send a mixture of top prospects and borderline prospects they want to see more of against better competition. In general, teams do not send their top pitching prospects to the AFL and it tends to be a hitters league.
This year the Twins have seven players assigned to the Mesa Solar Sox. Here is a brief review of each of them:
Dakota Watts is a 24 year old who was drafted in the 19th round in 2009. He caught people's attention with his strike outs in 2010, but he was not able to repeat those numbers while splitting his 2011 season between A and AA.
Cole Devries is a native of Minnesota and former Gopher pitcher the Twins signed in 2006 as a free agent. He is now 26 years old and split his season between AA and AAA. He has been used as a swing man in the minor leagues.
Brett Jacobsen came to the Twins from the Orioles in the JJ Hardy trade. He was drafted in the 4th round in 2008 by Detroit before being traded to the Orioles. He is now 25 and was used as both a reliever and starter at AA in 2011. He struggled mightily in July, but was very effective after a bad outing on August 4th.
Bruce Pugh was drafted by the Twins in the 19th round in 2008. At 23, he is the youngest of the Twins' pitchers in the AFL and split the 2011 season between A and AA. He missed the entire month of August.
None of these pitchers project as a top prospect. In fact, Jacobsen is the only one who is at all likely to contribute much at the major league level. The other three probably top out as AAAA players providing bullpen depth at AAA. This is a chance for them to test themselves against players who have major league tools.
Chris Herrmann (c,of) Its not clear whether Herrmann will catch in the AFL, play the outfield or both. Since being selected by the Twins in the 6th round of the 2009 draft, Herrmann has split time between the two positions. He is 24 and split his 2011 season between A and AA. His bat does not project as anything special as an outfielder but may be good enough to play there in the big leagues. His offense would be a plus behind the plate. Where he plays in the AFL may be an indication of how the Twins see his future.
Brian Dozier (inf) was drafted by the Twins in the 8th round of the 2009 draft. He was invited to spring training in 2011 at age 24 despite having never played above A ball. That is an indication the Twins see a future for him in the big leagues. He rewarded the Twins confidence in him with an outstanding offensive season split between A and AA. Like many minor league shortstops, he will likely end up at second base in the major leagues. Again, it will be interesting to see where he plays in the AFL.
Aaron Hicks (of) was the Twins first round draft choice in 2008. He has been at or near the top of most Twins prospect lists ever since. He is an outstanding defensive center fielder with great range and a plus arm. His bat and power also project as having outstanding major league potential. You will notice "project" and "potential". Hicks was a raw prospect when drafted and his slow development has frustrated some fans (and probably the Twins and Hicks himself as well.) At 22, he is the second youngest player on the Mesa roster, although there are several players effectively the same age.
All three of these players are true prospects. Hicks is clearly the best of the bunch, with Dozier being the closest to contributing at the major league level. The AFL is always fun to follow, especially this year when the Twins are out of the playoffs. Its important not to get too excited about the results. Its a short season and there is an imbalance of good hitting compared to the pitching. And sometimes individual players are worn out from a long minor league season.