The Arizona Fall League is a short season and given that it coincided with the Indians post-season run this year, it largely went unnoticed. Despite this, playing for the Mesa Solar Sox this year, the Indians chosen few minor leaguers all put up some pretty impressive performances. These, combined with those of the Athletics, Cubs, Blue Jays and Marlins prospects got the Solar Sox to the championship game for the second season in a row (last year with the Scottsdale Scorpions) and for the second time, the Indians affiliate was the champion of the Arizona Fall League. Below are the eight men from Cleveland who helped make that possible.
While he spent 2016 in AA and AAA, Peoples is far down the Indians rankings as far as starting pitchers go. None of the five writers voting on the top ten starting pitchers had him in their rankings at all and I personally don’t have him in my top 60 including all positions, which will be coming out early in December.
Despite this, Peoples was the staff ace for the Solar Sox, starting on Opening Day and making seven starts with a fairly decent 3.96 ERA. Unlike his career minor league numbers, Peoples was had a great strike out and walk rate, while also limiting hits and home runs. His record of 0-2 was more indicative of his limited innings per start than any issues on the mound. In all, this Fall has slightly improved my view of the 25 year old right hander. He is never going to be an MLB ace, or even a two or three starter, but he could eventually become a reliever or deep end starter for a team that isn’t as stacked as Cleveland. For right now, he’s certainly a better option for the Clippers than someone like Toru Murata has been.
While his average wasn’t great at .269, Allen was arguably one of the top four hitters for the Sox. Playing in nearly every game as the lead-off hitter, he stole 12 bases while being caught only twice and walked ten times to only 17 K’s. Considering that average, both his .380 OBP and his .449 slugging percent (bolstered by three home runs in 22 games after only 7 in the full 2016 season) were extremely impressive.
After about 40 games in AA last year, Allen was already set to begin in Akron, move to Columbus early in 2017 and be a possible September call-up. Now, he should get an invite to MLB Spring Training and could begin the season in AAA as an option for the Majors mid-season, possibly even before Bradley Zimmer.
The Indians other pitchers were all relievers and all had poor numbers in the AFL this year. After his second straight season in Advanced A, Frank was looking to impressive as he should begin the season in Akron next year and things couldn’t have gone much worse as he allowed more than two base runners per inning, allowing an 11.38 ERA in 8.1 innings across 9 appearances. If there is a positive point, it’s that all but one run and all but two hits happened in three individual appearances as he allowed one run and two hits in the six appearances between. He should still begin 2017 in AA.
Hill and Speer were #1 and #2 in our mid-season reliever rankings and both have a great chance at Major League success. They did not, however, find AFL success as they had a 4.80 and 5.27 ERA respectively. The left handed Speer actually had the better season despite the higher ERA as he struck out ten to just two walks and allowed just 14 hits in 14 innings. Hill struggled with his command, hitting three batters and walking seven more. This has been a slight issue in the past (while Speer has had more trouble with contact) and neither pitcher made significant improvements in the Fall League. Both pitchers threw some in AAA last year, but should begin 2017 in Akron. This doesn’t mean that they couldn’t possibly be making MLB debuts by late next year if they can dominate as they did early in their MiLB careers.
The Indians short stop who nearly went to Milwaukee in the failed Jonathan Lucroy trade ended up being the leading hitter on the Solar Sox at .304 and playing better on defense than expected. With two other regular short stops on the team, Chang didn’t play every day, but still managed 17 hits in 56 at bats including five doubles. Where his real troubles lie is with the strike out and, just like Clint Frazier last year, he did little to imbue faith that he can change. After striking out in 26% of his at bats in Lynchburg this year (2.4 K/BB), he struck out in 37.5% of at bats in the AFL with a 7 K/BB rate. As a short stop, his bat remains impressive, but with Eric Stamets already ahead of him and the middle infield pair of Mark Mathias and Tyler Krieger right behind, a position change is likely (probably back to third) and that bat won’t look nearly as impressive there.
The Indians biggest star in the Arizona Fall League this year was the only one to represent his team in the Fall Stars game earlier in November (where he went 0 for 4 with a K). Zimmer, along with Allen, Brian Anderson of the Marlins and Max Schrock of the Athletics, was among the Solar Sox top hitters in 2016, batting .257/.421/.514 with four home runs and a team best seven doubles. Like Chang, he still has a long way to go in cutting down his K’s, but at least he walks some to offset it (35% K-rate, but 1.4 K/BB).
Defensively, Zimmer has been a stand out, working in mostly center despite Allen being a superior center fielder. This is most likely because the Indians believe Zimmer will be first to the Major Leagues and could possibly be their starting center fielder as soon as Opening Day 2017. While advanced defensive stats aren’t available at this level, both outfielders have gotten rave reviews and were the only two players on the Solar Sox to play at least 16 games and not commit an error. While it remains unlikely for Zimmer to break camp with the team next year, it was unlikely for Tyler Naquin to do so this year and unquestionably Zimmer is the better fielder of the two.
As a fourth string catcher, Rubberducks catcher Haase played in only five games making his stats nearly worthless. He did hit slightly better than in AA last year (.278/.316/.444) it’s most likely that Haase will return to Akron after missing much of last season with injury. The Indians signing of Guillermo Quiroz, likely to be a veteran emergency option in AAA ala Adam Moore in 2016, makes this even more probable.