The 2010 Arizona Fall League begins today, with the Mesa Solar Sox playing their first game at 12:35 PM MST (3:35 PM EST). The Pittsburgh Pirates have seven players on the Solar Sox this year. Tony Sanchez, Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison, and Andrew Lambo will represent the Pirates on the offensive side of the game, while Justin Wilson, Aaron Pribanic, and Brian Leach will all join the Mesa pitching staff.
The AFL is mostly filled with players from the AA and AAA levels, giving some valuable playing time to these prospects. For Sanchez, Pribanic, and Leach, it will be their first opportunity to go against talent from the higher levels. For Mercer, Harrison, Lambo, and Wilson, it will provide additional experience against the upper level talent. The experience will be important for all of the prospects, but especially important to Sanchez, who missed a lot of time this year after having his season cut short due to season ending surgery from a fastball to the face. Here is what each player could afford to work on:
Sanchez - The additional experience is the most important thing for Sanchez. He should have been in Altoona at some point during the 2010 season, but his injuries prevented that from happening. He is expected to start the 2011 season in Altoona, and the AFL experience can help ensure that he remains on a fast track to the majors.
Lambo - Lambo had a down year in 2010, although he showed some promise in the Eastern League playoffs. He missed a lot of time due to a drug suspension in 2010, so the additional experience will help. It would be nice to see him returning to his top prospect status, putting up the performance that made him the #49 prospect in baseball prior to the 2009 season.
Wilson - The big thing Wilson needs to work on is his control. Wilson had a great season statistically in Altoona this season, although his control wasn’t consistent, leading to some bad outings along the way. Wilson could be in the majors as soon as June 2011, but I’m not sold that he can be a starter with his current control inconsistencies.
Mercer - Mercer improved his batting average this year, but saw a dip in his power production, and has always had a poor on-base percentage. Mercer could improve his stock by improving his plate patience, especially working on the low and away breaking ball which has given him trouble over the last two seasons. The AFL is a pitcher friendly league, so Mercer’s power will have to be shown in extra base hits.
Harrison – Harrison had a great offensive season in Altoona this year, although he doesn’t have a true defensive position. Harrison projects as a super utility player, with the ability to play second, third, and the corner outfield spots. For now, he has the most value at second base, although he could use work at any of the positions to improve his defensive skills.
Pribanic – Pribanic is a hard thrower, and a sinker ball pitcher, but the one downside is that he lacks strong strikeout numbers. Due to the sinking action on his fastball, he gets a lot of ground ball outs, relying on his defense a lot. He could be a top pitching prospect if he improved his strikeout numbers, but that would require some improvement on his breaking pitches.
Leach - Leach has a big frame and good stuff, and probably projects best as a reliever. That’s where he will work, according to a Pirates Prospects interview with Leach a few weeks ago. Leach has mostly been a starter in his pro career, but profiles best for the Pirates as a reliever, as he gets lost behind some of the pitching talent that is currently at the high-A/AA level. Leach threw 91-95 MPH this past year, making him a good candidate to be a strong bullpen prospect going forward.
Throughout the AFL season I will be updating the progress of these players, with the first update coming today after the Mesa Solar Sox game.