The 2012 Arizona Fall League begins Tuesday, with the Scottsdale Scorpions playing their first game at 12:35 PM MST (3:35 PM EST). The Pittsburgh Pirates have seven players on the Scorpions this year. Matt Curry, Gift Ngoepe, and Adalberto Santos will represent the Pirates on the offensive side of the game, while Vic Black, Brandon Cumpton, Kyle Kaminska, and Tyler Waldron will all join the Scottsdale pitching staff.
The AFL is mostly filled with players from the AA and AAA levels, giving some valuable playing time to these prospects. It will be the first opportunity for Gift Ngoepe to play against upper level talent. The rest of the players will gain additional experience against the upper level talent. Here is what each player could afford to work on:
Curry - Curry was inconsistent with his hitting this year. He started off with two decent months, posting a .781 OPS in April and a .774 OPS in May. In June he caught fire, hitting for a 1.276 OPS. He carried that over to July with an .868 OPS. Curry faded down the stretch, with a .719 OPS in August, before being promoted to Triple-A at the end of the year. His potential as a prospect lies with his bat and his power. However, he only had three months with an ISO over .150, and only had two months with an OPS over .800. Neither of those results are ideal for a first base prospect.
Ngoepe - Gift is a plus defensive shortstop, and is also a very fast player and a good base stealer. He should make the jump to Double-A next year, so the time against upper level pitching should help. He’s had some plate patience issues, mostly on the strikeout side of the game. That’s a concern right now, but it’s also worth considering his background, which doesn’t include a lot of organized baseball experience. That makes his high strikeout totals different than someone who has been playing for years in high school, college, and the lower levels. It also leaves open the chance that he could improve his numbers.
Santos - He missed some time this year with an injury, but when he was healthy he tore up Double-A pitching. Santos should get the promotion to Triple-A next year, but some added playing time against upper level talent won’t hurt. The AFL is more of a showcase league, and this would be a good opportunity for him to display the hitting talent that led to his strong season in Altoona.
Black - Black has late inning stuff, with a fastball that touches the upper 90s, and a hard slider which gets a ton of strikeouts. He does lack control at times, which led to a high walk rate this past year. If he could cut down on the control issues, he could turn in to a very dominant reliever.
Cumpton - He has put up some good numbers in the rotation the last two years, with a 3.84 ERA in 152.1 innings in Double-A this year. He throws as hard as 97, although he’s mostly in the 89-93 MPH range as a starter. He hasn’t been as dominant as a starter, lacking strong strikeout numbers. He does get a lot of ground balls, and isn’t afraid to pitch inside. If he wants to remain a starter, Cumpton will need to add some strikeouts. Otherwise his upside might be better as a reliever.
Kaminska - The Pirates added Kaminska in the Gorkys Hernandez/Gaby Sanchez trade. The right-hander turned 24 years old last week, which makes him a little on the older side for high-A and Double-A. That’s where he pitched while with the Pirates, getting time in the rotation. Kaminska worked as a starter up until the 2011 season, where he primarily worked as a reliever. He remained a reliever this year with Miami, until coming over in the trade. With the Pirates he eventually moved in to the rotation, and had a few good starts. He’ll need to show more of that before emerging as a legit starting prospect.
Waldron - Waldron is in a similar situation as Cumpton. As a reliever he can throw much harder than he can as a starter. As a starter he doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters. Waldron has less of a chance of sticking as a starter, since he doesn’t have the strong ground ball rates to fall back on. He also has been hit harder, leading to a higher ERA. He’s plagued by the long ball, giving up 14 this year. Most of that is due to a lack of movement on his fastball.
Throughout the AFL season we will be updating the progress of these players, with the first update coming today after the Scottsdale Scorpions game.