2010 Pittsburgh Pirates Arizona Fall League Recap

The Arizona Fall League wrapped up last week, finishing off the 2010 seasons of seven Pittsburgh Pirates prospects.  The season gets a lot of attention for being one of the most prestigious off-season leagues.  That’s because the league is mostly made up of players from the AA or AAA level.  That gives some players additional or first time experience against talent at the higher levels, while giving other players the chance to continue to refine their skills against that higher level of competition.

While the league gets a lot of attention, the results, both good and bad, shouldn’t be weighed too heavily.  A pitcher is going to see around 15-20 innings, while a hitter is going to see about 100 at-bats at most, all in the span of about two months.  Few players play every day, which can make it hard to maintain consistency.  A player can see an increase or a decrease in his value from his AFL results, but any movement would be minor, and would be a result of a trend that existed prior to the AFL season, rather than a trend that was exclusive to the AFL season.

With that in mind, here’s how the Pirates prospects ended up during the 2010 AFL season.

Tony Sanchez

Sanchez had a rough time during the AFL season, which can be expected due to the time he missed this year.

Any sign of trouble with a prospect always leads to fearing the worst, that the prospect won’t live up to his potential.  That is especially true in Pittsburgh, where Pirates fans have seen so many highly touted prospects fail to live up to their potential.  Tony Sanchez finished with a .206/.289/.397 line in 68 at-bats in the AFL this season.  He also struggled trying to catch base stealers, and had two errors.  It’s easy to look at those numbers on the surface and start worrying about Sanchez, but the AFL season means very little in this case.

Prior to the AFL season, Sanchez went down with a broken jaw in late June.  He was out of action for three months before the AFL season began, and during that time, he had his jaw wired shut, putting him on a limited diet, which caused some weight loss.  After three months off, plus the loss of weight, Sanchez returned for the AFL season where he played about once every three days.  It’s hard to get back in to a rhythm when you only play in 18 games over a two month period, especially after what Sanchez went through leading up to the AFL season.

For Sanchez, the AFL season was important, as it got him back in to the game after missing so much time in 2010.  As someone who has seen Sanchez in action, this small sample of games does nothing to discredit his defensive skills.  The hitting will make or break Sanchez’s value, although no further judgement can be made in that area until he gets in to an everyday role at the AA level.  Obviously it’s nice to see a player having success at any level or in any league, but considering the rare circumstances with Sanchez during the 2010 season, it’s hard to penalize him for his 2010 AFL results.

Andrew Lambo

Lambo came to the Pirates organization having a down year with the Dodgers, both with his performance at the AA level, and with his 50 game suspension.  Upon joining Altoona, he started finding his power stroke, only to see it quickly disappear due to a shoulder injury.  His power returned around the Eastern League playoffs, and carried over to the AFL season, where Lambo had four homers in 106 at-bats, with a .462 slugging percentage.

Lambo was one of the hottest hitters during the 2010 AFL season, ending up with a .274/.325/.462 line, which was only that low because of his 1-for-14 slump in the final week of the season.  The AFL is made up of mostly AA and AAA talent, which is what Lambo needs to have success against to regain his top prospect status.  So far in his career, Lambo is a .268/.323/.419 hitter.  The Eastern League playoffs and the AFL season are two very small sample sizes, but if they are a sign of Lambo’s future power, then he could end up being a steal for the Pirates.

Josh Harrison

Harrison capped off a great year at the AA level with a great performance in the AFL.  After hitting for a .300/.345/.398 line in 520 at-bats in Altoona during the 2010 season, Harrison was on fire in the AFL, with a .330/.390/.516 line in 91 at-bats.  Harrison also had a great 12:10 K/BB ratio, and flashed some of his speed, with six stolen bases.  The season only further justifies the strong year that Harrison had in 2010, and hopefully will be a sign of things to come in his move to AAA in 2011.

The biggest issue with Harrison is his defense.  He doesn’t have a true defensive position, which projects him to be more of a utility player in the future.  If Harrison hits well enough, he could be a 300 at-bat a year guy, playing second, third, and the corner outfield spots.  Harrison does have some power, mostly due to line drives and speed, and if he can utilize that, he could eventually play himself in to an everyday role.

Jordy Mercer

Mercer’s AFL season was similar to his 2010 season with Altoona.  His average was decent, at .267, but his power was lacking, which takes away his primary appeal.  Mercer hit for a .282/.329/.373 line in 485 at-bats during the 2010 season with Altoona.  He followed that up with a .267/.337/.360 line in 75 at-bats during the AFL season.  When he was drafted, Mercer was supposed to be an offensive minded shortstop with pop in his bat, although that didn’t show in 2010.

Mercer also struggled some with his defense, with eight errors.  Errors in the minors, and in the Arizona Fall League, can’t be taken as a huge testament to a player’s skill level, although Mercer did lead the team with eight errors.  There’s the outside chance that Mercer could return to AA to start the 2011 season, as he falls behind Harrison and Chase d’Arnaud due to his lack of power, which is supposed to be his best strength.

Justin Wilson

Wilson has dealt with control issues throughout his career, lacking consistency from start to start.  That was no different in his AFL experience, as the left hander put up a 4.41 ERA in 16.1 innings over six starts, with a 16:8 K/BB ratio.  Wilson’s fastball ranged from 88-93 MPH in his starts in Pitch F/X stadiums, averaging 90.2 MPH.  There were reports that he touched the 94-95 MPH range in his first start, although the 88-93 MPH range seems accurate based on what I’ve seen of him over the last two years.

Wilson ran in to control problems toward the end of the 2010 season, and saw those same issues in a few of his AFL starts.  Those issues could prevent the starter from making it as a starter in the majors, especially going up against Rudy Owens, Bryan Morris, and Jeff Locke, along with Brad Lincoln ahead of him, and a few talented pitchers following him from the lower levels.  Wilson has a good mix of pitches, but the command issues could end up sticking him in the bullpen in the long term.

Aaron Pribanic

Pribanic had an impressive season in the AFL, with a 2.00 ERA in 18 innings, along with a 9:6 K/BB ratio.  He doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts, but he’s an extreme ground ball pitcher, which can be just as good.  Pribanic actually had similar stuff as Justin Wilson in the AFL season, with a fastball that ranged from 88-93 MPH, averaging 91.1 MPH.  That could make him a guy to watch as he makes the jump to the AA level in 2011.

Pribanic went for the longest time giving up just one run in the AFL season, before falling apart for three runs in 0.2 innings on November 13th.  He still ended up with the fourth best ERA in the league.  This was all after putting up a 3.33 ERA in 154 innings in high-A this year, with a 4.1 K/9 and a 1.9 BB/9.  Pribanic needs to improve his strikeouts, which we saw some in the AFL season.  If he can boost the strikeouts, he could emerge as one of the top pitching prospects in the organization, up there with the 2010 Altoona rotation.

Brian Leach

Leach had a very interesting year.  Working in one inning appearances, he pitched 10 innings during the AFL season, finishing with a 0.00 ERA.  However, his season wasn’t as good as the ERA indicated.  Leach had a 7:7 K/BB ratio in those 10 innings, displaying poor control.  He allowed five unearned runs, due to errors allowed after he put runners on base.  His 1.80 WHIP was one of the worst on the team.

Leach does have impressive stuff, with his fastball ranging from 93-96 MPH, and averaging 94.2.  The control issues haven’t existed in his minor league career, where Leach has mostly worked as a starter.  In 2010, Leach put up a 3.85 ERA in 138 innings as a starter in high-A, with a 6.4 K/9 and a 2.9 BB/9 ratio.  Long term he projects best as a reliever, but definitely can’t repeat his control issues from the 2010 AFL season.

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