Some final observations from my trip to the Arizona Fall League:
Starlin Castro is a future star. He won't turn 20 until March but was one of the best and most impressive hitters I saw in Arizona. He has excellent hand-eye coordination and can keep his hands inside the ball even when pitchers try to work him inside. His swing can get long on balls away, and he wraps his bat, but he makes a ton of contact and squares up on a lot of pitches out of the zone. He showed he can stay with sliders from right-handers -- this is good, because I saw way too many guys last week who could hit fastballs but not same-side breaking balls -- and showed signs of future power even to the opposite field. At shortstop, he has good lateral range, especially to his right, and a 65-70 arm on the 20-80 scale. There's still a significant amount of projection here; he slugged .392 (.093 isolated power percentage) this year between high Class A and Double-A. He is, though, one of the best shortstops in the minors. (I heard a few comparisons of Castro to Alfonso Soriano, and although there's some physical resemblance, Soriano has a longer swing and always has been a bit of a hacker, while Castro has better bat control and ability to adjust to changing speeds.)
To read more from Keith Law's trip to Arizona -- including his thoughts on the future backstop in the Bronx -- you must be an ESPN Insider.
Lorenzo Cain is fully recovered from the knee injury that wiped out half his 2009 season, and there's some reason to think he's the Brewers' future center fielder. He strides into the ball -- maybe a little early -- with strong hands and good bat speed, hitting hard line drives to all fields. He's still wiry-strong but should add muscle with time, in which case I'd expect average power. He's been an above-average runner in the past but didn't show it in the AFL, likely because of the knee injury. He has the arm and athleticism to play center, but I'd like to see him running at 100 percent before saying he's definitely the successor to Mike Cameron.
Hector Gomez is still what I saw of him in May -- star tools without polish. He has quick hands and good bat speed, is an above-average runner and moves well at short with more than enough arm. The ball comes off his bat well, and I've seen him drive balls out to left field. Two things I can't stand about Gomez, though: his feet and his eye. He barely strides at the plate after starting with his feet pretty closed, giving him a weak, unbalanced base for hitting. This, however, is a relatively easy problem to address. His eye, on the other hand, needs more of a long-term correction, as he's incredibly impatient and tries to hit a lot of pitches that are too far out of the zone. Just get his feet working, and you've got a potential everyday shortstop because of the position and bat speed; get him to take a pitch more than once a week, and you might have an impact guy.
The Rockies also sent top catching prospect Wilin Rosario to Arizona after he had a disappointing half season in Modesto, Calif., a two-level jump from where he spent 2008. Rosario injured his wrist in a play at the plate in late July and didn't play after the 28th of that month, but he didn't appear rusty in Arizona. His swing is compact with good follow-through, and he has good plate coverage up, but sets his hands up high and gets long when he swings at anything down in the zone. He has a little pop now but doesn't let the ball travel, limiting how much he can drive the ball. He'll turn 21 in late February.
I get a lot of e-mails asking about whether Austin Romine is the Yankees' catcher of the future, and based on what I saw in Arizona, the answer is I don't know. He has plenty of arm, and his receiving is adequate, but I'm not sure about the bat. His swing works fine, but he has a big stride and a pretty healthy leak, getting his weight on his front foot early and closing his stance late, so his balance isn't great and he doesn't get as much power into contact as he could. He's still just 20 years old and was young for his level this season, but he has some work to do as a hitter before we can talk about him as successor to Jorge Posada.
Daryl Jones is a strong, athletic outfielder with excellent bat speed and strong hands and wrists. His set-up is pretty wide at the plate, and he might be better off starting his legs closer together and striding forward, instead of his current no-stride/tap approach. He's an above-average runner who should have the range to play anywhere in the outfield. My one concern is power: He didn't hit for much this season (his regular season was derailed by a quad strain), and he's already pretty strong, showing good power in BP but not as much in games.
The Blue Jays sent one of the least impressive crops of prospects to the AFL, led by 2008 first-rounder David Cooper. Cooper is a first baseman with a short, flat swing and below-average power potential -- and he's not likely to do enough of anything else (hit for average, walk, play defense) to overcome that lack of power at a position where offensive production matters so much. On the 20-80 scale, he's a 45, a below-average regular or a bench player, which is not what you want to see from a recent first-round pick. Look for the Jays to avoid such conservative selections now that Alex Anthopoulos has replaced the risk-averse J.P. Ricciardi as GM.
Another mediocre crop, arguably headlined by Jordan Danks, who hit very well in high A but was exposed quickly after a midseason promotion to Double-A. Danks has a long swing, aggravated by a first move where his hands go back and down away from his rear shoulder. His plate coverage on anything in the lower half of the zone is poor. I don't see him hitting enough to be an everyday player. Chicago's other high-profile prospect in Arizona, Dayan Viciedo, still has raw power and a big swing that will produce a ton of strikeouts, and there's no way he'll stay at third base with his body type. Viciedo at least has time on his side, as he's just 20 and has limited baseball experience.