Andrew Miller is in the Arizona Fall League to work on some changes that Florida Marlins' coaches have made to his delivery, and while he's no longer a "prospect" in the strict sense of the word, it's a great use of the AFL by the parent club and elevates the overall quality of the league. Miller was strong on Saturday night, with an easier delivery that featured a higher slot (at or near three-quarters) and a more in-line landing (meaning he doesn't throw across his body the way he used to). The good news is that he was hitting 92-97 mph with some sink and showed a hard downward-breaking curveball -- better than the long, sweepy slider he threw from a low three-quarters slot before the changes. The bad news is that he didn't throw strikes, with two four-pitch walks in his two innings and another walk, finishing with 16 strikes thrown in 36 total pitches. The delivery is better, though, and he may just need time to get used to it.
The rest of Keith's observations from a weekend in the Arizona Fall League -- including another young Texas Rangers pitcher to watch out for -- are available to ESPN Insiders.
Andrew Cashner, the Chicago Cubs' first-round pick in 2008, was excellent, working from 93-98 mph -- half of his first 10 fastballs were 96 or better -- with a hard slider with very good tilt from 83-88 mph. His arm action is pretty short, although it looked like he had a slight wrist-wrap. He worked quickly and went right after hitters, but his fastball command was only fair, and given his performance this year in the minors I'd still project him as a reliever, but a top-flight one.
Tanner Scheppers, a supplemental pick by the Texas Rangers this year who signed for first-round money, was even more impressive than Cashner, sitting at 95-98 with a vicious curveball with hard, late two-plane break. He appeared to be amped up for the short outing; I doubt he'd sit at that velocity as a starter, but even 92-95 with that breaking ball would get hitters out multiple times per game. His arm works well, and his potential to be a front-line starter is really just a question of the state of his shoulder.
Atlanta Braves reliever Lee Hyde was the team's fourth-round pick in 2006 out of Georgia Tech, but he's logged just 97 innings since then due to Tommy John surgery and a shoulder injury. The good news: The stuff and approach he showed on Friday night would work in any major league 'pen right now. Hyde was 92-94 with a sharp 84-87 mph slider that he needs to show he can bury below the zone. He also flashed a changeup with good tumble. He's not a big guy and his delivery is compact with good leverage and a lot of deception. Hyde finished strongly at Double-A this year, and if he's healthy in March and pitches like this, he should have a legitimate chance to make that club.
Marlins OF Mike Stanton, all of 19 years of age, hit a ball out off Brendan Gomes that cleared not just the outfield fence in Mesa, but the chain-link fence maybe 20 feet beyond it. The pitch came in at 91 mph and left at 101. Stanton struggled with decent breaking balls, especially sliders, but he can murder a fastball or a mistake anywhere near the zone. He also showed he can track fastballs down and/or away from him. His swing is long and probably always will be, and he leaks a little before his swing -- but the raw power is as good as that of any player in the minors.
In that same game, fellow Marlins prospect Matt Dominguez made two incredible plays at third base -- one diving to his right to stop a hard ground ball down the line, another to barehand a grounder that bounced off the third-base bag and flew up in a different direction -- and showed that he can also hit the fastball (although Dominguez's hit was a hard single to center). Dominguez's recognition of -- and reactions to -- sliders, however, remain a major stumbling block, one he'll have to get past if he wants to be more than the next Pedro Feliz. He and Stanton were both in Florida's 2007 draft; Dominguez is young enough to make the adjustment.
Boston Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias, a Cuban defector who signed a four-year deal worth $8.2 million, is legit at shortstop, but as for his bat? I don't see the argument that he'll never hit, but it would be hard to project him as more than a hitter for average and maybe some doubles power. He's very short to the ball with almost no load and has quick wrists, so getting to the ball and driving it to the outfield shouldn't be a problem. It's not a swing that's going to generate power and he doesn't square balls up consistently, although the latter could come with time. I could see an Adam Everett downside here unless he proves to be a degenerate hacker at the plate. Fellow Boston farmhand Dustin Richardson could fill one of the lefty spots in the Red Sox's 'pen next year, with an average fastball/slider combination that should make him effective against left-handed hitters; he didn't show a third pitch he could use against right-handers but hasn't shown much of a platoon split in his minor league career.
I've been asked quite a bit if San Francisco Giants outfielder Thomas Neal's tremendous season in A-ball made him a serious prospect, but having seen him multiple times now, I'd still like to at least see him perform like that in Double-A against higher-quality pitching. Neal's tool set is limited to his bat -- he's a below-average runner and nothing special in an outfield corner -- and at the plate he has that same propensity to swing through, over and around even fringy sliders. He also has a timing issue in his swing, as he rocks back and forth slightly when he should be set and can mistime if the pitch catches him off balance.
By comparison, Chris Heisey of the Cincinnati Reds also does a lot of things mechanically that I don't like -- but they're irrelevant as long as he is squaring balls up and showing pull power. I don't know if he's a star the way his Double-A stats might indicate, but he projects as a solid to average regular in a corner, perhaps as soon as 2010.
Ike Davis of the New York Mets looks much better now than he did as an amateur, although all he really showed this week is that he can hit a fastball and can't make the adjustment (yet) to anything else. He is in much better shape overall -- less jacked up and more athletic -- and showed it at first base as well. He has legitimately plus pull power and has some bat speed, although he loads his hands pretty far down and has a lot of excess movement, all of which costs him a little time. He looked bad against all off-speed pitches but just murdered fastballs.
Seattle Mariners reliever Josh Fields hasn't been the same guy since his nearly yearlong holdout ended; last week he was 90-94, 90-92 from the stretch (and he worked mostly from the stretch with a parade of runners) and his curveball was far less consistent than it was in college. His command was poor, he was slow to the plate, and he struggled to get the ball to his glove side. Other than all that, he was Mariano Rivera out there.
Mickey Storey of the Oakland Athletics had a freakish year, starting in low-A -- about two levels too low for his age and experience -- and finishing in Triple-A. He made both stops in between and walked just eight guys while fanning 71 in 57 innings. He does have good control, and he's very aggressive, but an experienced pitcher who commands an average breaking ball (or, in Storey's case, two fringy ones) can miss a lot of bats in the low minors. Storey uses his fastball to set up a slurvy slow curve (69-74) and a harder slider at 79-80, and he goes back and forth between the two pitches as if the slower one was the changeup to the faster one. It has worked in the minors, but neither pitch is plus, and I think major league hitters will force Storey to throw more fastballs or improve one of the two breakers.