My second dispatch from the Arizona Fall League, which I left on Saturday morning after seeing ten games in five days...
• Mets first baseman Dom Smith is one of the top pure hitting prospects in the minors, and he showed it this week in the Valley with hard-hit ball after hard-hit ball and some outstanding at-bats (as well as a couple where he barked at the ump over some strike calls). I counted eight hard-hit balls in play, none more impressive than the enormous home run he hit to right-center off a slider away from a right-hander, although the broken-bat single he got off a 96 mph fastball in on his hands was almost as stunning given what it says about his hand and wrist strength. Smith's swing is so simple, and despite the lack of home runs in two full seasons in the minors -- both in bad power parks -- there is raw power in there and it's going to come as he moves up the ladder.
• I only got to see the Cubs' Willson Contreras hit but not catch, unfortunately, so I can't speak to his defensive abilities. But I can tell you his swing was one of my favorite right-handed swings in the AFL with a clean path and tremendous body control throughout. He loads back by his right shoulder and explodes forward to the ball with excellent hand strength that allowed him to adjust well to changing speeds and to pitches on the outer third. If he can catch as well as the Cubs believe he can, the decision to convert Kyle Schwarber to another position becomes even easier.
• I saw Cleveland outfielder Clint Frazier in the Carolina League playoffs, and while his bat speed was still among the best I've ever seen, he was struggling badly with pitchers who changed speeds on him. He still swings and misses more than you'd like, especially on pitches in the strike zone, but did seem to pick up off-speed stuff better -- for example, staying on a decent slider from a right-handed pitcher to pull a line-drive single to left-center. It's slow but steady progress, which he'll have to continue because he's limited to left field on defense.
• Marlins infielder J.T. Riddle, whose middle name unfortunately is not Tom (it's Travis, I asked), showed good bat speed and athleticism, including several rangy plays at shortstop. Drafted in 2013, the 13th-rounder out of Kentucky ambushed a first-pitch fastball, dropping the head of the bat to pull it out to right field, and even doubled off the outfield wall against a lefty sidearmer. He has hit just .273/.315/.370 over 1,000 pro at-bats, so I don't want to get too excited here, but there's absolutely some ability here on both sides of the ball, and I could see him developing into a quality utility infielder, if not better.
• Cleveland outfielder Todd Hankins, a 15th-round pick out of junior college in 2011, showed plus-plus speed as he tries to learn the outfield, spending time in center and left when I saw him this week; his reads aren't good yet but he had just 62 pro games in center coming into the fall. He does cover a ton of ground on pure speed, while at the plate he showed that he could hit a good fastball but repeatedly chased sliders down and away.
• Washington catcher Spencer Kieboom missed the last six weeks of the season after suffering a concussion but is fully recovered now and continues to impress with his receiving. Pitchers love throwing to him and he has a comfortably plus arm. At the plate, it's a pretty simple swing that produces a lot of contact despite a lack of bat speed because he's so short to the ball and has good hand-eye coordination; I think he's a solid, everyday catcher because he'll play outstanding defense and put the ball in play enough to hit .250-.260.
• Orioles rule 5 pick Jason Garcia started and pitched two innings Friday, showing good arm-side life on a 93-97 mph fastball and a hard slider that he commanded really well at 85-87 mph. He only showed his changeup briefly, 86 without a lot of action, but I liked how online he was to the plate and the potential for command of two above-average pitches. He does fly a little bit open at release and could see the changeup improve if he gets out a little more over that front side.
• Relievers of note: Minnesota right-hander Jake Reed flashed three above-average pitches in a 94-96 mph fastball with life, a knockout slider clocked at 85-86 and a potentially plus change that comes in at 89 mph, which I'd like to see more. … Yankees right-hander Domingo Acevedo, who hit 99 mph as a starter this summer while pitching for Staten Island, was throwing 94-98 mph in relief but with 30 or even 20 command, thanks to a high-effort delivery and long arm swing as well as a general lack of athleticism. (Although that latter point hasn't held Dellin Betances back.) Acevedo showed a slider he’s throwing at 84-87 mph, but it took a lot of effort for him to get to it. … Athletics right-hander Kris Hall was clocked at 94-96 mph in two outings, showing good fastball command but poor command of his 80-83 mph power curveball, a potentially plus pitch, and his below-average changeup. … A's Brendan McCurry -- who sounds like the guy you go get when you can't afford Brandon McCarthy -- has just average stuff across his fastball/curve/change mix, but the guy fills up the strike zone and will probably end up a better big leaguer than his repertoire might indicate. In 94 pro innings through Double-A since the A's took him in the 22nd round, McCurry has issued just 18 unintentional walks against 119 strikeouts. … Damien Magnifico, who was originally drafted by the Mets, didn't sign, then went to the Brewers in the same round (5th) three years later and was throwing 96-97 mph head with a short but effective slider at 83-85 mph. … Arizona right-hander Adam Miller showed 97-98 mph stuff complemented with a hard slider at 87 mph that I don't know if he can throw for strikes. … San Francisco's Ray Black topped out at 101 mph and hit 100-plus eight times, but threw just one off-speed pitch (a garbage breaking ball), and he doesn't have much command or any life on the fastball. You can never give up on an arm like that, but he needs to find two out of three things – among command, fastball life/movement and a decent second pitch -- to be a big league reliever.
• A couple of hitters who didn't look good this week: First baseman Rowdy Tellez from Toronto was behind fastballs all week long; I counted at least six swings and misses on fastballs, four for strikeouts, plus another on a slider. It's a slow bat with brute strength that generates power. … Tampa Bay first baseman Casey Gillaspie also struggled to make any kind of hard contact, and his swing still makes virtually no use of his lower half, which he's going to need to generate power and even to adjust to decent off-speed stuff because he doesn't have great bat speed. … Two of the top prospects in all of the minors, J.P. Crawford (Phillies) and A.J. Reed (Astros), both look absolutely exhausted. Reed played 135 games this year, and given how lethargic he seemed, he probably shouldn't be out in Arizona much longer.