by Joseph Hartsock / A’s Farm Arizona Correspondent
The Arizona Fall League is in full swing with the second week of action in the six-week season now in the books. The Oakland A’s have sent seven prospects to play for the Mesa Solar Sox this year, and I’ve already seen some promising play from a number of these players. Let’s take a look at three A’s prospects who’ve been getting plenty of playing time in the AFL so far this season: infielder Sheldon Neuse, catcher Sean Murphy and starting pitcher Logan Shore.
Sheldon Neuse has been a very interesting player to watch this fall. As a 2nd-round draft pick of the Nationals last year whom the A’s picked up this summer from Washington, this is the first time I’ve had a chance to see Neuse play. In the first two weeks of the AFL season, Neuse has started all but two games for the Solar Sox. He has some real power potential and has hit two home runs in the first two weeks of play, one of those being a grand slam to help Mesa beat Scottsdale in the second game of the season. While facing a number of advanced pitching prospects in the AFL, his batting stats look good after the first two weeks; he’s hit for a slash line of .313/.371/.563. The only concern comes when you look at his 3 walks versus 9 strikeouts over his first 35 plate appearances. It’s worth noting that this is the first time he’s consistently faced this type of high-caliber pitching, but his strikeout numbers could be something to keep an eye on in the future. Neuse primarily played shortstop in college and has split time between third base and shortstop in the minors. But over the first two weeks in the AFL, he’s started one game at shortstop, two games as the designated hitter, and five games at third base. Looking at his frame and his mobility, he seems best suited to third. His defense is a bit of a question mark though, and he’s already made two throwing errors in the field. But I’m really looking forward to watching Neuse swing the bat more, since he frequently seems to make hard contact.
Sean Murphy has been a pleasure to watch behind the plate in the AFL. He’s been the primary backstop for the Solar Sox so far this season, catching six of Mesa’s first ten games over the first two weeks, including the two games that fellow A’s prospect Logan Shore has started. Behind the plate, Murphy’s work ethic and knowledge of the game make him a very solid defender. He doesn’t have much speed around the bases, but while catching, he looks a lot more agile and athletic. And his great throwing arm has already enabled him to catch a few runners attempting to steal. His bat has looked good, and he was boasting a .318 batting average after the first two weeks, though he’d yet to notch a home run after belting 13 in 98 games for Stockton and Midland this season. It’s fun to watch Murphy hustle behind the plate, and it’s always a treat to watch him rifle a throw to second.
I’ve had the opportunity to watch both games that Logan Shore has started in the AFL this season, and he ended up allowing 6 runs on 14 hits in 8 innings over his first 2 starts. It would have been nice to see a little more solid success from Shore. But with some of the best hitting prospects in baseball, this league can be tough on pitchers. Shore seemed to make some positive adjustments though, and I did see some progress between his two outings. In his first start, Shore was hit hard early, and even his outs were hit hard. A pair of double plays helped him escape with less damage, but he still allowed 3 runs on 7 hits over 4 innings in his first start. In his second start, the hits weren’t quite as hard-hit, and some bad luck also contributed to his rough day. In the 1st inning, Mesa’s center fielder, Kyle Tucker, lost a ball in the sun. Later in the same inning, first baseman Ian Rice misplayed a ball that easily could have been ruled an error but instead was scored as a hit. Shore then cruised until his final inning. But in the 4th, he allowed a two-run homer off a fastball that he left in the middle of the plate, and he once again was charged with 3 runs on 7 hits in 4 innings. Shore doesn’t have a high-velocity fastball, so he needs to have command of his pitches. And in his second start, he seemed to have much better command and offered up far fewer hittable pitches. Hopefully, he’ll be able to make even more adjustments in his next start later this week.
ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE PRIMER
by Joseph Hartsock / A’s Farm Arizona Correspondent
I’ve had numerous people ask me if the Arizona Fall League is worth going to. I have a hard time answering this without getting excited, and ultimately my passion for baseball ends up gushing out. I have many friends who come to Arizona for spring training, and I always tell them that they have to come back in October or November for a few AFL games. Like everyone, I enjoy spring training, but I enjoy Arizona Fall League games even more. Many of baseball’s top prospects are in the AFL, and they’re so close to achieving their dreams of playing in the big leagues that it seems like they can almost taste it.
I started attending Arizona Fall League games back in 2012 when I was told that I really needed to go see speedster Billy Hamilton steal some bases. I went to my first game with my stopwatch to see how crazy fast Hamilton was, but what really jumped out at me was the sight of a young shortstop named Didi Gregorius making a few plays that would be spectacular enough to make Baseball Tonight’s Web Gems if it were a big league game. After that first game, I was hooked. And since then, I’ve had the chance to see top prospects like Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Francisco Lindor, all of whom have gone on to be stars in the big leagues, to name just a few.
Each major league club sends up to eight players to the Arizona Fall League, and they will be combined with players from four other organizations to make up each of the the six clubs that will play throughout the Phoenix area in the fall. There are also certain limits on how many players can be sent from below the Double-A level, so these teams tend to be made up of some fairly experienced players. Sometimes it seems like there’s more pure talent on the field than there is in some major league games, although the talent is clearly far more raw in the AFL than it is in the big leagues.
Since AFL teams play in the same ballparks that the big league teams play in during spring training, the facilities are first class. The games are lightly attended, normally below 600 in attendance, with crowds made up primarily of scouts, family members of players and a handful of autograph seekers. Tickets are all sold as general admission, so you can sit with the scouts right behind home plate, just behind the dugouts or wherever you’d like.
So, what does this mean for an avid Oakland A’s fan? It means that you can get an up-close look at the team’s next big up-and-coming prospects. I took a look at the A’s current 40-man roster to determine just how many players had participated in the AFL, and here are the players I found, followed by the years they played in the AFL:
Jed Lowrie (2007), Khris Davis (2012), Michael Brady (2012), Marcus Semien (2013), Bruce Maxwell (2013), Dustin Garneau (2013), Joey Wendle (2013), Ryan Dull (2013), Chris Bassitt (2013, 2014), Matt Olson (2014), Daniel Coulombe (2014), Frankie Montas (2014, 2016), Sean Manaea (2015), Sam Moll (2015), Chad Pinder (2015), Boog Powell (2015), Jaycob Brugman (2015), Franklin Barreto (2016), Yairo Munoz (2016).
And in 2017, the A’s have sent seven players to the AFL: catcher Sean Murphy (2017 California League All-Star), outfielder Tyler Ramirez (2017 California League All-Star), infielder Sheldon Neuse (2016 2nd-round draft pick), RHP Logan Shore (2016 2nd-round draft pick), RHP Sam Bragg (2017 Texas League All-Star), RHP Nolan Blackwood (A’s 2017 minor league saves leader), and RHP Miguel Romero (A’s Cuban free agent signee).
Will all seven of these prospects turn out to be big league All-Stars? Probably not. But you never know what you might see in the AFL. Maybe you’ll see a guy like Aaron Judge working on his swing to cut down on his strikeouts like I did. Yes, by all means, still come for spring training. But if you can, try to make some time to check out some Arizona Fall League action. I promise, it’ll be well worth it!
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