While most baseball fans are focused on the drama of postseason play in the fall, it's also an important time for some of the minor leagues' top prospects. And starting on Tuesday, some of the A's most promising young prospects will begin play in the Arizona Fall League. Last year's top draft pick for the A's, third baseman Matt Chapman, was originally scheduled to participate, but it appears that a lingering wrist injury will leave him sidelined, and it looks like he'll be replaced by fellow third baseman Renato Nunez.
The Arizona Fall League has been going strong for the past couple of decades now, and its schedule runs for about 5-6 weeks from early-October through mid-November. There are 6 teams in the AFL, with each team comprised of prospects from 5 different organizations. A's prospects will be playing for the Mesa Solar Sox this year, where they'll be joined by players from the Angels, Marlins, Cubs and Rays, including former A's prospect Daniel Robertson.
Attendance at AFL games typically hovers in the 200s, with the crowds comprised largely of scouts, agents and various professional baseball personnel. Most organizations use the AFL as an opportunity to get some of their top prospects a little more live game action to hopefully help advance their development.
Some of the A's top young hitting prospects will be seeing action in Arizona, including shortstop Chad Pinder and third baseman Renato Nunez along with their Midland teammate, outfielder Jaycob Brugman, while the A's AFL pitching contingent this year will be comprised of promising left-hander Sean Manaea as well as right-handed relievers Brendan McCurry, Kris Hall and Aaron Kurcz.
--A's Prospects in the AFL in 2015--
15 HR / 28 BB / 103 K / .317 AVG / .361 OBP / .486 SLG / .847 OPS
Pinder put together an impressive season while serving as Midland's starting shortstop this year. The 23-year-old led all A's minor league regulars with a .317 batting average, while his 86 RBIs were the second-most in the system next to Nashville's Jason Pridie. Pinder possesses a little pop too, and he posted 15 home runs to go along with 32 doubles in the notoriously difficult hitting environment at Midland. Pinder could still stand to improve his plate discipline a bit though, and he'll have the opportunity to work on that in the AFL while he prepares to take over as the starting shortstop at Nashville next season.
18 HR / 28 BB / 66 K / .278 AVG / .332 OBP / .480 SLG / .812 OPS
With Matt Chapman sidelined with a wrist injury, Nunez will now get the chance to make his AFL debut in 2015. The 21-year-old put together a solid season at Midland and, despite missing the first month of the season due to injury, still managed to post the third-highest home run total in the A's minor league system with 18. Nunez also improved his walk and strikeout rates a bit this year while increasing his versatility by making a handful of starts at first base for the RockHounds. And the Venezuelan slugger will now have the opportunity to continue to refine his game in the AFL as he prepares to make his Triple-A debut in 2016.
6 HR / 62 BB / 89 K / .260 AVG / .343 OBP / .382 SLG / .725 OPS
The A's 17th-round draft pick in 2013, Brugman is a solid all-around player who doesn't jump off the page at you but manages to do everything well enough to be a productive performer on the field. The 23-year-old reduced his strikeout rate this season and totaled 8 triples, which were as many as anyone in the A's system, to go along with 27 doubles, 62 walks and 11 stolen bases. Brugman will try to make a positive impression in the AFL as he hopes to boost his chances of opening the season as a member of Nashville's starting outfield.
Left-Handed Starting Pitcher
42 2/3 IP / 34 H / 9 ER / 15 BB / 51 K / 1.90 ERA / 1.15 WHIP
Manaea came over from Kansas City in the Ben Zobrist trade and was impressive in almost every outing for Midland. After finishing the season as the RockHounds' top starter, the former 1st-round draft pick went on to throw 8 shutout innings in the first game of the Hounds' three-game sweep of the Texas League Championship Series. The 6'5" lefty missed a lot of time early in the season with a groin injury, so he'll look to make up for lost time in the AFL as he also attempts to firm up his reputation as the A's most promising pitching prospect.
Right-Handed Relief Pitcher
Stockton Ports / Midland RockHounds
63 IP / 39 H / 13 ER / 17 BB / 82 K / 1.86 ERA / 0.89 WHIP
McCurry was the A's minor league saves leader this year, notching 21 at Stockton before going on to post 6 for Midland, and he failed to convert just 1 save opportunity all season. The A's 22nd-round draft pick in 2014 also walked just 17 while striking out 82 in 63 innings and has struck out an average of 11.7 batters per 9 innings over his minor league career. Much like Ryan Dull, McCurry isn't physically imposing (he's listed at 5'10" and 165 lbs.), but an impressive stint in the AFL could help put him on the fast track to the majors.
Right-Handed Relief Pitcher
Midland RockHounds / Nashville Sounds
74 IP / 61 H / 23 ER / 57 BB / 77 K / 2.80 ERA / 1.59 WHIP
The A's 8th-round draft pick in 2012, Hall has always put up solid strikeout numbers, but he's also struggled with control issues throughout his career. The 24-year-old struck out 9.4 and walked 6.9 per 9 innings this season, and he allowed a meager 5 home runs over 74 innings of work. Hall is currently coming off his best season, and he has good stuff, but he'll be looking to gain greater mastery of his command while working in the AFL.
Right-Handed Relief Pitcher
26 IP / 29 H / 12 ER / 15 BB / 31 K / 4.15 ERA / 1.69 WHIP
The veteran among the A's AFL contingent this year, Kurcz came over from Atlanta midseason. He has shown a consistent ability to put up big strikeout totals throughout his minor league career, but he also battles with bouts of wildness at times and has yet to make it to the majors since being drafted by the Cubs back in 2010. The 25-year-old Las Vegas native will be making his second consecutive appearance in the Arizona Fall League after playing for Surprise in 2014.
You can check out my site - Athletics Farm - for updates on the A's minor league teams and all the top prospects down on the farm.