Half the teams in the Arizona Fall League have been highlighted, and next up on the preview list is the Peoria Javelinas. The Javelinas roster includes a southpaw that strikes out batters at a high rate, the most exciting player in the AFL, and a candidate for best professional debut from the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft class.
*Full rosters can be found by clicking on the hyperlink for the team.
Peoria Javelinas (Reds, Twins, Phillies, Padres, Mariners)
Standout Pitcher: James Paxton, SP, Mariners, 23 years old
Standout Hitter: Billy Hamilton, SS/OF, Reds, 22 years old
Bonus: Mike Zunino, C, Mariners, 21 years old
James Paxton had an impressive professional debut in 2011, striking out 131 batters in 95.0 innings split between Low-A (56.0 innings) and Double-A (39.0 innings). He had occasional struggles with his control, walking 43 batters (4.1 BB/9), but was at his best after moving up to Double-A, where his walk rate was a solid 3.0 BB/9. His strong finish earned him a look in Spring Training, but he'd ultimately spend the entire season pitching in Double-A. He pitched 106.1 innings in 21 starts. His walk rate regressed, 4.6 BB/9, but he continued to miss bats at a high rate, 9.3 K/9, and limited opposing batters to a .244 batting average against. The formula resulted in a 3.05 ERA (3.29 FIP) and 1.41 WHIP. Paxton was at his best after the All-Star break, walking 10 fewer batters than he did prior to the All-Star break, in 13.2 more innings. Paxton came into the season ranked as the third best Mariners prospect by Kevin Goldstein, formerly of Baseball Prospectus
(the rankings were completed prior to the Jesus Montero acquisition), the fourth best prospect by Baseball America
, and the fourth best prospect by John Sickels of Minor League Ball
. He earned his ranking on those lists thanks to his number 2-3 starter ceiling. Paxton is a southpaw who throws his fastball hard, sits in the low-to-mid-90s and can hit the upper-90s, and backs it with a plus curveball and a change-up. While he is jostling with other pitching prospects in the Mariners system to be the first to reach the bigs, he should see time in the majors next year if he continues to progress. His high strikeout totals and proximity to the majors make him one of the better pitching prospects in fantasy baseball.
You are reading Billy Hamilton's position correctly, the fastest player in baseball is making the transition from shortstop to center fielder. Mark Sheldon states in the linked article that Hamilton is expected to see time at shortstop, and in left field and center field while playing in the AFL. The position change could speed up his ascent to the big leagues. Hamilton earned attention by stealing a new professional baseball record 155 bases. It was his second season eclipsing 100 stolen bases in the minors, but more exciting is the reports of his improvement as a hitter. The numbers support those reports, as he slashed .311/.410/.420 across two levels (High-A and Double-A), with a 86-to-113 walk-to-strikeout ratio. His walk rate was up this year from 2011, and his strikeout rate was down, all while stinging the ball a little harder upping his isolated slugging from .082 to .109. Hamilton is amongst the top prospects in fantasy baseball, as his stolen base skills are game changing.
Draft pundits considered University of Florida catcher Mike Zunino the most polished college hitter available. The Mariners didn't let him get by them at the third pick, and he didn't waste any time showing off just how polished his bat is. The organization allowed him to get his feet wet in pro ball by sending him to Short-Season Everett. He proceeded to demolish baseballs there, as was expected, hitting .373/.474/.736 with 10 home runs, 18 walks, and 26 strikeouts in 133 plate appearances. Zunino really turned heads, though, with his assault on baseballs in 57 plate appearances at the Double-A level. He slashed .333/.386/.588, clubbing three home runs, and walking nearly as often as he struck out with five walks and seven strikeouts. There is no threat of him moving out from behind the plate, which makes his hitting ability even more tantalizing. In his July 30 Future Shock Monday Morning Ten Pack, Goldstein suggested a promotion to Double-A (which happened) and an AFL assignment (which is happening) could mean Zunino's minor league career is a short one, and that he'll be on the fast track to the majors next season. There are a handful of talented young hitting catchers in the majors, and Zunino looks to join them soon.