Anderson, Edwards prospects to watch in AFL
White Sox shortstop, Cubs hurler have lots to prove as teams move forward
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
It is just one week before the start of another exciting Arizona Fall League season. I can't wait to get out there to see some of the best prospects in the game compete in the AFL, known as Major League Baseball's finishing school.
I know this is something Jim Callis and I actually agree on. I know that's rare, but both of us do love the Fall League and the chance to see all that talent in one area at one time. But, as always, there is a divergence as we dig deeper. This week's Perspectives isn't a debate so much as a matter of choice. The question at hand: Which hitting and pitching prospect are we most looking forward to seeing play in the AFL this year?
Jim is going with perhaps the most obvious choice in Pipeline Perspectives history: Byron Buxton. He tries to make up for it by taking lesser-known White Sox right-hander Francellis Montas as his pitching choice, but I'm not sure that's enough of a smoke screen. Picking the No. 1 prospect in baseball as the player you're most excited to see is kind of like saying you're in favor of sunsets. Who isn't looking forward to seeing a healthy Buxton on the field again? But that's fine. There is no right or wrong this week, right?
I wanted to pick a hitter and a pitcher I've never seen play before. Given the sheer quantity of talent, there's no shortage of possibilities. On the offensive side of things, I'm going with 2013 first-round pick Tim Anderson of the White Sox. The No. 2 prospect in the organization is also No. 82 overall. Taken No. 17 overall out of the junior college ranks, Anderson is the kind of athletic and toolsy player the White Sox covet.
He's capable of doing it all on the field when he's healthy. He's already shown an ability to hit for average with some pop. And he can really run, with a 70 for speed on the 20-80 scouting scale. In 151 professional games, the shortstop has hit .291, slugged .430 and stolen 34 bases. His 2014 season was interrupted by a month and a half with a fractured wrist.
Typically, a guy comes back from that kind of injury and it takes him a while to get going. Not so for Anderson. Not only did he hit .364 and slug .500 in his 10 games after returning from the injury (and a five-game rehab in the rookie-level Arizona League), he did it in Double-A, up a level from where he had started the season.
The White Sox have moved him aggressively and he's responded to every challenge. He went right to full-season ball after the Draft and hit .277 with 24 steals, not looking overwhelmed one bit. A move to the Class A Advanced Carolina League to start the 2014 season, at age 20? No biggie. Anderson hit .297 and slugged .472, with 31 extra-base hits in 286 at-bats. After a slow-ish start, he hit .322 and slugged .444 in May, then followed that up with a .317 average and .529 SLG in June. The most amazing thing about that performance? He evidently was playing with the broken wrist for over a week.
I'm not just interested to see Anderson swing the bat and run in Arizona. I'm curious to watch him play shortstop. At the time of the 2013 Draft, many felt Anderson would be better suited for center field, where his athleticism and speed would play well. But the White Sox had no plans to move him off of short. He did make 34 errors in 81 games this season, though Minor League defensive numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. I want to see, in a small sample size, how he does at the premium position for myself.
On the mound, I'm staying in Chicago, though heading across town. All the talk about the Cubs centers on the hitting prospects, for good reasons: Baez, Soler, Alcantara, Bryant, Almora, Schwarber, all were or still are Top 100 prospects. But someone is going to have to pitch and the Cubs don't have nearly as much in the pipeline coming up on the mound.
The big exception is C.J. Edwards, the right-hander Chicago got from the Rangers as part of the Matt Garza deal last season. And no, I don't want to see the No. 53 overall prospect solely to encourage him to eat (he's listed at 6-foot-2, 155 pounds; it's enough to make a Jewish parent like myself worry himself sick.).
Edwards' stuff is reportedly electric, with a fastball that can touch 97 mph, an above-average curveball and a vastly improved changeup. A year ago, between his two organizations, Edwards struck out 12 per nine innings, walked 3.2, had a 1.86 ERA and gave up just one home run in 116 1/3 IP. He gave up just one more in 2014, albeit in a season shortened to 53 2/3 IP due to shoulder inflammation. In 237 professional innings, he's given up only two home runs. He has a career .169 batting average against and, like Anderson, he reached Double-A this past season.
Also like Anderson, it will be interesting to watch Edwards make up for the time he lost during the season. He made it back in August and had a 2.30 ERA in six closely-monitored starts. To me, watching how his stuff, and his penchant for not giving up the long ball, plays in the extremely hitting and power-friendly AFL, is one of the most intriguing subplots of this year's Fall League.