These 5 pitchers have stood out in the AFL

October 24th, 2019

Some of the top players in the Minors are putting the final touches on their seasons in the Arizona Fall League, where the final week of the season is underway. MLB Pipeline has been on location for more games this year than ever before, with members of our team present at all but a few games during the six-week season.

After highlighting some of the hitters who stood out during my in-person looks in Weeks 2 and 4 of the Fall League earlier this week, the focus now shifts to this year’s crop of hurlers.

Here are thoughts on five pitchers, both starters and relievers, who caught my eye in the AFL:

Spencer Howard, RHP (Phillies No. 2, MLB No. 88): After a dominant showing in Double-A to close out the regular season, Howard, with his mixture of velocity, stuff and feel, has stood out. His fastball has been up to 99 mph and sitting around 96 mph in his starts for Scottsdale, and he’s used all three of his secondary pitches (curveball, slider and changeup) to baffle hitters, generating plenty of whiffs and weak contact. Howard’s slider is perhaps his most well-known and most-used secondary offering, but the changeup -- a fading, diving pitch that he throws with fastball arm-speed in the low 80s -- merits similar recognition.

Howard’s changeup gives him a legitimate third plus offering, one that he confidently throws to hitters on both sides of the plate, to go along with his heater and slider. And while his slower, loopier curveball in the mid-70s isn’t particularly dynamic, Howard adeptly uses it to disrupt hitters’ timing and often deploys it early in the count to steal strikes. The Phillies won’t rush their 23-year-old right-hander to the big leagues, but he has the requisite stuff and poise to make the jump once deemed ready.

Dean Kremer, RHP (Orioles No. 8): After leading the Minor Leagues in strikeouts (178) in 2018, Kremer is using this year’s Fall League to make up for the time he lost to an oblique injury early in the regular season. Kremer, as he recently told Jonathan Mayo, is also using the opportunity to refine his pitch mix, incorporating a new-and-improved slider that has stood out amidst his strong campaign.

During my looks at Kremer this fall, I was impressed with his ability to command his two- and four-seam fastballs to both sides of the plate while sitting 92-93 mph. Kremer’s swing-and-miss curveball continues to be his best secondary pitch, but the slider isn’t far behind. After previously throwing a more traditional slider that had longer, sweeping action, Kremer now throws a harder version of the pitch in the mid-80s that has late, glove-side slice that plays nicely off his fastball and gives him a potential put-away pitch against right-handed hitters. It often plays like a cutter, at times even reaching the high 80s, and I’m curious to see how the pitch’s evolution might affect his overall approach on the mound in 2020.  

Ashton Goudeau, RHP (Rockies): One of my favorite aspects of the Fall League is that it offers a rare opportunity to lay eyes on a deep group of relievers, and every year there are a few guys who separate themselves from the field, flashing big league-caliber stuff en route to gaudy AFL numbers. This year, one of them is Goudeau, a former 27th-round pick (2012) who made 16 starts for Double-A Hartford (2.07 ERA, 10.5 K/9) during the regular season. Working as a multi-inning reliever the Fall League, the 27-year-old righty has racked up 18 strikeouts and allowed just four hits in 13 scoreless frames.

Goudeau has some zip on his fastball, typically sitting at 94-95 mph, but it’s the 6-foot-6, 205-pounder’s ability to locate the pitch to both sides of the plate, as well as up in the zone, that drives his overall effectiveness. Goudeau complements his heater with top-to-bottom, high-70s curveball that he can land in the zone for called strikes or bury in the dirty when vying for whiffs, and he also has feel for mixing in a fading mid-80s changeup against left-handed hitters.

With his three-pitch mix, natural strike-throwing ability and size, Goudeau has the components needed to remain a starter. At the same time, he’s also somewhat older and struggled as a starter prior to this year -- he’s never logged more than 127 2/3 frames in a single season -- so it wouldn’t be surprising if the Rockies decided to now push Goudeau as a reliever, especially after his dominant Fall League campaign.

Jackson Rees, RHP (Blue Jays): Signed for $1,000 in 2018 after he went undrafted out of Hawaii, Rees was one of the Minors' more dominant relievers in his first full pro season, ranking third among Minor League relievers in ERA (0.73) while recording a .183 opponent average and an 88/15 K/BB ratio in 61 2/3 innings between two Class A stops. He’s built upon that success in the Fall League, striking out 13 batters in 8 1/3 innings over seven appearances.

Rees’ fastball averages 92-93 mph, but it plays at a higher effective velocity thanks to its high spin rate and because he creates deception with long backside arm action. His curveball and slider are both weapons, and it says something that many evaluators don’t prefer one over the other. Rees’ curve is a big, 12-to-6 downer that he throws in the low 80s, and his slider, which registers several ticks higher, has late, nearly two-plane bite. He throws strikes with both breaking balls, and perhaps important, Rees makes few mistakes over the heart of the plate.

Nick Snyder, RHP (Rangers): A 19th-round pick in 2017 out of Indian River State Junior College (Fla.), Snyder shows the most untapped potential among the Rangers’ crop of hurlers in this year’s Fall League, albeit while pitching to mixed results. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound right-hander’s fastball is explosive, sitting at 97-98 mph with a plus spin rate that gives it riding life, and he pairs it with a nasty 85-86 mph slider -- a pitch that he developed only last offseason while training with 10 other Rangers prospects at Driveline Baseball.

Snyder is still learning how to repeat and execute his new breaking ball and has struggled to consistently sync up his arm speed and release point when throwing the pitch in the Fall League, but he’s a few adjustments away from having two legitimate swing-and-miss offerings that would play well in a big league bullpen. And while he’s undeniably behind the development curve as a 24-year-old who’s thrown just 72 pro innings (none above the Class A level), Synder’s stuff gives him the potential to rise quickly through the Minors, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him pitch at multiple levels in 2020.