Each fall since 1992 Major League Baseball has held the Arizona Fall League. It is the only current stateside fall or winter league (there used to be a Hawaiian Winter League as well, but it shut down after 2009 I believe) and when it comes to prospect followers it is the premiere winter league. In the other winter leagues there just isn’t such a strong concentration of top end prospects. Each team selects 6-8 players to send out there to participate in the league. There are some roster rules to work around, but the rules are pretty loose as teams can get exceptions rather easily if they just ask.
Today I wanted to look at the four position players who will be representing the Cincinnati Reds on the Surprise Saguaros, which will be managed by Pensacola Blue Wahoos manager Delino DeShields. Next week, which will mark opening day for the league, I will look at the pitchers.
Seth Mejias-Brean | Third Base
Seth Mejias-Brean as selected by the Reds in the 8th round of the 2012 draft. He came out of the University of Arizona where he was considered a toolsy player who hadn’t really put together all of his hitting tools while in college. A good example of that was that despite power potential he had hit just two total homers in college despite being a three-year starter (748 total plate appearances). Since turning pro he has hit 33 home runs in 1335 plate appearances as his power has developed. The Reds changed his mechanics a bit from his time in college and it helped the power come forward.
He had hit over .300 at his first three stops with solid power but when he arrived in Double-A he struggled for the first prolonged period of time in his pro career. While the drop was small, his walk rate declined and his strikeout rate increased (though remained solid). The big difference was that his power went from solid-good to slap-hitter like. His isolated power (Slugging-Average) went from .176 to .088. The complete lack of power was the biggest issue that led to his second half line of .235/.333/.323 with the Blue Wahoos.
Juan Perez | Middle Infield
Perez was actually a replacement that was recently added to the roster. He took the place of Ryan Wright who was on the original roster. Perez was drafted in the 26th round of the 2011 draft at 19-years-old from the College of the Canyons. He hit well in rookie ball in his first year and played mostly shortstop. The next season he made the jump to Dayton where his hitting fell off some, but he held his own as he hit .252/.335/.396 and again spent his time at shortstop.
In 2013 he moved up to the California League where he struggled at the plate. His walk rate dropped and his strikeout rate jumped up. For 2014 he returned to Bakersfield and found himself spending most of his time at secondbase, though he did get time at shortstop, third, first and one game in left field. At the plate he improved to hit .267/.307/.427 as he lowered his strikeout rate and boosted his power output a little bit. His walk rate dropped off, but it was a small drop. He projects better as a second baseman from a defensive standpoint.
Perez is one of two players we will cover today who is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year if he is left unprotected by the Reds. I doubt he would be selected unless he goes out to Arizona and just absolutely destroys the league while showing a different skillset at the plate than he has in the past. His inexperience above Advanced-A doesn’t lead to teams being willing to have him on the 25-man roster all season at the big league level.
Kyle Waldrop | Outfield
The Reds selected Kyle Waldrop in the 12th round of the 2010 draft out of high school, but they paid him like a 2nd or 3rd rounder to keep him from going to school on a football scholarship. Prior to 2014 he had been solid but unspectacular in his career. He had moved one level at a time, going from Arizona to Billings to Dayton and then to Bakersfield in each of his first four seasons.
At age 22 he had to repeat a level for the first time as he headed back to Bakersfield to begin the year and things couldn’t have gone much better as he hit .359/.409/.516 in the second go-around of the league while raising his walk rate and dropping his strikeout rate. He road an incredibly high BABIP of .432 to help prop up those numbers but it earned him a promotion to Double-A in the second half. He slowed down slightly but still hit very well as he posted a .315/.359/.517 line with the Blue Wahoos. What was impressive there is that he lowered his strikeout rate and raised his power output despite jumping up a level and moving to a much more pitcher friendly home park against left handed hitters. I wrote about his breakout in August and also talked with him about it if you are interested in what he had to say about why he feels he was able to make such big improvements.
Waldrop, like Perez, is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this season if left unprotected. After the season that he just had I can’t see the team not protecting him by placing him on the 40-man roster in November. Not only did he have a great season he also plays a position of need.
Jesse Winker | Outfield
Winker came into the season as arguably the top position prospect in the organization and with Billy Hamilton graduating to the Major Leagues he now finds himself alone at the top among the position guys. The 2012 supplemental first rounder has done nothing but hit since being drafted. He entered the 2014 season with a career line of .301/.402/.476 to go along with 103 walks and just 125 strikeouts over 761 plate appearances.
His 2014 season began with him spending the first half in Bakersfield where he just obliterated the league to the tune of .317/.426/.580 with 40 walks and 46 strikeouts. That got him named to the league all-star team where he went on to win the home run derby and an invite to the MLB All-Star Futures Game. Unfortunately his season was derailed right before the Futures Game when he had a car accident that wound up injuring his wrist. He would play in the game and even a few games in Double-A Pensacola after before realizing that while the rest of his body was healing from the accident that his wrist wasn’t and he was shut down for the final seven weeks of the season.
Making up for lost time is likely the reason that Winker was chosen to head to Arizona. Wrist injuries are funny in that sometimes guys will recover fully within two months but some will linger and have effects that last nearly a year after the injury even though the player is considered fully healthy. Where Winker falls on that scale we don’t know yet, but his professional approach will carry forward even if the power does take some time to return after the injury.