Plenty of Stars Shine at the Rising Stars Game

by Chuck

In what has quickly become a haven for Major League scouts and Executives, the prestigious Arizona Fall League held its sixth annual “Rising Stars” game last night in Surprise, AZ.

And there were plenty of stars on hand to see.

The announcement earlier in the week of the opposing pitchers began the game’s anticipation when the top two picks in the 2011 draft, Gerrit Cole and Danny Hultzen, would face off against each other.

The game got off to a great start, as Hultzen struck out Robbie Grossman, Mike Trout and Junior Lake in succession. Showing a mixture of a fastball that touched 95, a slider and his best pitch, a changeup, Hultzen threw just four balls out of the strikezone out of sixteen pitches.

I’m on record as not being a big fan of Seattle taking Hultzen after seeing his last two starts of 2011. In both, while showing similar signs to what he displayed last night, for the most part Hultzen struggled with not only his command, but his control, and with significantly less velocity.

In looking at Seattle’s organization depth charts this morning, the pick does make sense, as there are maybe only fifteen projectable left-handers in the system, half of them relievers.

In watching the game re-broadcast this morning, MLBNetwork analyst Dave Valle, a former Mariners catcher and current spring training catching instructor, said Hultzen will go to Peoria next year with a legitimate chance to break camp as a member of the rotation, without an inning of professional experience.

Cole didn’t fare as well in his outing. On a pre-determined pitch count of 30, the hope was he could throw at least two innings, and maybe even start the third.

Didn’t work that way.

Unlike with Hultzen, this was the first time I had really see Cole throw, other than on some two minute YouTube clips.

First thing that struck me was how similar his motion and delivery are to Angels pitcher Dan Haren. Cole stands tall in his set-up, with a very short backwards movement, then turns into his delivery, and, like Haren, almost stops at the top, then explodes forward with his hips and legs with an overhand delivery that allows him to not only maintain command but hit triple digits on his fastball.

All of that looks good on paper, but not always to his opponents.

Marlins’ outfield prospect Kevin Mattison led off the bottom of the first by pulling a 2-2, 99 mph fastball through the right side. Rightfielder Robbie Grossman, a lefty thrower, ran towards the line figuring Mattison would stop at first, only to be surprised by him cutting the corner perfectly at first and sliding into second with a double.

Mattison spent the season in Double A, putting together a .253 season, but tying Rising Stars teammate Anthony Gose for second in the minors with 70 stolen bases, so it’s easy to see what his calling card will be.

The next batter was Seattle shortstop prospect Nick Franklin, who was coming off a disappointing 2011 season. The Mariners first round pick as a high schooler in 2009, Franklin was limited to just 88 games in 2011 due to concussion symptoms and a bout of mononucleosis. Heading into the Rising Stars, Franklin had struggled, hitting just .215 with three extra base hits in 65 at bats, but he turned around Cole’s first offering, a 98 mph heater, depositing the pitch onto the grass berm behind the left center field fence, giving the West squad a 2-0 lead.

The next hitter was Kansas City outfielder Wil Myers, who beat out an infield single and advanced to second on a throwing error by Cubs shortstop Junior Lake. After Mike Olt struck out swinging, Cole walked Oakland’s Michael Choice, bring first baseman (Atlanta) Joe Terdoslavich to the plate.

In looking at “Terdo’s” bio page in the AFL Media Guide, he is listed as Atlanta’s sixth round pick in the 2010 draft out of Sarasota High School in Florida with a listed birth date of 9/8/88.

He graduated from high school at 21?

Anyway, Terdoslavich had himself a pretty good season in 2011, spent in Lynchburg of the High A Carolina League. Joe was named to the mid-season and post-season All-Star teams and broke a 66 year old league record with 52 doubles. Drafted as a third baseman, Terdoslavich has been playing first base in the AFL, which indicates he’s being groomed as a master utility player, as he’s currently buried behind Chipper Jones, Edward Salcedo, and Freddie Freeman.

Getting himself into a hitters count early at 2-0, Cole responded with a changeup and two seamer for strikes,evening the count at 2-2. Obviously looking for a strike, Cole’s next offering, a 99 mph cheeser, ended up 420 feet away on the berm in centerfield, extending the West lead to 5-0.

After getting San Diego’s Jaff Decker to ground out to first, Cole’s day was done, after 29 pitches (16 strikes).

After a non-descript second inning in which he allowed his first baserunner,  a one-out walk to Bryce Harper, Hultzen too was done for the day.

Cole was replaced by the Dodgers’ Stephen Ames, who got out of the inning without any further damage.

Ames wasn’t so fortunate in the second, after retiring his first hitter, after one out, Mattison singled and Franklin doubled, putting runners on second and third. Myers followed with a sharp groundball to first, with the Rockies Ben Paulsen making a nice stop and throwing out Mattison at home, with Franklin moving to third.

Rangers third base prospect Mike Olt, the AFL homerun leader, followed with a broken bat single to right, scoring Franklin and making the score 6-0.

The West squad scored in the top of the third when Minnesota’s Brian Dozier lined an 0-1 fastball from Kansas City’s Nate Adcock over the left center field fence.

The comeback attempt was shortlived, however, as the West came back off Phoenix native and Diamondbacks prospect Charles Brewer for five hits and four runs in the third inning.

Jaff Decker popped to second after Terdoslavich led off the inning with a double, who promptly scored when Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt singled to center on the first pitch. Royals second baseman Christian Colon singled to center, putting runners on first and second. After Mattison lined to left for the second out, Nick Franklin sliced a double down the left field line scoring two runs.

After the obligatory manager visit to the mound, Myers followed with his second infield hit of the game, with Mike Olt following with his second consecutive run-scoring single, extending the lead to 10-1 after three innings.

Over the next six innings, each team would each touch the scoreboard once; the East in the fourth off the Blue Jays Wes Etheridge when after a Junior Lake double and a Nolan Arenado fielder’s choice, Bryce Harper poked a two strike protect pitch to left field for a sac fly.

The West would counter the run in the bottom of the fifth, when after Christian Colon was hit by a pitch and Nick Franklin singled for his fourth hit of the game, Wil Myers rocked a single to left, scoring Colon.

Despite no further scoring for the rest of the game there were still some outstanding, All-Star worthy performances, commencing immediately in the top of the sixth inning when Kansas City’s Jeremy Jeffress struck out the side, with Bryce Harper among his victims.

Jeffress’ first bout with celebrity came for negative reasons, he was the first player to be suspended twice for drug abuse under the minor league substance abuse program, his next suspension resulting in a lifetime ban.

Traded to Kansas City from Milwaukee as part of the Zack Greinke trade, the Royals moved him and his 100 mph fastball to the bullpen after a mixed bag of appearances (14 starts, 11 relief) between AA and AAA. Jeffress went on to make fourteen relief appearances with the Royals, and despite speculation he’s being “stretched out” for a return to the rotation, a number of Royals personnel I spoke with during the game unanimously shot down those rumors.

During his Fall League appearance in 2010 while still a member of the Brewers organization, Jeffress routinely hit triple digits with his fastball while showing an inconsistent, yet promising curve and a below average change.

As a member of the Royals, he’s in the AFL a second time working on his breaking stuff and command, throwing easily sixty percent breaking stuff in the four appearances I’ve seen. The fact he can have top prospects such as Harper off-balance with the curve proves not only has Jeffress matured as a pitcher, but also as a man.

It’s a great thing to see.

The game remained exciting throughout, even though the scoring stopped.

In addition to his four hits, Franklin showed solid shortstop skills, and even though he booted a semi-routine ground ball, but with the game already out of reach it mattered not.

Rockies prospect Nolan Arenado, who led all minor leaguers inRBI during the season and currently leads the AFL in the same category,  is not considered a prospect defensively. The guy I saw betrays that opinion, he fielded a tough hop grounder with a runner on first and I could almost see his train of thought with the ball in the air in what he should do. He decided to try for the double play, planted his feet and threw in one motion to second, on the button, with the relay completing the twin killing.

Stuff like that can’t be taught.

It also can’t be measured by sabermetrics.

In the long run the game proved to be exactly what it was designed to be; an exhibition game for scouts and front office personnel interested in seeing their own top prospects or potential Rule V or trade pickups.

After the game ended and the obligatory handshakes had completed, Cole and Hultzen walked over by their respective dugouts and proceeded to sign autographs and pose for pictures for a half hour.

“I didn’t get a chance before the game, so this was my only chance”, Cole said. “It’s no big deal, it’s fun.”

Going forward, the Rising Stars game in general, and the AFL in particular, continues to produce major league stars, with forty-four 2010 Alumni having made at least one ML appearance in 2011.

Looking at the big picture, nine of the recently named Silver Slugger Award winners and eleven Gold Glove recipients are AFL Alumni. In addition, AFL alumnus Matt Kemp was named the Hank Aaron Award Winner, and Jacoby Ellsbury the AL Comeback player of the year.

When looking at the rosters of each team in the postseason, 99 players are AFL alumni, including World Series MVP David Freese.

MLBNetwork has two more games scheduled, Military Appreciation Day from Talking Stick Resort on November 11th at 8pm EST, and the League Championship Game from Scottsdale Stadium on November 19th at 3pm EST.

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27 Responses to “Plenty of Stars Shine at the Rising Stars Game”

  1. Bob Says:

    Chuck, thanks for the re-cap and insight.

  2. brautigan Says:

    Nice one Chuck.

    I do like Franklin, I think he can be a big player in a year or two.

    I saw Arenado earlier in the year, and it looks like he’s made some gains defensively. He sure has the bat, but the glove had been suspect.

  3. Raul Says:

    Born today:

    Joe Niekro
    Jim Kaat
    Russ Springer
    Buck Martinez

  4. JohnBowen Says:

    Good stuff, Chuck.

    Glad to hear Jeffress has come a long way; I had a feeling that his September stint in 2010 would end up being the absolute extent of his big league experience, what with all the substance abuse. Glad to see that he’s on the right track.

    Any chance KC makes him their closer in the next couple years?

  5. Raul Says:

    Anthony Rendon wasn’t in the AFL?
    Could have sworn he was.

  6. Raul Says:

    ESPN.com poll:

    “If it costs AJ Burnett money (82.5 million for 5 years), should the Yankees sign CJ Wilson?”

    Yes – 55%
    No – 45%

  7. brautigan Says:

    Raul: It is easy to spend someone else’s money. Just ask Brian Cashman.

  8. Chuck Says:

    “Anthony Rendon wasn’t in the AFL?”

    He was scheduled, but got hurt in instructs and was pulled.

  9. John Says:

    @6, no way I shell out that kind of contract for CJ Wilson…a man with two (admittedly solid) years as a starting pitcher.

    However, there was no way I would’ve paid that kinda money for AJ Burnett either.

  10. Bob Says:

    Holy shit. I just submitted my article to Chuck, and I touch on that point somewaht. John, Braut and I all agree.

  11. Lefty33 Says:

    @9 – It just shows you what a thin FA class plus being left-handed can do.

  12. John Says:

    I’m at my computer right now, Bob; if you want to send it my way – I can post it (spry2011@gmail.com). Not sure what Chuck’s up to.

  13. John Says:

    @11, right?

    And not just is CJ Wilson the best FA starting pitcher…but all things considered, it’s not terribly close.

    Roy Oswalt has been a legitimate ace for the past decade, but he was hurt last year and he’s not a young man anymore.

    Darvish is, of course, a big question mark.

  14. Bob Says:

    John, just fired it off to you. Thanks.

  15. JohnBowen Says:

    Got it, thanks Bob.

    The formatting is being kind of weird for whatever reason. I’ll have it up within the next 10 min or so.

  16. Raul Says:

    The San Francisco Giants traded Jonathan Sanchez to the Kansas City Royals for Melky Cabrera.

  17. Chuck Says:

    “The San Francisco Giants traded Jonathan Sanchez to the Kansas City Royals for Melky Cabrera”

    Cameron’s downstairs as we speak raiding his step-dad’s liquor cabinet.

  18. Bob Says:

    John, thank you.

  19. JohnBowen Says:

    @17, I hope you mean to celebrate…

  20. Chuck Says:

    yeah

  21. JohnBowen Says:

    Cabrera had a nice season in 2011, but this is a classic buy-high move by Sabean.

  22. Raul Says:

    I’m surprised, given how weak the markets have been recently, that we aren’t seeing a lot more trades.

  23. Cameron Says:

    Holy shit, we ACTUALLY got Sanchez? FUCK YES! One down baby, c’mon Jurrjens, c’mon Jurrjens!

  24. Cameron Says:

    And I know I mentioned earlier that Oakland’s front three are on the trading block… But c’mon, those guys are very good and under team control for a long time. I’m trying to be realistic here.

  25. Hossrex Says:

    Holy shit… the Gents traded Sanchez?

    Best fucking baseball news I’ve had since 2010.

  26. Cameron Says:

    That and KC got him. There’s two of us here happy about that news.

  27. Hossrex Says:

    Abso-fucking-lutely.

    Get that bastard out of the Senior Circuit.

    Just realized I’d never checked out the guys numbers. Not as impressive as his reputation. One very good year, one perfectly average year, and a handful of years sitting in the lower tier of major league talent. Bullshit stat or no, seems worth mentioning that the only time he’s ever finished with a winning record was 2010… when the Giants won the world series… and he still only finished 13 and 9? That’s kinda weird. I would have liked to see some of the circumstances that led to that. 38 and 46 on his career. I was going to make a joke along the lines of “38 and 46… which means he’s pretty much *insert bad player with a .452 lifetime WL% here*”… but I couldn’t (at least not easily), since he isn’t in the top FUCKING THOUSAND for career WL% (and the dude is 28… his career WL% should VERY SPECIFICALLY be higher just about now than just about any other period of his career). It’s a bullshit stat, and it absolutely doesn’t mean shit considering the Giants bats, but its interesting nonetheless. Never 200 innings, and only even close once. 1.388 WHIP. Just one season with 200 K’s (guess which).

    The hilarious thing I guess… the No-Hitter DIDN’T come in the good year. It came directly after it.

    That tells me that not only was the no-no a fluke (most are), but his primary problems are one of confidence. His talent presents itself, but it isn’t until he lucks into a no-hitter that he gets the confidence boost of being a household name. That carries him over 150 innings or so, but then someone else pitches a no-hitter, and all of a sudden he’s not the ONE GUY who most recently pitched a no-hitter… he’s just one of the (still impressive, but not newsworthy) 272 other gentleman who have pitched a no-hitter. So… now… unless he hits for the cycle of some crazy shit… he’ll probably never see 2010 ever again.

    The above paragraph is PURE speculation. I have literally nothing to back it up other than the absolutely presumptive generalizations made.

    When he (I assume) hits the free agent market next year, 30 teams will have to ask who they’re getting.

    The Jonathan Sanchez from 2010?

    Or the Jonathan Sanchez you’ll probably wind up overpaying for.

    He’s a 2 year 10 million dollar guy who’ll probably get more like 2 years 20 million… just because he had the good fortune to pitch against the only National League team with a worse offense (ironically NOT at Petco) on a bad day.

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