Arizona Fall League Preview: Glendale Desert Dogs
It’s hard to believe that summer has come to an end and the Arizona Fall League is just two weeks away. Wasn’t it just spring training? Anyways, after previewing Surprise and Peoria, it’s time to dive into the Glendale Desert Dogs. The Desert Dogs finished 2017 on a seven-game winning streak but fell just short of making it to the championship game. That was with a lackluster lineup, too. This year’s Desert Dogs should be a very exciting team to watch, especially when you take a look at their stacked outfield.
All of our Arizona Fall League Team Previews
|Surprise Saguaros||Peoria Javelinas||Glendale Desert Dogs|
|Mesa Solar Sox||Scottsdale Scorpions||Salt River Rafters|
Arizona Fall League – Glendale Desert Dogs
MLB Team Affiliations: Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees
Li-Jen Chu (CLE), Keibert Ruiz (LAD).
Glendale has themselves a couple solid catchers this season. Li-Jen Chu will play Robin to Keibert Ruiz’s Batman but has enough upside to become a solid backup catcher at the Major Level. However, Ruiz is the focus here. Widely regarded as one of the top catching prospects in the game, Ruiz quietly took some small steps forward this season, even if his batting average doesn’t reflect it. After hitting .300 or higher at every minor league stop, he hit only .268 this season for Double-A Tulsa. But like I said, that average doesn’t tell the whole story. Ruiz cut his already solid 12.9% strikeout rate down to 8.0% and socked a career-high 12 home runs.
He’ll never be a big masher due to his line-drive oriented approach and lower fly ball rate (32.2% in 2018), but Ruiz has the strength to routinely hit double-digit home runs to go along with a solid batting average. His defense behind the plate is above-average and he should stay there long-term moving forward.
Luckily the outfield is as dynamic as it is because this infield as a whole doesn’t pack much of a punch. The prospect to watch here is Yu Chang of the Cleveland Indians. He’s also the front man for the non-existent Yu Chang Clan. In his five minor league seasons since coming stateside from Taiwan, Chang has displayed solid contact skills and average to above-average raw power. The problem is that he’s never displayed both at the same time.
In 2018, he raised his average and OBP, but dropped from 24 home runs and 11 steals down to 13 and four respectively. Overall, he’s put up a .251/.326/.437/.764 slash line in 509 minor league games. That’s a pretty fair representation of what to expect moving forward, albeit, with more power. His swing is quick through the zone with a slight uppercut path that should lead to 20-25 home runs annually. Don’t expect much more than the 11 steals he had in 2017, though. He’s not a burner by any stretch of the imagination.
Beyond Chang, it gets thin quick. And I’ll keep this quick as I want to rant about this stellar outfield for a while. Thairo Estrada of the Yankees has some appeal. The middle infield prospect started 2018 with a bang, literally. He was shot in the hip back in January during a robbery attempt in his native Venezuela. Luckily, he was able to recover and report to Spring Training, but ended up playing in only 18 games due to a slew of various injuries. The 22-year-old is a strong defender with a contact-oriented approach and above-average speed. He has the ability to become a Major League starter at either shortstop or second base.
Errol Robinson of the Dodgers has backup infielder written all over him. He has plus speed but is below-average at the plate. His organizational teammate, Jared Walker, displays a solid power stroke but also some contact woes.
This is an outfield that you’ll be telling your grandchildren about. Heck, it might even be the reason why you have grandchildren if you catch my drift. Yeah, you’re picking up what I’m putting down here, aren’t you? This outfield is a baby-making outfield. When Austin Hays and Luis Alexander Basabe are considered your third and fourth best outfielders on the roster, you know there’s a ton of talent here. Unfortunately, Hays decided to have ankle surgery over playing int he Arizona Fall League. So selfish, right? Just kidding Austin, rest up for next season bud.
Leading the charge is Luis Robert of the White Sox, whom I am going to be keeping a close eye on during the Arizona Fall League. Why? Because of how his 2018 season went. Robert came over from Cuba with immense offensive potential and gave us a glimpse of that in rookie ball last summer. Robert slashed .310/.491/.536/1.027 with 12 extra-base hits (3 HR) and 12 steals in just 28 games. What was most impressive was the plate discipline he showed, walking 22 times to just 23 strikeouts. That type of plate discipline was what he showed while playing in Cuba and it was nice to see that translate to the minor leagues.
Luis Robert back in action at mini-camp. 🙌🔥 pic.twitter.com/6UADkSelkL
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) January 18, 2018
With the exception of the speed, all of that went away in 2018. Due to various ailments, Robert was limited to just 50 games and 186 at-bats. While he had 11 doubles and three triples, no ball Robert hit cleared the fence this season. In addition, his walk rate dwindled from 19.3% in 2017 all the way down to 5.8%. Some of that is due to facing more advanced competition, but Robert never had a chance to gain any momentum this season. Which is a big reason why this time in the Arizona Fall League is so crucial to his development.
A lot of the same can be said for Estevan Florial as well. The dynamic Yankees outfield prospect lost nearly two months of the season to hamate surgery in late-May. Luckily, he was able to make it back ahead of schedule but still could greatly benefit from this extra developmental time in the Arizona Fall League.
The 20-year-old Dominican native has a swing built for Yankee Stadium. He generates plenty of hard contact and bat speed from the left side with some decent loft to his swing. Left-handed loft at Yankee Stadium is a beautiful thing, unless it’s against my Red Sox of course. He may not look the part of a masher, but Florial’s raw strength and sweet swing should translate into 20 to 25 home runs with the potential for a little more. Add in some plus wheels and solid on-base skills and you have an offensive dynamo waiting to happen.
Not every #Yankees prospect homered today. Estevan Florial merely tripled — showing off that 70-grade speed. He's also raced up the @Yankees Top 30 list, which came out today: https://t.co/tG77sJ03hS pic.twitter.com/Jilq70Le6U
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 1, 2018
Missing chunks of the 2018 season is a common theme with this outfield. After a dynamite 2017 season, Hays was limited to 75 games in 2018. He missed basically all of June and July due to an ankle injury that kept lingering. This extra developmental time was going to be huge for Hays as he looks to rejoin the Baltimore outfield. However, as mentioned in the open, surgery to repair a stress fracture in his ankle will cause him to miss the entire Arizona Fall League. At least Hays isn’t getting too bummed out by missing the AFL.
With Hays out, the man joining Robert and Florial in this outfield most games will be Luis Alexander Basabe. Considered a “minor” piece in the White Sox return for Chris Sale, Basabe has begun to display the power/speed profile that many scouts saw when the Red Sox signed him as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela back in 2013. In 438 at-bats this season, Basabe racked up 15 home runs, 16 steals, and improved his walk rate to a solid 12.4%.
Basabe has a quick bat, but can get a little long with his swing and has trouble picking up spin at times. For now, his batting average will be limited in the .240-.260 range until he can tweak that swing and take a more direct path through the strike zone. But what better place to work on that than the Arizona Fall League?
Cody Thomas is a big outfielder with plus raw power and a questionable hit tool. He’s managed to maintain mostly solid batting averages, but has yet to advance past high Single-A as a 23-year old. It will be interesting to see how he fairs against more advanced competition in the Arizona Fall League. Connor Marabell is a safe, yet uninspiring prospect. He lacks much power or speed, but puts the ball in play and plays adequate defense. Basically, the epitome of a backup outfielder in the Major Leagues. He should debut for Cleveland sometime in 2019.
Domingo Acevedo (NYY), Tanner Banks (CWS), Zack Burdi (CWS), Tanner Chleborad (BAL), Tyler Erwin (BAL), Jay Flaa (BAL), Jordan Foley (NYY), Justin Garza (CLE), Hobie Harris (NYY), Ben Holmes (LAD), Rob Kaminsky (CLE), Nolan Long (LAD), Jared Robinson (CLE), Andre Scrubb (LAD), Jordan Sheffield (LAD), Dalbert Siri (CLE), Zach Thompson (CWS), Matt Wivinis (NYY)
After all the excitement we just went over with the outfield, this pitching staff could be considered a letdown. This isn’t exactly what you would call a stellar pitching staff. Headlining this group is Domingo Acevedo of the Yankees. The simplest way to describe Acevedo is a big right-hander with a big fastball. His 6’7 frame gives his heater a solid downhill trajectory, making it difficult to square up. But beyond that, his secondary pitches could use some refinement. His change-up is a solid offering and one he can command well, but his slider lacks consistency.
I’m also not 100% certain that Acevedo remains in the rotation long-term. His delivery features a lot of effort which could force a move to the bullpen down the road. It will be interesting to see if he can simplify that delivery during the Arizona Fall League.
The other big name on this Glendale pitching staff is Jordan Sheffield, younger brother of Yankees arm, Justus Sheffield. But with this big name came a big ERA, big WHIP, big walk rate. You get the idea. The 2018 season was not kind to Justus’ younger brother. He finished with a 6.32 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, and 5.4 BB/9. Granted, that came with 10.7 K/9, but not a great showing from Sheffield. The problem here has always been a lack of control. Sheffield has three above-average offerings in his fastball, slider, and changeup, but can’t control any of them to save his life. Needless to say, that’s what I’m going to be monitoring with him during his stint in the Arizona Fall League. There’s SP3/4 upside here if he can refine that control.
Lastly, we have Zack Burdi. A flame-throwing future closer with a wipeout slider and questionable control. He missed most of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but should debut in the White Sox bullpen sometime in 2019.
Eric Cross is the lead MLB writer and prospect analyst here on FantraxHQ. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). For more from Eric, check out his author page and follow him on Twitter @EricCross04.