Top hitting prospects making their case at the Arizona Fall League

Cubs prospect Junior Lake is tearing up the AFL.

The ball is jumping off the bats in Arizona this year. With most pitchers working on specific aspects of their game, mixed with the always-friendly hitting conditions in the desert, hitters are dominating the Arizona Fall League so far. One exception has been the second overall pick by the Mariners in this year’s draft, Danny Hultzen. The 6’-2″ lefty tossed four innings of no-hit baseball on Wednesday and has only given up two runs over nine innings through three appearances so far.

Things aren’t going so well in Scottsdale however. The outfield trio of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Gary Brown, arguably the top three position player prospects in baseball, have been struggling the first two weeks. Harper is hitting .200 with 1 HR/6 RBI through nine games, Trout .250/0 HR/1 RBI/0 BB/11 K through eight games and Brown .200/0 HR/4 RBI/1 BB/8 K through 10 games. Harper is starting to turn it around, however, hitting 5-for-12 (.417) with 1 HR/5 RBI over the past three.

I wrote about the top 25 prospects to keep an eye on a couple of weeks ago (here), and many have lived up to the billing, while others are just in need of more playing time to put together consistent at bats.

Here are 10 players who are shining so far in the “finishing school” for the games top players:

Nolan Arenado — Rockies, 3B (age 20)

10 games: 19-for-45/(.422)/3 2B/2 HR/19 RBI/1.048 OPS

One of my biggest problems with the SABR metric folks out there is how they like to dismiss RBI totals, saying they are a direct result of the players hitting in front of them. The more they get on base, the more chances you get to knock them in. Well, Nolan Arenado is my outlier if you will.

After leading the minors in RBI this season with 122, the Rockies top-hitting prospect leads the AFL with 19 over his first 10 games. He also has hit in every game and delivered an RBI in nine out of 10. Also has one of the best batting eyes in the minors, as he only struck out 54 times in the regular season and just twice so far in the AFL.

Junior Lake — Cubs, SS (21)

12 games: 16-for-49 (.327)/12 R/3 2B/4 HR/10 RBI/9 SB/1.073 OPS

Lake has been the most exciting player during the first two weeks. He leads the league in stolen bases (DJ LeMahieu is second with five), is tied for the lead in home runs and is third in runs scored. An enigma for the Cubs over the past couple of years, the 6’-3″, 215 lb shortstop is starting to put it all together after hitting .280 with 12 HR and 38 SB for Daytona and Tennessee this season. His defense is the only thing holding him back. Will have to make a move to either second base or the outfield, especially with Starlin Castro locked in at shortstop.

Robbie Grossman — Pirates, OF (22)

13 games: 21-for-56 (.375)/3 2B/4HR/10 RBI/9 BB/1.104 OPS

The Pirates are starting to put together a nice core of prospects and, until recently, Grossman has been flying a bit under the radar. After a breakout season in which he hit .294 with 34 2B/13 HR/56 RBI/24 SB/104 BB and a minor-league leading 127 runs, he leads the AFL in hits and is tied for the home run lead. He also continues to show off his exceptional batting eye by ranking near the top with nine walks.

Josh Vitters — Cubs, OF (22)

9 games: 15-for-37 (.405)/3 2B/2HR/10 RBI/1.074 OPS

Vitters is finally starting to show why the Cubs selected him third overall in the 2007 draft. His bat has always been his best weapon but he has progressed slower than expected through the system. After hitting .283/14 HR/83 RBI over 129 games at double-A Tennessee this year, he ranks fourth in hitting and seventh in RBI. He has been playing outfield for Mesa, giving him a better shot at making the major league team next season with the versatility.

Will Myers — Royals, OF (20)

9 games: 9-for-31 (.290)/8 R/1 2B/2 3B/2 HR/6 RBI/12 BB/.488 OBP/1.134 OPS

The Royals top prospect, now that Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer are up for good, Myers is thriving after an up and down regular season.  After hitting .315/14 HR/83 RBI/.429 OBP over 126 games as a 19-year-old in 2010, he batted just .254/8 HR/49 RBI/.353 OBP over 99 games this year. Injuries played a big part of his decline in numbers. Now healthy, he is again showing off his advanced plate discipline by leading the league with 12 walks.

Jedd Gyorko — Padres, 3B (23)

7 games: 12-for-32 (.375)/7 R/1 2B/3 HR/8 RBI/1.099 OPS

Gyorko was selected in the second round of the 2009 draft by the Padres because of his bat. He may not have a true position in the field yet, but the Padres will find a way to get his stick into their line up. He was a candidate for minor league player of the year after hitting .333/119 runs/47 2B/2 3B/25 HR/114 RBI/14 SB/.952 OPS over 140 games this season split between two leagues. At 5’-10″ and 200 lbs, he is similar to Brian Giles the way he generates so much power from his body.

Tim Beckham — Rays, SS (21)

9 games: 10-for-38 (.263)/9 R/3 2B/2 3B/2 HR/9 RBI/3 SB/8 BB/.997 OPS

There were high expectations on Beckham after the Rays selected him with the first overall pick back in 2008. The Rays are one of the best at evaluating and developing players, and with a major league team loaded with talent, they have been able to be patient with Beckham and move him along slowly. He had a breakout campaign this year hitting .271 with 94 runs/28 2B/4 3B/12 HR/70 RBI/17 SB over 131 games. He also has worked hard on his defense, cutting his errors in half from 43 in 2009 to 22 this year. His eight walks so far are a sign that his plate discipline is a top priority at the AFL.

Mike Olt — Rangers, 3B (23)

9 games: 12-for-39 (.308)/8 R/1 2B/4 HR/11 RBI/1.032 OPS

Olt suffered a broken collar bone in June causing him to miss half the season. Still, he hit .267/14 HR/42 RBI/.891 OPS over 69 games. The Rangers first round pick (49th overall) in last year’s draft, the 6’-2″, 210 lb righty has tremendous power and is one of the best defensive third baseman in the minors. With Adrian Beltre signed through 2016, the Rangers will either have to move him to the outfield or use him as a centerpiece in a trade.

Tim Wheeler — Rockies, OF (23)

11 games: 12-for-48 (.250)/8 R/4 2B/1 HR/15 RBI/3 SB/.690 OPS

Wheeler is a 6’-4″, 210 lb power hitter with sneaky speed. He hit .287/33 HR/86 RBI/21 SB/.900 OPS over 138 games at double-A Tulsa this season. The Rockies first-round pick (32nd overall) in 2009, he is playing his way into a roster spot next season by ranking second in RBI and fifth in stolen bases.

Joe Terdoslavich — Braves, 1B (23)

7 games: 13-for-28 (.464)/6 R/3 2B/1 3B/4 RBI/1.159 OPS

The Braves sixth-round pick in last year’s draft, Terdoslavich is an extra-base hit machine. The 6’-1″, 200 lb switch-hitter generates power from both sides of the plate and hit .286/52 2B/20 H/82 RBI/.867 OPS over 131 games at class-A advanced Lynchburg this season. He is currently leading the AFL in hitting. With Freddie Freeman locked in at first base for awhile, the Braves will have to transition him to a corner outfield spot soon.

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