When we told you that Three Up, Three Down really loves baseball, we weren’t kidding. On Saturday, I watched the Oregon vs. USC football game until 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time, at which point I switched away from one of the best games of the year to focus on MLB Network.
No, I’m not crazy – I just love baseball, and the Arizona Fall League’s (AFL) annual Rising Stars Game was on. For those of you that don’t know, the AFL is basically grad school for each team’s top prospects. All 30 MLB teams assign seven players to the AFL, comprised of six teams.
It’s basically a little extra work for the superstars of tomorrow. Last year, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper played in the Rising Stars Game. Mike Piazza, Roy Halladay and Stephen Strasburg are just a few of the alumni of the AFL. And the game in 2012 was no different, showcasing a plethora of talent we will be sure to see on Major League teams in the very near future, such as Detroit’s Nick Castellanos, who won the Futures Game MVP in July.
I’ve picked five winners and losers from the game yesterday – read on to see if one of your team’s top prospects made an impact!
Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds
Hamilton was this game’s biggest draw, and he delivered big time. One of the few players to start and finish the game, Hamilton got to show off the speed that has made him Cincinnati’s top-rated prospect (Minor League record 155 steals in 2012 – that is NOT a typo) right from the get-go. After drawing a walk to lead off the game, Hamilton promptly stole second, stole third, and scored on a double two batters later. Hamilton also laid down a beautiful bunt that forced an errant throw, resulting in him coasting to third base on the play. Though he recently transitioned from shortstop to center field in order to take advantage of those wheels, Hamilton looked right at home, making a diving play later on in the game. This kid is undoubtedly a future star.
Michael Tonkin, Minnesota Twins
Jason Kubel’s brother-in-law had a very rough time against the elite hitters of the AFL. Tonkin pitched to five batters and didn’t get a single one out – instead, he allowed three hits, five base runners and four earned runs (five runs total) on 17 pitches. The 6-foot-7 22-year-old righty has really strong stuff, but melted in a big spot yesterday. To add to the disappointment for Tonkin, he was charged with a blown save, took the loss, and saw a 4-3 lead turn into an 8-3 deficit under his watch. Tonkin has a good, low-to-mid 90’s fastball and a pretty good slider – his 2.08 ERA and 97 K’s in 69 1/3 innings in Minor League ball this past season don’t lie – but he really fell apart in the Rising Stars Game.
Rymer Liriano, San Diego Padres
Holy smokes, can the Padres’ number one prospect swing a bat! There’s a visibly arrogant swagger to Liriano’s game, but he walks the walk on the field, and proved it again last night. In five plate appearances, Liriano went 3-for-4 with two doubles, walked, drove in a run, and scored a run. He had great plate discipline and was being lauded by premiere minor league analyst Jonathan Mayo for his speed as well. The Padres may have a legitimate offensive threat in Liriano, as long as they can keep him grounded when he hits a slump in the big leagues.
Michael Almanzar, Boston Red Sox
It’s been a strange journey for Almanzar, a 21-year-old infielder from the Dominican Republic. When he was originally drafted, the Red Sox thought they were getting a future power hitter. And while he’s shown potential to pop a few out of the yard, he needs to put on some muscle. At 6-foot-3 and only 190 pounds, he has the frame of a guy who should be shooting the gap, yet the eye and the swing of a homer-happy free swinger. The Rising Stars Game proved to be a disaster for Almanzar, as he came up to bat twice, including in the top of the 9th with the bases loaded, and struck out both times. To his credit, Almanzar did have a good at-bat in the 9th, before caving to strike three.
Austin Romine, New York Yankees
Going 1-for-2 with a strikeout doesn’t sound like such a fantastic game, does it? But the Yankees’ farm hand narrowly missed a monster home run in his first at-bat, instead settling for a triple. Romine also was hit by a pitch in the left elbow and came around to score his second run of the game. The reason Romine is a winner here, is because the kid has suffered through injury after injury during his young career, and proved his toughness in front of a TV audience last night. The half inning before getting plunked, Romine took two hard foul tips off the body and walked both of them off. He’s a gamer, and proved it in Arizona – the Yankees will definitely be keeping a close eye on him in Spring Training.
Nick Ahmed, Atlanta Braves
Ahmed actually has a good-looking future, as he swatted 36 doubles and swiped 40 bags in 130 games in the Minors this season. I don’t know if his future with the Braves will be at shortstop, but he didn’t give them any reason to think so in this one-game sample size last night. Ahmed made a couple nice plays and redeemed himself later with a walk and a run, but he started the game with a strikeout at the plate and an ugly error in the field. I’m talking, line drive right to him, off the glove, into left field type of error. With guys like Andrelton Simmons and Tyler Pastornicky already ahead of him, Ahmed might be looking to learn a new position if he wants to break in with the big club.
Brian Goodwin, Washington Nationals
After the West team went up 2-0 in the top of the first, Goodwin sparked the East by hitting a leadoff homer, the only one of the game. The analysis on Goodwin is that he has legitimate five-tool potential. I can see why people might think so; Goodwin’s left-handed swing is extremely quick and he has the abilities to hit for average and power. He has decent speed and plays solid outfield defense, too. The Nationals may need to make room for this guy in their outfield very soon. My guess is he would supplant Harper in center field at some point in the next two seasons. Goodwin, who just turned 22 on Friday, had an OPS of .852 between two Minor League stops in 2012, and showed off his skills in Arizona going 2-for-5 with two RBI and two runs scored.
Jarred Cosart, Houston Astros
I was really excited to watch Cosart start this game, because I knew his reputation (a 2.60 ERA in the Pacific Coast League this year; electric fastball, good change-up, above average breaking ball and great command). He was a key piece, along with Rising Stars teammate Jonathan Singleton, in the Hunter Pence deal to Philadelphia in 2011. Cosart has been a top prospect in both organizations he’s played for since day one, but I was truly disappointed with his outing last night. Though the numbers weren’t bad (2 innings, 1 hit, 2 runs, 2 walks, 1 strikeout), he was missing his spots all day, going 3-0 on multiple batters across those frames. I had no doubt after watching that Cosart has the tools to be a good starter or a great reliever, but he really laid an egg in his start on Saturday.
Mark Montgomery, New York Yankees
Yeah, yeah. I hate putting two Yankees in the winner’s column as much as the next guy. But I can’t pretend I wasn’t very impressed with both prospects I have listed here. Though I probably could have chosen any reliever after the sixth inning on either squad (The 12 total pitchers entering in the 6th inning or later, combined: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K), I went with Montgomery for his dominant performance. The 21-year-old righty blew away the West team in his frame, striking out all three batters on 16 total pitches. His 1.65 minor league ERA and 16.1 K/9 are ridiculous, and I wonder if he has the make-up or velocity (tops out at 95 MPH) to some day fill Mariano Rivera’s shoes as the closer in the Bronx. Either way, I expect to see him getting big league action by 2014 at the very latest.
Anyone who didn’t watch the game!
Seriously. It’s not a cop-out. I’m not saying you should also sacrifice your college football or NFL, or even NBA watching during the MLB off-season, but don’t pass up an opportunity to watch some of the next great generation of baseball stars in action. Follow along with the AFL this winter and see how your team’s top prospects are handling some of the best minor league competition in all of baseball. Better yet, just follow the 3u3d blog and we’ll give you everything you need to know until Opening Day is back upon us. If you want to follow us on Twitter, you can find us @3u3d, and you can like us on Facebook at Three Up, Three Down. All the glorious baseball news you can stomach, right here, all winter long.
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)