Bryant, Hultzen could shine in Arizona Fall League
Two of baseball's top prospects headline a group loaded with young talent
The Minor League season just ended last week, but if you enjoy prospect watching, you won't have to wait very long for more. The Arizona Fall League begins its season on Oct. 8 and runs through Nov. 16, and as usual, it will feature many of the game's top prospects.
Jonathan Mayo and I will take in some AFL action, with Jonathan checking out the Fall Stars Game on Nov. 2 and me arriving for the end of the season and championship game. That got us both thinking about which prospects we were looking forward to seeing the most.
The obvious answer is so obvious -- baseball's top Minor League talent, Twins outfielder Byron Buxton, will suit up for the Glendale Desert Dogs -- that Jonathan and I agreed to choose a different position player. The bat I'm most looking forward to seeing belongs to Mesa Solar Sox third baseman Kris Bryant, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 Draft by the Cubs.
The North Siders have the best quartet of position prospects in baseball, and they will send three of the four to Mesa. Joining Bryant are outfielders Albert Almora and Jorge Soler. Javier Baez -- who led the Minors with 75 extra-base hits and 111 RBIs and ranked second with 37 homers -- was initially slated to go, too, before being removed from the Solar Sox's roster so he can rest. Baez and Soler are loaded with power, but Bryant may have more pop than either of them.
Bryant had an awesome junior season at San Diego, leading NCAA Division I with 31 homers -- more than 223 of the 296 teams and more than any player has hit since college baseball toned down its bats three years ago. He also paced D-I in runs (80), walks (66), total bases (187) and slugging (.820), and he set a Torreros career record with 54 homers. Bryant signed for $6,708,400, the biggest bonus in this year's Draft, and won the Golden Spikes Award and Baseball America's College Player of the Year award.
The best power hitter in the 2013 Draft and the best college power hitter in years, Bryant continued to mash pitching in pro ball. He hit .336/.390/.688 with nine homers and 32 RBIs in 36 regular-season games, then batted .350 with four RBIs in six games to help Daytona win the high Class A Florida State League championship. Bryant has a plus arm and enough athleticism to stay at third base, though he could wind up in the Cubs' outfield down the road if Baez shifts to the hot corner.
Like Bryant, the pitcher I'm most interested in checking out in Arizona also was a No. 2 overall pick. After signing an $8.5 million big league contract in 2011, Mariners left-hander Danny Hultzen made his pro debut in the AFL. Hultzen figured to have established himself in Seattle by now, but shoulder problems limited him to just 35 2/3 innings this season.
When Hultzen is healthy and at the top of the game, he has all the ingredients to become a No. 2 starter. He battled his command for much of 2012, but he's capable of locating three pitches on both sides of the plate. Hultzen's best offering is his above-average changeup, which he sets up with a low-90s fastball and a promising slider.
If Hultzen can overcome his shoulder woes and develop more consistency, the front of the Mariners' rotation should be formidable for years to come. He'd slot in nicely behind Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker.