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AFL 2017; who is going and why

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Robles headlines our AFL contingent for 2017. Photo via milb.com

Robles headlines our AFL contingent for 2017. Photo via milb.com

Arizona Fall League 2017 rosters were announced earlier this week.

Here’s the Nats announced participants: Victor Robles, Dakota Bacus, Jimmy Cordero, Kyle McGowin, Austen Williams, Taylor Gushue, Kelvin Gutierrez.

So, that’s an interesting bunch.  We generally see AFL participants named for one of several reasons:

  1. They were hurt and need more ABs/Innings on the year.
  2. They’re uber prospects from the mid-minors who the team wants to see challenged as a “finishing school” kind of situation.
  3. They’re rule-5 eligible in November and the team wants to make a decision on whether or not they’re worth protecting.
  4. The AFL roster is short a catcher, pitcher or middle infielder so the team has to pony up one to fill the roster.
  5. They’re working on something new … a new pitch, switch hitting, etc.

So, given those rules, lets do quick judgements on why these particular players are playing in Arizona.

  • Robles: Reason #2: he’s the team’s undisputed #1 prospect; he’s heading to AFL as a finishing school challenge ahead of him likely working his way into a 2018 call-up.
  • Bacus: Reason #1 and perhaps Reason #3 as well: Bacus missed two months this year on the D/L, but also took a big step forward performance-wise.  He’s been Rule-5 eligible for two years now, but suddenly he’s succeeding at a high enough level that the team may be thinking about protecting him.
  • Cordero: #3 primarily: Cordero was outrighted in August and has had a pretty ugly 2017 season stat-wise.  But he was on a 40-man roster prior to his acquisition for a reason, and the team may want to see a bit more of him before deciding whether to protect him again.
  • McGowin: Reason #1, maybe #5: McGowin missed about two months with two different D/L stints … and was demoted twice this year.  Is the team looking to convert him to relief?  I don’t think he’s a rule-5 jeopardy even though he’s eligible for the 2nd time.
  • Williams: #3 mostly; Williams is Rule-5 eligible for the first time but struggled in AA for the second year running.  He did miss some time this year, but this seems more like a “challenge” AFL placement.
  • Gushue: #3 again, perhaps #4: Gushue is probably under advisement for rule-5 protection by virtue of the fact that he’s a Catcher and he can hit, even if he’s repeating High-A again in 2017.  You can never have too many catchers on the roster for depth, and with the team likely parting ways with Jose Lobaton we’ll need more on the roster.  Catchers on AFL rosters are also in short supply, so there’s a double reason here too.
  • Gutierrez: #1 primarily: he’s shown promise at the plate 3 years running at successive levels, but got hurt and missed a chunk of time after making the Carolina league all-star team.  He’ll get some catch up ABs in Arizona and the team will get to see him challenged too (he’s never been above High-A).

We’re all curious to see how Robles fares against top-end minor league competition of course.  But who among the rest of these guys is even considered a top end “prospect” in our system?  The next closest thing to a “top 10” guy is Gutierrez, who has been in the 8-12 range on the last few rankings.  Gushue was ranked 25th on MLBpipeline.com’s mid-season ranking; the rest of these guys are not even on the top 30.  So, not a great crop of talent necessarily but a slew of guys who the team may want to add at the fringes of the roster later on.