2018 AFL Fall Stars Game Reaction

“You went onto the field?” The words themselves - innocuous. The tenor of said words – much more meaningful. It was mid-May, and I had been scouting independent league baseball for about 10 days. One of my responsibilities as a scout was speaking to coaches during BP. The goal was to pick their brain and see whether they would recommend any players. I thought this meant literally walking onto the field to speak with them. My boss with the Brewers quickly dispelled that notion. “Never go on the field unless invited.” It was a scout code that I had been blissfully unaware of.

Ever since that day, I observed BP from the stands - the way a scout would. Yesterday, that changed. Now as member of the media, I was granted field access for the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game. I felt like a fish out of water walking around amongst the players and other media members, many of whom are well-respected journalists and writers whose careers I had admired from afar. My focus quickly shifted away from the moment and to the task at hand, grabbing video of BP and getting it posted to Twitter. It’s all here.

One observation centered around Buddy Reed’s left-handed swing, which interestingly utilizes a toe-tap in-game but does not in BP. Oh, and Peter Alonso is insanely strong. Being on the field mere feet away from these guys puts into perspective how huge and physical they are.

Let’s run through some standout performers from the game:

Nate Pearson - RHP Toronto Blue Jays – Pearson started the game for the West squad and aired it out. Looking back at my notes from a week earlier I suddenly felt like a complete dolt. In the previous viewing Pearson topped out at around 99 and I wrote there was some effort in his delivery. To see him sit 100-103 and touch 104 was surreal. Scouts in the area and I repeatedly double-checked one another. Is this real? Pearson’s slider was in the 95-96 range, also way up from previous outings when it registered high 80s. I mistakenly tweeted it was a cutter, but semantics! It was a really fucking hard pitch that moved glove side. Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs opined it was double-plus, and I have no rebuttal. This was what max-effort Pearson would look like if he were coming out of an MLB pen, and he was terrifying.

Pearson K’s Varsho

Peter Alonso - 1B New York Mets – Velo giveth, velo up taketh away, the 4th Tenet of Scouting. Someone punch me. Have I talked about how massive Peter Alonso’s thighs are yet? Yesterday on the Friars at the Farm pod, I joked “This guy never skips leg day.” It came off funnier verbally, ok? But seriously look at his lower half. His thighs are massive and Alonso is well-proportioned with an incredibly strong upper body too. Allow me to state the very obvious, giving Alonso a fastball with any sniff of the plate is a mistake. It does not matter if it is 103 miles per hour, and that is not hyperbole. He can however be beaten with spin, something I have seen several times over the course of the year. That is not meant to be a knock on Alonso. Calling it a glaring weakness is too strong, but attacking him with spin is clearly the more desirable route than giving him the chance to obliterate your fastball.

Forrest Whitley Houston - RHP Forrest Astros – Widely-considered to be the top pitching prospect in baseball, Whitley started for the East team and put his stuff on display. His fastball topped out at 100 and he also mixed in his slider (mid 80s), changeup (mid 80s), curveball (low 80s) and cutter (low 90s). After seeing Pearson touch 104, 100 looked relatively docile, a ludicrous reaction to elite velocity. This is a bad take, but it’s honestly how I felt in the moment. Taking a step back, Whitley is obviously an impressive pitcher. The tools he has at his disposal are unfair. The curveball showed its usual shape but the slider and changeup did not approximate what I had seen in previous outings so if you were watching at home, he is even better than this glimpse.

Lucius Fox SS - Tampa Bay Rays – Fox is a defensive wizard. He made an outstanding jumping catch, fully extending himself vertically. This guy’s got ups. There is no way he should have gotten glove to ball there. A few plays earlier he also showed excellent range moving to his right. The arm is easily plus. Having seen Fox and his West teammate Cole Tucker several times over the course of the season, an internal debate percolated, then boiled in my mind. Which of these guys is the better defender? I think Fox has the edge in range and twitchiness. Tucker probably has the better foot work and arm. Both are special and great in their own right.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - 3B Toronto Blue Jays – In a game of stars his shone the brightest. Fucking refulgent, man. I yearn for the day we type his name into Baseball Reference, and it does not appear in the minor league players section. The indelible moment here with Vlady was the reportedly 117-mph laser double he smashed to left field on a Trent Thornton breaking ball. Scouts are normally pretty stoic (they have seen it all before), but one behind me had this reaction:

This is what it looked like from behind home:

Melvin Adon RHP San Francisco Giants – Adon is a monster physically. It has been said he resembles a linebacker on the mound, and I think that is a fair assessment. He struck out Vlad, and I think that is all I need to say. His fastball was up to 101, and he was able to work his slider front door back over the plate. The consistency of the slider has been the question mark on Adon. While the fastball lights up guns it can be straight and hittable at times. He needs the slider to keep hitters off of it. In my looks this fall the slider has been more good than bad. It lacked bite in his first appearance but has been much sharper in subsequent outings. This is a guy who should contribute in the Giants pen in the very near future.

Brett Hanewich RHP Los Angeles Angels – One of the crazy parts of scouting this season has been learning how many guys I have never heard of that throw triple digits. Enter Brett Hanewich. He was filthy, resting high 90s and touching 100 with life often to the glove side. His slider was 83-86 with big tilt and the changeup 86-87 with good depth. It was a lights-out closer look.

While pitchers impressed with their velocity, hitters impressed with their ability to touch said velocity. Yu Chang had no issues with 100 from Melvin Adon up and away. Buddy Reed took 98 mph from the hand of Justin Lawrence oppo triple to tie the game in the bottom of the 9th. Velo is nice but if it’s straight and on plane hitters will have no issue and that was made crystal clear by the events of Saturday’s game.

The buzz in the park and the exuberance of the players was off the charts in this game. While it was only an exhibition game, it was still the most fun game I watched all season. I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. I still find myself basking in the afterglow days later.