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Plenty of Stars Shine at the Rising Stars Game

By Chuck Johnson ~ November 7th, 2011. Filed under: Digest Contributors.

In what has quickly become a haven for Major League scouts and Executives, the prestigious Arizona Fall League held its sixth annual “Rising Stars” game Saturday night in Surprise, AZ.

And there were plenty of stars on hand to see.

The announcement earlier in the week of the opposing pitchers began the game’s anticipation when the top two picks in the 2011 draft, Gerrit Cole and Danny Hultzen, would face off against each other.

The game got off to a great start, as Hultzen struck out Robbie Grossman, Mike Trout and Junior Lake in succession. Showing a mixture of a fastball that touched 95, a slider and his best pitch, a changeup, Hultzen threw just four balls out of the strikezone out of sixteen pitches.

I’m on record as not being a big fan of Seattle taking Hultzen after seeing his last two starts of 2011. In both, while showing similar signs to what he displayed last night, for the most part Hultzen struggled with not only his command, but his control, and with significantly less velocity.

In looking at Seattle’s organization depth charts this morning, the pick does make sense, as there are maybe only fifteen projectable left-handers in the system, half of them relievers.

In watching the game re-broadcast this morning, MLB Network analyst Dave Valle, a former Mariners catcher and current spring training catching instructor, said Hultzen will go to Peoria next year with a legitimate chance to break camp as a member of the rotation, without an inning of professional experience.

Cole didn’t fare as well in his outing. On a pre-determined pitch count of 30, the hope was he could throw at least two innings, and maybe even start the third.

Didn’t work that way.

Unlike with Hultzen, this was the first time I had really see Cole throw, other than on some two minute YouTube clips.

First thing that struck me was how similar his motion and delivery are to Angels pitcher Dan Haren. Cole stands tall in his set-up, with a very short backwards movement, then turns into his delivery, and, like Haren, almost stops at the top, then explodes forward with his hips and legs with an overhand delivery that allows him to not only maintain command but hit triple digits on his fastball.

All of that looks good on paper, but not always to his opponents.

Marlins’ outfield prospect Kevin Mattison led off the bottom of the first by pulling a 2-2, 99 mph fastball through the right side. Rightfielder Robbie Grossman, a lefty thrower, ran towards the line figuring Mattison would stop at first, only to be surprised by him cutting the corner perfectly at first and sliding into second with a double.

Mattison spent the season in Double A, putting together a .253 season, but tying Rising Stars teammate Anthony Gose for second in the minors with 70 stolen bases, so it’s easy to see what his calling card will be.

The next batter was Seattle shortstop prospect Nick Franklin, who was coming off a disappointing 2011 season. The Mariners first round pick as a high schooler in 2009, Franklin was limited to just 88 games in 2011 due to concussion symptoms and a bout of mononucleosis. Heading into the Rising Stars, Franklin had struggled, hitting just .215 with three extra base hits in 65 at bats, but he turned around Cole’s first offering, a 98 mph heater, depositing the pitch onto the grass berm behind the left center field fence, giving the West squad a 2-0 lead.

The next hitter was Kansas City outfielder Wil Myers, who beat out an infield single and advanced to second on a throwing error by Cubs shortstop Junior Lake. After Mike Olt struck out swinging, Cole walked Oakland’s Michael Choice, bring first baseman (Atlanta) Joe Terdoslavich to the plate.

In looking at “Terdo’s” bio page in the AFL Media Guide, he is listed as Atlanta’s sixth round pick in the 2010 draft out of Sarasota High School in Florida with a listed birth date of 9/8/88.

He graduated from high school at 21?

Anyway, Terdoslavich had himself a pretty good season in 2011, spent in Lynchburg of the High A Carolina League. Joe was named to the mid-season and post-season All-Star teams and broke a 66 year old league record with 52 doubles. Drafted as a third baseman, Terdoslavich has been playing first base in the AFL, which indicates he’s being groomed as a master utility player, as he’s currently buried behind Chipper Jones, Edward Salcedo, and Freddie Freeman.

Getting himself into a hitters count early at 2-0, Cole responded with a changeup and two seamer for strikes,evening the count at 2-2. Obviously looking for a strike, Cole’s next offering, a 99 mph cheeser, ended up 420 feet away on the berm in centerfield, extending the West lead to 5-0.

After getting San Diego’s Jaff Decker to ground out to first, Cole’s day was done, after 29 pitches (16 strikes).

After a non-descript second inning in which he allowed his first baserunner, a one-out walk to Bryce Harper, Hultzen too was done for the day.

Cole was replaced by the Dodgers’ Steve Ames, who got out of the inning without any further damage.

Ames wasn’t so fortunate in the second, after retiring his first hitter, after one out, Mattison singled and Franklin doubled, putting runners on second and third. Myers followed with a sharp groundball to first, with the Rockies Ben Paulsen making a nice stop and throwing out Mattison at home, with Franklin moving to third.

Rangers third base prospect Mike Olt, the AFL homerun leader, followed with a broken bat single to right, scoring Franklin and making the score 6-0.

The West squad scored in the top of the third when Minnesota’s Brian Dozier lined an 0-1 fastball from Kansas City’s Nate Adcock over the left center field fence.

The comeback attempt was shortlived, however, as the West came back off Phoenix native and Diamondbacks prospect Charles Brewer for five hits and four runs in the third inning.

Jaff Decker popped to second after Terdoslavich led off the inning with a double, who promptly scored when Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt singled to center on the first pitch. Royals second baseman Christian Colon singled to center, putting runners on first and second. After Mattison lined to left for the second out, Nick Franklin sliced a double down the left field line scoring two runs.

After the obligatory manager visit to the mound, Myers followed with his second infield hit of the game, with Mike Olt following with his second consecutive run-scoring single, extending the lead to 10-1 after three innings.

Over the next six innings, each team would each touch the scoreboard once; the East in the fourth off the Blue Jays Wes Etheridge when after a Junior Lake double and a Nolan Arenado fielder’s choice, Bryce Harper poked a two strike protect pitch to left field for a sac fly.

The West would counter the run in the bottom of the fifth, when after Christian Colon was hit by a pitch and Nick Franklin singled for his fourth hit of the game, Wil Myers rocked a single to left, scoring Colon.

Despite no further scoring for the rest of the game there were still some outstanding, All-Star worthy performances, commencing immediately in the top of the sixth inning when Kansas City’s Jeremy Jeffress struck out the side, with Bryce Harper among his victims.

Jeffress’ first bout with celebrity came for negative reasons, he was the first player to be suspended twice for drug abuse under the minor league substance abuse program, his next suspension resulting in a lifetime ban.

Traded to Kansas City from Milwaukee as part of the Zack Greinke trade, the Royals moved him and his 100 mph fastball to the bullpen after a mixed bag of appearances (14 starts, 11 relief) between AA and AAA. Jeffress went on to make fourteen relief appearances with the Royals, and despite speculation he’s being “stretched out” for a return to the rotation, a number of Royals personnel I spoke with during the game unanimously shot down those rumors.

During his Fall League appearance in 2010 while still a member of the Brewers organization, Jeffress routinely hit triple digits with his fastball while showing an inconsistent, yet promising curve and a below average change.

As a member of the Royals, he’s in the AFL a second time working on his breaking stuff and command, throwing easily sixty percent breaking stuff in the four appearances I’ve seen. The fact he can have top prospects such as Harper off-balance with the curve proves not only has Jeffress matured as a pitcher, but also as a man.

It’s a great thing to see.

The game remained exciting throughout, even though the scoring stopped.

In addition to his four hits, Franklin showed solid shortstop skills, and even though he booted a semi-routine ground ball, but with the game already out of reach it mattered not.

Rockies prospect Nolan Arenado, who led all minor leaguers inRBI during the season and currently leads the AFL in the same category, is not considered a prospect defensively. The guy I saw betrays that opinion, he fielded a tough hop grounder with a runner on first and I could almost see his train of thought with the ball in the air in what he should do. He decided to try for the double play, planted his feet and threw in one motion to second, on the button, with the relay completing the twin killing.

Stuff like that can’t be taught.

It also can’t be measured by sabermetrics.

In the long run the game proved to be exactly what it was designed to be; an exhibition game for scouts and front office personnel interested in seeing their own top prospects or potential Rule V or trade pickups.

After the game ended and the obligatory handshakes had completed, Cole and Hultzen walked over by their respective dugouts and proceeded to sign autographs and pose for pictures for a half hour.

“I didn’t get a chance before the game, so this was my only chance”, Cole said. “It’s no big deal, it’s fun.”

Going forward, the Rising Stars game in general, and the AFL in particular, continues to produce major league stars, with forty-four 2010 Alumni having made at least one ML appearance in 2011.

Looking at the big picture, nine of the recently named Silver Slugger Award winners and eleven Gold Glove recipients are AFL Alumni. In addition, AFL alumnus Matt Kemp was named the Hank Aaron Award Winner, and Jacoby Ellsbury the AL Comeback player of the year.

When looking at the rosters of each team in the postseason, 99 players are AFL alumni, including World Series MVP David Freese.

MLBNetwork has two more games scheduled, Military Appreciation Day from Talking Stick Resort on November 11th at 8pm EST, and the League Championship Game from Scottsdale Stadium on November 19th at 3pm EST.

A life-long Yankee fan who counts among his fondest memories seeing “The Mick” play in person, Chuck is a long time member of SABR and the Minor League Alumni Association. A staff researcher for Retrosheet, and a former part-time scout with the Mariners, Chuck now works for the Milwaukee Brewers in their Spring Training Operations Office and holds a similar role in the offseason for the Arizona Fall League. Chuck's newest venture is as a staff writer for MLB.com's new minor league blog http://thefuturists.mlblogs.com, led by Senior Writer Jonathan Mayo. You can check him out there under user cjohns56 (same as Twitter), and on his soon to be launched personal website, www.mlbprospectpulse.com.
Chuck Johnson
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2 Responses to Plenty of Stars Shine at the Rising Stars Game

  1. ecp

    Kind of a mess-up in the media guide on Terdoslavich. He was drafted by the Braves out of Cal State Long Beach in 2010, after not signing with Rays as a 35th round pick out of Sarasota High in 2007.

  2. Fred

    Thanks for giving Nolan some props on his defense. He can play there at 3rd with no problems and he works hard at it.

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