Are the Stars in the Arizona Fall League Fading?

The Arizona Fall League as long been considered prospect finishing school. Most recently uber-talented youngsters Mike Trout and Bryce Harper decimated the pitching-light league prior to ascending to Triple-A and then the Major Leagues. But the 2012 crop in Arizona doesn’t feel as talented as previous years had. Is the talent level in the league dropping?

At least, that’s the question I was tasked with. Though, how does one empirically gauge a league’s true talent level? The Arizona Fall League (AFL) has a tiny slate of games and within each the caliber of player varies wildly. This question marinated in my brain goo for a few days before I determined the best course of action would be to cross-check past Arizona Fall League rosters against Fangraphs, Baseball America and Bullpen Banter’s top prospect lists. While the rest of the players in the league unquestionably add to its overall talent level, it’s top 100 prospects who we project to have an impact.

Behold the most pathetic charts you will ever find on these pages!

Year Top 100 Prospects
2007 21
2008 18
2009 18
2010 13
2011 15
2012 17
Total 102

The number of projected ranked prospects in the AFL has not dropped off so I parsed the data differently to see if anything turned up. It occurred to me that this year’s group of prospects may be less developed than those in previous years creating the perception that the talent had dipped. To test this I manually logged the highest level of professional baseball a prospect played at just prior to his AFL stint and the highest level following his stay. I assigned Single-A an one, High-A a two and so on with the Major Leagues assigned a value of five. Because of the small sample size I decided remove that year’s Rule 4 draftees.

Year Pre-AFL Post AFL
2007 3.53 4.63
2008 2.93 4.27
2009 3.2 4.6
2010 3.08 4.42
2011 2.83 4.33
2012 3.06 ?
Average 3.11 4.45

Based on these figures the prospects in Arizona this year were slightly less advanced than previous years’ prospects. But there is an interesting takeaway. Prospects who went to the Arizona fall league, on average, advanced one and half levels by the end of the next season. It would be interest to see how this development patterns compares to prospects who did not go to the AFL. But, let’s look at the distribution and see if anything stands out.

YEAR A or lower A+ AA AAA MLB Total Top 100
2007 3 2 8 2 6 21
2008 3 4 9 1 1 18
2009 2 2 10 3 1 18
2010 2 1 6 4 13
2011 5 5 1 1 12
2012 2 11 3 16
Total 10 16 49 14 9 98

There isn’t a lot that jumps out other than there being a few less players who had played in the upper minors than in previous years. Finally I looked at the quality. For the 2012 players who Marc Hulet will rank in a few months I approximated where I expect them to be on my list. I’ve been ranking prospects for about eight years, I have a pretty good idea of where they will fall.

Years Average of Rank
2007 46.5
2008 47.6
2009 49.5
2010 50.5
2011 43.7
2012 57.4
Total 49.1

It does appear that there are less high quality prospects this year than in previous years. The only players I project to be Top 50 prospects are Anthony Rendon, Nick Castellanos, Mike Zunino, Jonathan Singleton, Billy Hamilton and Christian Yelich. I was reluctant to rank Billy Hamilton that highly, but ended up giving him a “25” to reflect the likely industry consensus. In previous years, the AFL averaged 9 top 50 prospects per year. I’m sorry to say, there is no grand conclusion today. Yes, the AFL’s star power is down slightly, but it’s up to you if you want to buy that quality of the league overall has decreased. That my friends, is a very difficult question to answer.

We hoped you liked reading Are the Stars in the Arizona Fall League Fading? by JD Sussman!

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Formerly of Bullpen Banter, JD can be followed on Twitter.

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