The Atlanta Braves sent seven players to the Arizona Fall League this year. Many of them were sent to get more innings due to missed time during the season due to injury. Lucas Sims and Andrew Thurman both missed significant time this year to injuries they suffered in the Carolina Mudcats' bus crash that injured many players and coaches. Daniel Winkler was recovering from Tommy John surgery during the 2015 season and used the AFL as rehab starts essentially. Then there were other players (Connor Lien, Johan Camargo, Joseph Camargo, Mauricio Cabrera) that the Braves sent to the AFL to see what they had. They were all varying levels of talent that could potentially see time in the big leagues, but their futures were far from certain. With 40 man roster decisions over the next couple of seasons becoming paramount, getting a good read on who these players are and their ceilings will be crucial as the Braves' ever expanding and improving farm system gets a year older.
With that in mind, lets take a look at who helped their stocks and who hurt them in the 2015 Arizona Fall league for the Braves.
To be blunt, Lucas was one of the best pitchers in the AFL this year. He started in the AFL All-Star game and dominated the competition from the beginning to the end of the AFL season. No one player in the AFL, let alone for the Braves, helped their stock more than Lucas. With strong performances as well as strong reviews from scouts about his actual "stuff", Lucas showed that his late season resurgence with Mississippi (after suffering a hip injury in the aforementioned bus crash) wasn't a fluke. He finished the AFL season with a 2.12 ERA and that was after giving up a run in his last outing of the season. While it was nice that he was among the league leaders in a bunch of pitching stats, what was more encouraging was his control (a definite area of weakness during the season). He gave up a total of 3 walks in the AFL.....thats right, three. Lucas has said that the work to repeat his delivery has what has given him success and its hard to argue with the results as he was, by far, the biggest success story for the Braves in the AFL.
Winkler's time in the AFL was never going to be measured as a success or failure based on his stat line unless is was at the very extreme ends of the spectrum. Ultimately, the goal was for him to get valuable innings so that he would be ready for the 2016 season and he certainly did that while staying healthy. In addition, he was impressive as well despite not pitching a ton of innings. He finished the AFL with a respectable 3.00 ERA while striking out 11 in 9 innings of work. A great comeback story, expect Winkler to play a part in the Braves' bullpen plans in 2016.
Alright, don't get me wrong....Mauricio's stat line from the AFL was not great. A 6.17 ERA while displaying some very debatable control at times is not exactly something from which legends are born. However, scouts seemingly everywhere marveled at his velocity which touched 103 mph at times. In addition, he results did get progressively better as the AFL season went on for the most part and he did strike out 15 batters in a little over 11 innings. While he still infuriates me as a prospect and I'm not on board yet, its hard to argue that he didn't help his cause in the AFL this year both with the organization and the league as a whole.
In short, after his breakout campaign during the regular season, Connor Lien certainly came up short in the AFL this year. His .169 batting average was tied for 2nd-worst in the entire AFL and he rarely displayed the tools of speed and power that he did while at Carolina. He also tied for the league-lead in strikeouts with 35 which was a recurring problem during the regular season. With a promotion to Mississippi seemingly likely given his performance last season, we will now have to watch Lien as he faces tougher pitchers. Either he uses this experience to make adjustments, or he his development as a major league prospect could very well be permanently stunted.
In fairness to Thurman, he missed the most time of these prospects outside of Winkler, but his AFL season was very poor. Despite threatening the top 20 on many Braves' prospect lists, Thurman's promise did not lead to success in the AFL as he posted a 9.00 ERA in 13 innings while producing increasingly inconsistent results as the AFL season progressed. For every good, clean outing that Thurman would put up, he would put up another where he was extremely hittable and did not impress. Thurman does still have time to figure it out, but this next season will really set the tone as to his future as a prospect.
Remember when I mentioned that Connor Lien was among the worst hitters in the AFL this season? Yeah, Camargo was only marginally better as he posted a .206/.265/.222 line. Another fringe top 30 prospect coming in to the AFL season, its likely that Camargo played himself out of a 40 man roster spot with is poor play. While its also likely that his poor play will keep him from being selected in the Rule V, that the Braves didn't even hint that they were thinking of protecting him shows how far he is from being a legitimate MLB prospect at this point in time.
To be fair to Odom, expectations should have been low as he was not a top performer in the Braves' farm system last season to say the least. When a player bat .222 in high-A, its not really that much of a surprise that he would have trouble against the tougher competition of the AFL. He also only appeared in 8 games in the AFL as he shared duties with 2 other catchers on the roster. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, he would have ranked among the worst offensive performers in the league which certainly does nothing to help with the perception that Odom does not have a big league future.