The folding of the Hawaii Winter Baseball League eliminated an educational outlet for developing baseball youngsters. Eight MLB organizations filled the void with the experimental formation of the Advanced Instructional League, aka the Arizona Parallel League, a four-team co-op format with a 14-game slate held in numerous Spring Training and instructional league facilities.
The competition involved players from the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers. This more official pickup league started Sept. 24 and ended Oct. 16. No stats were kept, and teams filled rosters in a fluid, unregimented manner.
This doesn't mean fantasy baseball players shouldn't pay attention to these farm developments:
- In part hoping not to repeat their disastrous development of Wladimir Balentien, the Mariners are working on finding a more polished approach for talented, hyped outfielder Greg Halman, who fanned 191 times in 519 at-bats between two levels this past year. He profiles as a high-level power-speed combo and hit 25 homers in '09. In the APL Seattle planned to continue their extensive work with the 22-year-old on his swing; they have already incorporated sports psychology sessions. He'll likely have more single-year fantasy buzz heading into 2011 but remains a keeper darling.
- Before he joined the Arizona Fall League, the Indians' Nick Weglarz saw some reps in the Parallel, trying to return to game shape after suffering a stress fracture in his left shin in August. This offseason he was originally limited to DH work but eventually was able to play the outfield and run the bases. Weglarz, 21, will also be doing some mechanical tinkering with his hand placement and swing path. He may see MLB time late next season.
- Reds tots Todd Frazier and Juan Francisco used the instructional league to work on positional transitions. Frazier, 23, is cultivating his move to second base, and Francisco, 22, will try to fill the Reds' void in left field. The Frazier switch is a bit curious, given Cincy already boasts Brandon Phillips there and Frazier has extensive experience at shortstop, a more pressing need. However, the powerful Francisco's potential for increased or full-time work makes him a sleeper candidate.
Nineteen-year-old Engel Beltre is filled with tools but will need to display them more after posting a combined .223 clip at three Rangers levels last season. He flashed his speed in the Parallel while also displaying fine defense in center field. Long-term fantasy heads should watch him, though with the Rangers' ample number of outfielders and Beltre's lengthy developmental timeline, it may take a few years for him to break into the bigs.
Francisco is transitioning to LF
Remember Matt Antonelli? The second sacker posted a .196 average at Triple-A Portland this past year and has had a bigger stock crash than Wall Street. San Diego has performed a overhaul of his plate mechanics, but he may not be on the 40-man roster, which must be finalized in November in order to protect players from the minor league draft. This will go a long way to determine how high his microscopic fantasy value can climb. The Pads planned to give his changes a test drive in the advanced league while also showcasing blossoming outfielders Jaff Decker and Kellen Kulbacki, along with rising first baseman Allan Dykstra.
For more news from and observations of offseason action, check out KFFL.com's fantasy baseball blogs and MLB Hot off the Wire!
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About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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