The Arizona Fall League concludes with the championship game between the Mesa Solar Sox and Surprise Saguaros on Saturday. Teddy Cahill and I will be on hand to cover the game for MLB.com, which also will broadcast the game (as will MLB Network) starting at 3 p.m. ET.
The AFL brings more than 200 prospects together for five weeks of games, and represents the only meaningful baseball played in the United States between the end of the World Series and the beginning of Spring Training. Some of baseball's best prospects appear in the AFL each fall, and this year's championship game will feature phenoms such as catcher Jorge Alfaro (Rangers), third basemen Kris Bryant (Cubs) and Garin Cecchini (Red Sox) and shortstop Addison Russell (Athletics).
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I came to Arizona a couple of days ago so I could catch some regular-season action, and I've shared my observations from Wednesday and Thursday. We also have some AFL-related questions in this week's Pipeline Inbox, so let's get to our reader emails and Tweets:
Who has the higher potential between Pirates right-handers Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon?
-- Mike V., Pittsburgh
Cole and Taillon are two of the best pitching prospects to come out of the Draft in recent years. Taillon was the No. 2 overall pick in 2010, when some scouts thought he might be Texas' best high school pitching prospect ever, and he signed for $6.5 million -- still a record for a prep arm. One year later, the Pirates selected Cole at No. 1 overall and gave him a Draft-record $8 million bonus.
Cole made it to Pittsburgh this year, winning 10 times in 19 starts to help the Pirates advance to the postseason for the first time since 1992. Taillon finished the season in Triple-A at age 21, and he should make his big league debut at some point in 2014.
Both have frontline-starter stuff, with Cole possessing a little more upside. He throws harder than Taillon, and his slider is more of a wipeout breaking ball than Taillon's curveball. Cole's changeup is better, too.
Interestingly, neither Cole nor Taillon has blown away Minor League hitters as much as would be expected considering the arsenals they bring to the mound. Neither averaged a strikeout per inning in the Minors, and Taillon has given up nearly as many hits (352) as he has whiffs (356) in 382 pro frames.
How long can Xander Bogaerts stay at shortstop for the Red Sox?
-- SungYong Park, Seoul, South Korea
It's Bogaerts' huge offensive ceiling that makes him baseball's best shortstop prospect, but he's not lacking in defensive ability. Though he's bigger than most shortstops at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, he has good actions and the quickness and arm strength to make plays.
Bogaerts projects as an average defender at shortstop, maybe a tick better than that if you want to be optimistic. He's capable of playing the position for at least a few years in Boston, though if he loses a step as he fills out he'd be a better fit at third base. How long Bogaerts stays at shortstop for the Red Sox will depend on the makeup of the team.
If Boston hadn't traded Jose Iglesias and Iglesias held his own offensively, then Bogaerts wouldn't be the club's long-term shortstop. Should shortstop prospects Deven Marrero, Jose Vinicio or Tzu-Wei Lin get their bats going, they'll probably push Bogaerts to third base. But if Stephen Drew departs as a free agent and the Red Sox don't sign a veteran, they'll be comfortable trusting shortstop to Bogaerts in 2014.
How close would you say Cardinals outfield prospect Stephen Piscotty is to the big leagues at the moment? If St. Louis opens up a roster spot with some trades, would Piscotty be a prime candidate for a player off the bench in 2014?
-- Daniel S., Louisville, Ky.
A supplemental first-round pick in 2012, when he was one of the best pure college hitters available, Piscotty has batted .295/.362/.458 as a pro and already has reached Double-A. He continued to swing a nice bat in the AFL, finishing fourth in hitting (.371), and he also demonstrated one of the league's strongest outfield arms.
Piscotty wouldn't embarrass himself at the plate right now if the Cardinals called him up, but it wouldn't make much sense for him to spend 2014 getting 150-200 at-bats off the bench in the big leagues. He'd be better off playing every day in Double-A and Triple-A, allowing St. Louis to determine if he'll develop enough power to profile as a regular in right field. Piscotty also needs game action to work on his defense after primarily playing third base at Stanford.
The most likely scenario is that Piscotty spends next season in the Minors, perhaps getting a September callup to put himself in position to stick with the Cardinals in 2015.
What are your thoughts on the performance of Brewers outfielder Mitch Haniger in the Arizona Fall League? Is he this good?
-- Brandon M., Waukesha, Wis.
Like Piscotty, Haniger is a California college (Cal Poly) outfielder who went in the supplemental first round of the 2012 Draft and played in the AFL this fall. He batted .264/.348/.431 between two Class A stops during the regular season, then hit .280/.354/.480 for the Surprise Saguaros. His four homers tied for fifth in the AFL.
Haniger's AFL performance reflects what he can be in the big leagues. He can hit for solid power and a decent average while drawing a few walks, and he's an OK runner with a strong arm who fits best in right field. Haniger's one of the best position prospects in the Brewers' farm system, and I suspect he'll move up from his current No. 12 ranking when we revise that list.
Which catcher from the 2013 First-Year Player Draft has the brightest future as an everyday starter? Jonathan Denney (Red Sox), Stuart Turner (Twins) or someone else?
-- Doug Z., Fargo, N.D.
The easy answer is the first catcher taken last June: Reese McGuire, who went 14th overall to the Pirates. After signing for $2,369,800, he batted .323/.380/.380 and threw out 44 percent of his basestealers in his pro debut. He's more athletic than most backstops and could turn into a plus hitter and defender with average power.
Two more high school catchers to watch are Nick Ciuffo (first round, Rays) and Denney (second round, Red Sox). The best college catcher in last year's Draft was Andrew Knapp (second round, Phillies), though he required Tommy John surgery in October.
What round do you see Southern Illinois right-hander Sam Coonrod going in during the 2014 First-Year Player Draft?
-- Tim C., Carrollton, Ill.
Right now, Coonrod looks like he'd go in the second or third round. But he definitely has the arm to pitch his way into the first round if he takes a step forward with his performance in the spring.
Though he's just 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, Coonrod can run his fastball up to 98 mph and his slider into the mid-80s. He doesn't have the cleanest delivery and he sometimes overthrows, so the life and command on his power pitches are inconsistent. Coonrod hasn't dominated for the Salukis, posting a 4.45 ERA and a 122-69 K-BB ratio in 143 2/3 innings, and he could wind up in the bullpen in pro ball.