Every autumn, when the majority of minor-league players are back in fall instructionals or preparing for winter league assignments, the Arizona Fall League features some of the brightest prospects in the minor leagues. Each team can designate a handful of players to the AFL, hoping to accelerate their development through playing better competition as they near the majors.
This year, the Brewers named six players to the Surprise Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League. The arms include right-handed pitchers Taylor Jungmann, David Goforth and Kevin Shackelford. Catcher Adam Weisenburger, first baseman Jason Rogers and outfielder Mitch Haniger will be the trio of position players with Surprise.
Though the Brewers will not boast any of the most noteworthy prospects in the AFL, there are some storylines worth following.
Starter or Reliever?
Right-hander David Goforth performed rather well as a closer in college for Ole Miss, but he’s primarily worked as a starting pitcher in his time with the Brewers’ organization. Recently, however, he’s been transitioned to the bullpen. It will be interesting to see if Goforth is utilized as a starter or a reliever in the Arizona Fall League.
His recent work out of the bullpen could either be an effort to depress his innings so he can pitch as a starter in the AFL, or it could signal a full-time move to the bullpen. And if the latter proves true, an aggressive assignment to the Arizona Fall League could mean the organization feels the 24-year-old fireballer is on the cusp of contributing as a reliever at the big-league level.
Coming Out of Nowhere
Kevin Shackelford certainly isn’t a household name amongst Brewers fans. The organization drafted him in the 21st round of the 2010 Draft, and he has never been mentioned in any top prospects list. He has also spent the majority of his minor-league career in the bullpen, which generally isn’t a positive sign for a pitching prospect. He owns a career 4.13 ERA and even played his collegiate ball at Marshall University, which is hardly a baseball powerhouse.
The 24-year-old is relatively new to pitching, though. He converted from catcher to pitcher in his final season with Marshall, so he was behind in the development curve. With Double-A Huntsville this season, he’s finally taken a step forward and has compiled a 1.07 ERA in 25.1 innings. He’s reportedly throwing 93-95 mph with his fastball and has only allowed one earned run in his last 14 appearances (21 innings).
The major leagues are filled with relievers who began their baseball career behind the mound. Carlos Marmol and Kenley Jensen immediately come to mind, while Jason Motte (Cardinals), David Carpenter (Braves) and Robert Coello (Angels) are also current big-league relievers who were former catchers. Even fellow Brewers’ farmhand Jesus Sanchez was a former catcher with the Phillies organization.
The Brewers are hoping Shackelford is just another one of those converted catchers who finds success on the mound.
Trying to Regain Form
When the Brewers drafted Taylor Jungmann as their first-overall pick in the 2011 Draft, he was supposed to cruise through the minor leagues. He wasn’t expected to be a star, but the right-hander dominated the collegiate ranks and projected as a polished mid-rotation pitching prospect.
At this point, those projections seem to be from eons ago. He’s struggled to miss bats as a professional, as his curveball hasn’t been nearly as effective as it was in college. In fact, Jungmann owns a career 5.6 K/9 strikeout rate in 286.2 pro innings — so it’s unsurprising his earned run average has been extremely mediocre this year at 4.38.
The Brewers are likely sending Jungmann to the Arizona Fall League in hopes of sparking something in his development. He’s certainly not pitching better as of late. Since the beginning of July, the right-hander has compiled a 5.73 ERA with more walks (33) than strikeouts (29) and opposing teams are hitting a robust .287. That’s just not going to work.
And at this point, it feels like the organization is just hoping something happens to click for Jungmann in Arizona this fall.