Down on the Farm
Weekly lineup

 Thursday, November 11
Wall-to-wall talent at Arizona Fall League
By John Sickels
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This past weekend, I attended the Fantasy Baseball Symposium, sponsored by Ron Shandler of Baseball HQ, in Phoenix. It's a lot of fun, and a great way to meet fellow baseball fanatics.

I was one of several guest speakers, along with Deric McKamey of Baseball HQ, Rick Wilton of STATS, Ron Shandler, player agent Bill Moore, Steve Moyer of My Baseball Daily, Mat Olkin of Baseball Weekly, David Rawnsley of Baseball America, Rob Neyer of, and Jeff Erickson of RotoNews. There's nothing like a room full of diamond maniacs throwing tough questions at you rapid-fire to keep your mind sharp.

The conference is held in Phoenix each fall, to coincide with the Arizona Fall League, which features teams full of prospects from each organization. The talent level in the AFL this year is excellent, and I thought I would share a few observations from my trip.

My flight to Phoenix from Kansas City was thankfully uneventful. One bad thing about living in the Midwest is that you are halfway to everywhere, which means when you fly, they always stick you on a Boeing 737. Hey, I love the 737. It's a great plane, if a little short on legroom. But in my whole life, I've only flown on 727s, 737s, and DC-9s. Just once I'd love to fly on a 757 or an Airbus, let alone one of the big widebodies. I guess I'll have to move to a coast or fly to Europe to get away from the medium-range jetliners.

Phoenix is an interesting place, not really that hot in the fall, but with very dry air and soil that looks like it comes from Mars. I'm no fan of heat, and I like oak and maple trees better than palm trees and cactus, so I'll never live there. But if you like to watch prospects, Phoenix in the fall is the place to be.

Here are some thoughts on players I saw.

Jack Cust, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
This guy has big-time power from the left side, although he was looking a bit anxious at the plate in the two games I saw, striking out six times in eight at-bats. He hit two homers, on the other hand, and given what he did in the California League this year (.334, 32 homers), I'm convinced that his bat is for real. He may not have enough glove to stay in the outfield, which is a problem because Erubiel Durazo controls first base for the D-Backs.

Robert Fick, C-1B, Detroit Tigers
His bat was even faster than Cust's, and I firmly believe that Fick will hit, and hit well, at the major league level. But his glove is an even bigger issue. He is poor defensively behind the plate, and the Tigers have other first basemen. However, there are some reports that Detroit is possibly looking to deal Tony Clark, which may open a spot for Fick. Except ...

Eric Munson, 1B, Detroit Tigers
The 1999 first-rounder is holding his own against more experienced competition. His power looks good to me, but again the question is his defensive position. The Tigers were hoping he could catch, but that looks unlikely.

Eugene Kingsale, OF, Baltimore Orioles
He can run and is hitting over .300 in Arizona, but I don't see much juice in his bat, and he won't hit enough to be a regular.

Calvin Pickering, 1B, Baltimore Orioles
Two things I am now convinced of after watching Pickering in two games. 1) He can definitely hit. 2) His massive girth and lack of effort on defense are serious problems. I now understand why Ray Miller didn't like him. That said, his bat is excellent and he deserves a chance.

Jason Tyner, OF, New York Mets
Runs like the wind, but will never have anything but minimal power. Unlikely to be a starting outfielder in the major leagues.

John Patterson, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Long, loose arm, with an above-average fastball and a very good curve. Mechanics are surprisingly good for such a tall pitcher. Looks like a great prospect to me.

Brad Penny, RHP, Florida Marlins
Still a premier prospect, despite drop off in 1999 numbers. Throws hard, throws strikes, knows how to pitch. Ranks right up there with Patterson.

Jeff Austin, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Has his velocity back after looking ragged in August, where he was bothered by a sore elbow. He looks healthy, and while he doesn't throw as hard as Penny or Patterson, he still has good stuff and fine control.

Pat Burrell, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
Pulled a 94-mph Penny fastball down the left field line for extra bases. He can obviously hit, and his defense in the outfield is surprisingly good. A true phenom.

Vernon Wells, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Still needs to polish up his plate discipline, but I like his live body, power, and speed combination. Definitely a future star.

Adam Eaton, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
Ranks with Penny, Patterson, and Austin as a very impressive young pitcher. Throws hard, but also knows how to change speeds.

Aaron Rowand, OF, Chicago White Sox
Impressive right-handed power hitter, looks something like Tim Salmon.

I was hoping to see hot prospects Milton Bradley, Corey Patterson, and Ryan Anderson play, but wasn't able to. Fans who did see them praised the bats and overall skills of Bradley and Patterson, while Anderson wowed everyone on Thursday afternoon with a brilliant performance that I arrived too late to catch.

Overall, it was well worth the trip. If you have a chance to go to the Symposium next year, do it. I'll mention it again as the time to sign up draws closer.

John Sickels is the author of the STATS 2000 Minor League Scouting Notebook, due out next year. You can email your questions to him at

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