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Profiling AFL Arms

This week began what amounts to Christmas in summer for baseball fans, as the prospect analysis season steps into advanced mode. Not only are clubs expanding their rosters at the MLB level, but they are also sending top prospects to the Arizona Fall League, and soon beginning instructional leagues as well. Looking at AFL prospects is one way to think about who is on each organization’s mind for an additional look, or perhaps defining a future role.

On Wednesday, the Brewers announced their first wave of Arizona Fall League participants. There is one additional pitcher to be announced. While the club selected three of their top positional prospects, the pitchers selected may be unknowns even to many BaseballProspectus regulars. Taylor Scott, Tyler Spurlin, and Josh Uhen will serve as Brewers arms in Arizona, perhaps representing a similar leap out of nowhere as righty Jacob Barnes in 2015. So, it is time to profile these righties and look at their 2016 performances in the Brewers system.

RHP Josh Uhen
Local product Josh Uhen was one of the state’s top pitchers at Oshkosh North High School as a prep, but went undrafted in 2010 and began his collegiate career at UW-Milwaukee by blowing out his elbow in his first appearance. The right hander moved to the bullpen after missing nearly a year recovering from Tommy John surgery, and  it is a role he has thrived in since. Even after throwing less than 40 collegiate innings, Bruce Seid thought enough of Uhen to tab him in the fifth round of the 2013 MLB Draft.

2016 Uhen A+ Age FIP opposingOPS
Josh Uhen 24 3.96 .684
FSL Median (20+ IP) 23 3.46 .675

To Seid’s credit, Uhen certainly presents an enticing package. Nick J. Faleris of Baseball Prosectus scouted Uhen’s pro day a few years ago. Uhen was sitting in the 87-89 MPH range as a prep. Once he returned to the mound following his elbow surgery, that four-seamer had ratcheted up to the 96-97 MPH range. Faleris additionally describes a “lively” two-seam fastball that repeatedly hit 95 MPH. The secondaries are a slider that sits 80-81 MPH, which Uhen was still working on getting a feel for at that time, as well as a changeup that featured a “10-12 MPH velocity differential from his fastballs,” some late tumbling action, and decent arm speed deception.

A four-pitch mix and a build like Uhen’s (6’4″ and 185 lbs) would normally be the profile one would look for in a potential starter. Given his injury history and the fact that he’s never thrown more than 55.3 innings in a season (this year), it is likely that his role remains in the bullpen going forward.

Florida State League Note: Uhen was slightly older than league median, and also faced tougher competition, which may help to explain his below median FIP. Uhen struck out 20.9 percent of batters faced (versus 8.9 percent walks), and recorded a 51 percent groundball rate.

RHP Tayler Scott
The Cubs were actually the organization that gave Tayler Scott his start in professional ball, making the Johannesburg, South Africa native their fifth-round pick back in 2011 and signing him to an over-slot bonus to convince him to forego his commitment to Arizona. At that time he was considered a raw project (he didn’t take up the game until moving to Arizona at age 16), but one with a projectable body and considerable upside.

2016 Scott AA Age FIP opposingOPS
Taylor Scott 24 5.06 .683
Southern Median (20+ IP) 24 3.585 .680

Unfortunately for Chicago, Scott didn’t seem to progress as hoped. He was throwing in the 90-93 MPH range upon being drafted, but by the time In the Shadows of Wrigley reported on him in 2013 he had already lost a few ticks; his heater was down to the 87-90 MPH range. However, it is a moving fastball at least with some sinking and tailing action. Scott’s changeup is his best offering in this scout’s eyes, featuring a similar tailing action to his fastball but with considerable vertical drop as it approaches the plate. The righty has good feel for the change, and his arm action was identical to that of his fastball, but the velocity difference of only 4-7 MPH leaves a little something to be desired. Scott also offered a glimpse at a curveball during the outing, though he didn’t have great feel for the pitch. It’s in that 79-80 MPH range with solid two-plane movement.

The scout praised Scott’s fastball command but indicated that the control of his secondaries needed refinement. He throws from a low three-quarters arm slot with a big leg kick, but repeats his delivery well. His shallow release point, in that scout’s opinion, could be an issue in the future given his lack of premium velocity.

Scott began his career as a starter before moving to the bullpen following the 2014 season. He was released by the Cubs at the beginning of this season after struggling in AA last year. Thanks to some eye-popping numbers in the independent American Association, however, he was able to catch the attention of a Brewers scout. In 28.7 innings with the Sioux City Explorers, Scott worked to a 1.88 ERA with a 32:6 K/BB ratio. The Brewers signed the 24 year old in early July, and he has been working exclusively out of the Biloxi bullpen since then.

Southern League Note: Scott posted a relatively poor FIP in the Southern League. However, the righty was of median age and faced slightly tougher than median competition. Scott produced a 51 percent groundball rate and also struck out 19.6 percent of batters faced (12.7 walk rate).

RHP Tyler Spurlin
25 year old Tyler Spurlin isn’t quite as easy to find in the scouting reports, as the Brewers signed the undrafted free agent out of Rice in 2013. As a prep, Jim Callis scouted Spurlin for Baseball America, noting that he featured a fastball in the 88-91 MPH range that could touch 93. He noted that Spurlin had an odd hitch where he would “cup” the ball in the back of his delivery. The righty came out of high school as a two-way player and played both ways at Rice, but even as a prep player Callis pegged his future to be on the mound.

2016 Spurlin AA Age FIP opposingOPS
Tyler Spurlin 25 3.43 .674
Southern Median (20+ IP) 24 3.585 .680

Spurlin came to Rice throwing both a slider and curveball, but at that time the pitching coach asked him to combine the two pitches to reportedly positive results. He finished his college career with just 26.0 IP in 22 appearances and an uninspiring 17:15 K/BB ratio, so it’s probably not very surprising that he didn’t get selected when he came out for the draft after graduation. The righty missed the entire 2012 season after being injured in spring practice, and his college coach has been quoted as saying “Tyler has been great for us and he remains very projectable. He just needs to stay healthy.” Spurlin has spent at least one stint on the seven day minor league disabled list in each of the past three seasons.

Southern League Note: Spurlin was slightly older than median age and also faced relatively weak competition, but also posted a notably better than median FIP. Spurlin struck out 20.3 percent of batters faced (11.9 walk rate), and a 72 percent groundball rate helped the righty allow 0 homers.

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