Game action in the 2017 Arizona Fall League starts this afternoon, offering baseball fans the nation over a welcome respite from those boring, Brewer-less playoffs. Milwaukee’s sending a good crop this year, headlined by a quartet of young hitters. It will be fascinating to see what Corey Ray, Monte Harrison, Jake Gatewood, and Lucas Erceg make of the prospect-rich competition.
And then there are the pitchers. For reasons of workload or simple organizational cageyness, the Brewers rarely tend to send top pitching prospects to the AFL, with Josh Hader’s star turn in 2015 being a notable recent exception. Often, this means that the players chosen to represent Milwaukee tend to have strict relief profiles. That’s not to say those pitchers cannot be valuable to the organization; for example, Jacob Barnes represented the Brewers in the 2015 fall league, and 2016 AFL alum Tayler Scott was sent to the Rangers in exchange for Jeremy Jeffress at this year’s trade deadline. Do a little digging, and there’s always something interesting about AFL prospects.
This year, the pitcher of most interest is the rehabbing Adrian Houser, making his second career tour of the AFL following a productive stint in 2015. Jon Perrin joins Houser as another arm with viable big-league potential. Beyond that pair, Carolina Mudcats closer Nate Griep will look to build on a season that saw him record 30 saves in 33 chances, albeit with a bloated 4.62 DRA and 4.4 walks per nine innings.
That leaves lefty Quintin Torres-Costa as the final baby Brewer in Scottsdale. Milwaukee grabbed the 5’11” hurler in the 35th round of the 2015 draft after Tommy John surgery derailed his stock during his freshman year at University of Hawaii at Manoa. He’s spent the two-and-a-half seasons since his draft day outperforming that position.
For most of the 2017 season, Torres-Costa served as one third of Carolina’s three-headed Hawaiian pitching prospect monster, alongside 2014 draftees Kodi Medeiros (first round) and Jordan Yamamoto (12th round). Yamamoto had the best overall season, and Medeiros took the biggest step forward, trimming his walk rate from 6.7 to 3.7 per nine innings and adding back some of his missing strikeouts. But of the three, Torres-Costa proved the most difficult to hit. In 23 outings spanning 45.3 innings, he racked up an impressive 66 strikeouts against a respectable 15 walks. His 3.77 ERA was impressive enough, but DRA credits Torres-Costa with a mark of 3.12, nearly identical to his 3.10 FIP.
In mid-July, Torres-Costa leapfrogged his fellow islanders and earned a promotion to Class-AA Biloxi. He struggled at the higher level, losing his feel for the strike zone as he walked 17 men in 20.7 innings. The strikeouts stuck around, though. Even in Biloxi, Torres-Costa fanned 10.9 batters per nine. All those whiffs contributed to an optimistic FIP of 3.93, belying his bloated 5.71 DRA. If he rediscovers his command next season, he has the tools to make mincemeat of Southern League batters.
Torres-Costa deploys a low-90s fastball from a 3/4 arm slot. It’s a solid enough offering, but errant command can lead it to run over the heart of the plate, where it’s been punished with hard contact at times. He’ll throw an occasional cutter to offset the fastball, and has the makings of an above-average changeup. Torres-Costa doesn’t have the smoothest mechanics. Using a funky cross-body motion, he twists his back slightly towards the batter before firing home. That could spell trouble for his future command, but he could be a solid lefty specialist at the least if he irons out the kinks in his delivery.
Among Torres-Costa, Medeiros, and Yamamoto, the Brewers could enjoy an influx of Hawaiian arms fortifying their bullpen in the seasons to come. Medeiros and Torres-Costa have plenty of experience locking down the opposition in tandem; the two were high school teammates and combined to pitch a no-hitter in 2012. And although he’s the oldest, least known, and lowest-drafted of the three, Torres-Costa may be the first to make landfall in the big league ‘pen. Here’s hoping for an AFL campaign that’s high on whiffs and low on walks.