Rare is the three-time participant in the Arizona Fall League, as the showcase circuit's participants usually find their way into the majors before long. But rare is the path and promise of Orioles left-hander Tanner Scott, who along with the club's other six participants wrapped up the AFL season Thursday with their individual missions accomplished.
For Scott, who made his major league debut this September, that mission has changed each year, but has always been hit.
"He's the perfect candidate," Orioles director of player development Brian Graham said. "The first year, it was only for a couple of weeks. In the second year, it was to build on all the progress he had made last year, and this year, it was to get more innings and build himself up so he can go home and rest and be ready for next year. There was a good plan in place all three years, and Tanner, if you looked at the strides Tanner has made from two years ago, where his delivery was super inconsistent and he had a very slim chance of throwing a breaking ball for a strike and you look at where he is now, it's really impressive."
Scott made five appearances — including three starts — and ended with a 12.54 ERA, having allowed 13 earned runs with 11 hits and 11 walks against seven strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. But he pitched well in the Fall-Stars Game, and, statistics aside, ended up where the Orioles wanted him to be as the season ended.
"It was getting him some extra innings," Graham said. "He accomplished exactly what he needed to do out there. He got to pitch out there against a good level of competition, got to build on everything he did this year, and extended his innings. It was good. He showed very well in the all-star game. The slider has come a long way, the delivery has come a long way and the fastball command is getting better."
For another top prospect, third baseman Ryan Mountcastle, the experience was worth more than the end results. He hit .244 with seven extra-base hits in 21 games, but ended the season on an eight-game hitting streak after a breakout season at High-A Frederick went sideways with a promotion to Double-A Bowie and a switch from shortstop.
"I think we need to keep it in perspective — he was the sixth-youngest position player in that entire league out there, and he's transitioning to a new position," Graham said. "He had good at-bats. He's a guy who's going to hit for average and hit for power. When you're 20-years-old out in the Arizona Fall League, his batting average probably wasn't what he wanted it to be, but he competed well and held his own and did a good job."
Two of the other high-profile Orioles entrants — left-hander Keegan Akin and outfielder Anthony Santander — needed to go to Arizona to make up for time they missed injured this season. Akin, a 2016 second-round pick, had a slow start at Frederick but posted a 2.89 ERA after June 1 before missing the last month of the season with an oblique injury. He fanned 12 and walked four while finishing with a 1.76 ERA in 15 1/3 innings in the AFL.
"What Keegan Akin did was really valuable for him because he got the opportunity to extend his season after having the oblique injury," Graham said. "He went out there and threw very well against good competition."
Santander, the Rule 5 draft pick who missed most of the season with elbow and shoulder problems, hit .208 with a .567 OPS in the AFL, though his 72 at-bats there almost matched the 85 he had over the entire season between the minors and majors.
"He just needs at-bats," Graham said. "If you think about his season and the fact he was at extended spring [training], he was injured for a long period of time. He played a little bit on a rehab and played on the big leagues a limited amount of time, then he went to the Arizona Fall League and probably played half the time. It was really valuable for him to get out there and continue playing, because he didn't get enough at-bats this year."
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Right-hander Jesus Liranzo struggled in the AFL before being withdrawn with shoulder soreness that the club believes isn't serious, and was replaced by right-hander Ryan Meisinger, who didn't allow an earned run over three appearances.
"If Meisinger throws strikes and keeps the ball down, he'll have success," Graham said.
The final two entrants might not have had the clout of others entering the fall campaign, but might become well-known soon enough. Infielder Steve Wilkerson and left-hander Luis Gonzalez went west as an audition for the Orioles and the rest of the league, as they're eligible for the Rule 5 draft this season and will need to be added to the 40-man roster by Monday to protect them from being selected.
Wilkerson hit .316 with a .904 OPS and nine extra-base hits with a pair of steals while playing second base, third base and shortstop. Gonzalez didn't allow an earned run while striking out six and walking two with a 0.72 WHIP in 9 2/3 relief innings.
"I think he really helped his cause by pitching so well," Graham said of Gonzalez. "I don't believe he gave up an earned run the whole time out there. He showed velocity, he threw strikes, he threw his slider for strikes. He pitched against good competition and had success. Luis Gonzalez definitely did himself some good in the Arizona Fall League."
Whether either changed their long-term fortunes by what they did in Arizona is unclear, he said, but that doesn't take away from their performances, especially Wilkerson.
"You never know what other teams are going to be," Graham said. "We certainly haven't made a decision yet on where he fits for us, but he played great. Wilkerson played great. What he did out there, both defensively and offensively, played mostly second base but also played some shortstop and played third base and swung the bat well. Stole some bases and played good defense. Wilkerson did a good job. Wilkerson did what Wilkerson is capable of doing."