The 2018 Arizona Fall League is nearing the end of it’s second week and players are getting back into game action. Most of these guys have not appeared in an actual game setting for over a month, so it takes them a couple of games to get used to the live hitting and pitching. Many teams have sent their top prospects to this year’s Fall League and some are starting to make an impact early on. In this column I’m looking at some notable names from each team so far.
Glendale Desert Dogs:
The Desert Dogs are the only Fall League team that has yet to win a game so far, meaning their offense has been lacking. Through 11 games, their only HR’s were hit by Jared Walker and Yu Chang and their highest batting average is .355 by Indians prospect Yu Chang. This team has no shortage of good hitters that are just waiting to get back into their stride. Some of these guys include Dodgers prospect Keibert Ruiz, White Sox prospect Luis Robert, who missed most of the season with hamstring injuries, and Yankee prospects Estevan Florial (appeared in last year’s Fall league) and Thairo Estrada. Out of all these prospects, Ruiz and Florial have the highest potential. Florial shot up the prospect ranks last season with a good year in Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. He has a powerful swing that should help him get to the big leagues in the next couple of years. On the other hand, the Dodgers never have a hard time developing top prospects to get to LA, and Ruiz is another prime example. Drafted as an international free agent in 2014, Ruiz has made a name for himself and proves to be the Dodgers catcher of the future. One other notable hitting prospect for Glendale so far includes Orioles prospects Ryan McKenna who is hitting .296/.387/.593.
Pitching is not a strong suit for the Desert Dogs, but they do have White Sox pitching prospect Zack Burdi, who is recovering from Tommy John Surgery last season, Dodgers prospect Jordan Sheffield, and Indians prospect Rob Kaminsky. Burdi and Sheffield are both on their respective teams top 30 prospect lists, but all three of these pitchers possesses future major league talent. They have yet to throw many innings so far in the Fall League, but Sheffield has the best stat line not allowing any runs so far in 4 innings of work with 1 hit allowed and 5 SO. The Fall League is a place to refine tools and work on pitches that might not have been effective throughout the season, and the Desert Dogs are doing just that with these three guys as well as the rest of their pitchers.
Mesa Solar Sox:
The Solar Sox currently have a record of 7-4 to start the Fall League and have multiple prospects that can make an impact at the next level. On the hitting side, Athletics prospect Skye Bolt, Angels prospect Jahmai Jones and Red Sox prospect Bobby Dalbec are just a few of the top prospects playing. Out of the three, Jones has the best ranking. He is currently the Angels #4 prospect and made it to AA in his 3rd professional season. Dalbec who is currently batting .226 in the AFL had a career high 32 HR this season between High A- Salem and AA Portland. He has major power and can hopefully play a big time role for the Red Sox in the future.
Pitching wise, the Solar Sox pitching prospects include Red Sox prospect Mike Shawaryn and Darwinzon Hernandez, Tigers prospect Gregory Soto, and Cubs prospect Justin Steele. Soto, the Tigers #14 prospect carries a respectable 2.38 ERA in 11.1 IP. He signed out of the Dominican Republic back in 2012 and has only made it High A Lakeland, but with the help of the Fall League, he will be looking to work on mechanics and pitches. Hernandez and Shawaryn are the Red Sox’s #7 and 9 prospects respectively and reached AA and AAA. Hernandez currently sports a 1.29 ERA in 7 IP, which Shawaryn has yet to allow a run in 4.1 IP. The Solar Sox have a little more talent than Glendale does and that has already showed with their five wins. With prospects like Jones and Soto, Mesa has some future talent on display in the desert.
The Javelinas have two of the top farm systems in the Padres and Braves, so their talent level is always on display at the AFL. The talent this year is not disappointing so far as the Javelinas currently have a record of 7-4. Hitting prospects are not hard to find in Peoria, as the Javelinas have prospects like Buddy Reed from the Padres system, Evan White from the Mariners system and Brewers top prospect Keston Hiura. Hiura stands out the most out of all the Javelinas prospects as he is tied for the team lead in HR with 2 and leads the team with 17 RBI in the early going. He was considered one of the most polished draft picks from the 2017 draft class and did not disappoint in his first professional season. So far in the Fall League he sports a .316 average with an astonishing 1.001 OPS. His power has yet to fully develop, but the Brewers scored big with Hiura. Another prospect that is new to the minor leagues is Mariners prospect Evan White. The Mariners #2 prospect was drafted in 2017 along with Hiura and hit .300 this year with High A Modesto and AAA Tacoma for a brief stint. The bats will be on display daily when the Javelinas take the field and fans will want to watch closely.
Mariners #9 prospect Wyatt Mills and Braves #12 prospect Kyle Muller lead the Javelinas pitching staff who already have 94 SO along with their 7 wins so far. Muller can sometimes be under looked in a pitching heavy Braves system, but he can still throw gas. This year, he went 11-3 with 3.03 ERA and 129 SO over 3 levels. He was rushed according to some scouts, so he still has some work to do in order to make it to Atlanta one day. On the other hand, 2017 3rd rounder, Wyatt Mills has pitched to a 1.59 ERA through 4 games so far during the AFL. According to MLB.com, Mills “features both velocity and control, and has the potential to jump on the fast track to the major leagues”. The Fall League will be a good test for Muller and Mills in helping jump start and continue their careers.
Salt River Rafters:
The Salt River Rafters who have a record of 6-5 possess prospects from the D-Backs, Rockies, Marlins, Nationals, and Twins organizations. Prospects like Pavin Smith, Daulton Varsho, and Drew Ellis of the Diamondbacks, as well as Tyler Nevin of the Rockies and Monte Harrison of the Marlins make up some of the top prospects for the Rafters. Smith, who was the 1st round pick for the Diamondbacks in 2017 has a lot of upside as he made it to High-A Visalia in his first professional season. Smith’s teammate Drew Ellis who also ended up in Visalia has the teams only HR and hit another 15 HR during the regular season, so the power is starting to show for him. Tyler Nevin, who is the Rockies #11 prospect leads the Rafters with a .421 average and is 2nd with 7 RBI (Behind Monte Harrison) His career hasn’t gotten off to a fast start since he was drafted in 2015, but the Fall League should help with his progress.
D-Backs top pitching prospect Jon Duplantier leads the Rafters pitching staff this fall and he may be one of the top pitching prospects in all of minor league baseball. While he couldn’t stay away from the injury bug this season, he still has rotation potential for the Diamondbacks. He has yet to allow an earned run this Fall League in 5 IP. Griffin Jax is an interesting case as he just finished serving in the military, now using the Fall League to get more innings under his belt. Jesus Tinoco, who was a 2018 Futures Game participant leads the Rockies pitching contingent this fall. He is the Rockies #20 prospect and is knocking on the door to join the Rockies pitching staff in the next year or two. He is pitching to a 2.45 ERA in 7.1 IP so far in 4 starts.
The Scorpions, who are currently 6-5 have some top prospects from teams like the Reds, Astros, Mets, Giants, and Phillies. 2018 Futures Game MVP Taylor Trammell of the Reds, Mets prospects Peter Alonso and Andres Gimenez as well as Astros prospect Ronnie Dawson lead the charge for Scorpions hitters. Alonso, who should be in Queens at some point next season bashed 36 HR this season between AA Binghamton and AAA Las Vegas. His power is definitely one of his strongest skills and he is looking to work on his skills at the Fall League. Taylor Tramell is also a guy who can hit. He hit .277 this year in High-A Daytona. He is looking to improve on his stellar season that included an MVP campaign in the Futures Game in July.
The pitching staff of the Scorpions might be considered the best out of all 6 teams. The Astros have two of their top pitching prospects in the AFL including top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley. The other is J.B. Bukauskas, and the two have already combined for 19.1 IP, and 28 SO. Their potential is off the charts and Astros fans should be excited for these two to come in the future. Giants prospect Melvin Adon is not as good as Whitley or Bukauskas, but this Giants pitcher can reach 100 MPH constantly and sports a 1.42 ERA with 13 SO already in the Fall League. Other prospects on the Scorpions staff include Reds prospect Alex Powers, who has a 1.69 ERA in 5.1 IP with 9 SO and Phillies prospect Seth McGarry who also has a 0.00 ERA in 5.1 IP.
Like Scottsdale, the Saguaros have one of the top prospects in all of baseball. #1 overall prospect and top Blue Jays prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is in the valley looking to get some extra at-bats after being sidelined for over a month this season. Guerrero Jr. is one of the best hitting prospects to come through the minor leagues in quite some time. He was given an 80 hit grade, which is the only one MLB executives have given out. He can hit to all parts of the field and makes solid contact on almost every at-bat. Other notable prospects for Surprise include Rangers prospect Julio Pablo Martinez, who just made his stateside debut earlier this year. Pirates prospects Will Craig and Cole Tucker as well as Craig Biggio’s son, Cavan also make up the Saguaros lineup. Martinez was one of the top international prospects this July and the Rangers used their leftover money from not signing Shohei Ohtani to sign Martinez. He made his U.S. debut with short season Spokane and hit .252 with 8 HR.
Pitching prospects Nate Pearson of the Blue Jays, C.D. Pelham of the Rangers, and Scott Blewett of the Royals make up part of the Surprise pitching staff. Pelham shot up the Rangers minor league rankings this year after starting the season in High-A Down East and earning a September call up with the Rangers. Pearson is a hard throwing righty in the Blue Jays system who missed most of the season with injuries and is looking to make up innings in the Fall League. He has struggled thus far in his 4.1 IP, but is getting the help he needs to continue his career. Blewett is a Royals prospect who was drafted back in 2014, but hasn’t had the career many were hoping for him. He is having early success so far with his lone appearance resulting in no runs being yielded.
While I did not mention every top prospect or notable prospect for all 30 clubs, the ones mentioned in this column have already made an impact so far in the first 2 weeks of the AFL. Guys like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Forrest Whitley, who are top prospects are making up time for their injuries. However, there are guys like C.D. Pelham and Peter Alonso, who played most of the season, but came to the Fall League to get some extra innings in hope of moving up a level next year.
Featured image of Keston Hiura – via Milwaukee Brewers on Twitter