The Arizona Fall League season kicks off Wednesday night with some of baseball’s best prospects ready to capitalize on their summers, make up for lost time or gain traction in the professional ranks.
The AFL is an interesting place where future rivals play as teammates, and where it’s not an open secret that development is the main goal.
The Triple-A championship, the official close of the minor league season, ended the night before AFL opening day, which was moved up from its usually October start date for its 28th installment.
Each MLB team sends about six prospects to make up the rosters for the six AFL teams. As games begin Wednesday night, here’s a look at some of the prospects to follow, which might be particularly alluring for some baseball fans whose big-league teams are already eliminated this season.
Prospects to watch
C - Joey Bart, San Francisco Giants (Scottsdale Scorpions)
Bart maintained his status as one of the best catching prospects in the minors after being drafted No. 2 overall last year. He caught on strong at the end of the season with Double-A Richmond. He batted .316 with a .912 OPS in 22 games with the Flying Squirrels. He also clubbed 29 homers in 130 games since being drafted. On top of the power, Bart’s maturity and aptitude behind the plate go well with his plus arm strength. He probably didn’t play enough at Richmond to open 2020 in Triple-A, but strong fall and spring showings might get him there.
3B/1B - Alec Bohm, Philadelphia Phillies (Scottsdale)
Bohm continued to show off the bat that got him drafted third overall last June. He played at three levels of the minors this summer and spent the last two months of the season with Double-A Reading. He batted .305/.378/.518 with 21 homers and 80 RBIs throughout the season. There haven’t been many questions about Bohm’s bat since his junior year at Wichita State, but the fall league should give him a chance to improve at third base. He played 24 games at first base this summer, but can work to stick at the hot corner.
SS - Royce Lewis, Minnesota Twins (Salt River Rafters)
Lewis had a difficult summer at the plate, but, at just 20 years old, there’s plenty of time for the No. 1 overall pick in 2017 to figure things out. That’s what the AFL is about. He did advance to play the final 33 games of the season with Double-A Pensacola. But he batted .236/.290/.371 overall and his 123 strikeouts were high for a top of the order bat. There were some encouraging numbers (26 doubles, 22 stolen bases) in 2019 and his first two professional seasons show there’s plenty there.
OF - Alex Kirilloff, Minnesota Twins (Salt River)
Kirilloff was one of the best hitters in the minors last year after missing all of 2017 with Tommy John surgery. He missed the first month of this season with a wrist injury, then was out more than two weeks in June. The AFL should allow him to make up for lost time. He batted a perfectly respectable .283 — which only seems low considering his .348 overall mark last year — and had as many extra-base hits as he did walks (29) for Pensacola. Despite their seemingly down years, Kirilloff and Lewis are still two of the best prospects in baseball, and should be fixtures in the Minnesota lineup for a long time.
An inside look at the Prospects & Expectations program pic.twitter.com/rxTgmDlehC
— MLB's Arizona Fall League (@MLBazFallLeague) September 18, 2019
OF - Jarred Kelenic, Seattle Mariners (Peoria Javelinas)
Kelenic headlines another one-org dynamic duo. The 20-year-old was considered an upper-tier prospect even before he was traded from the New York Mets. He was an instant success in Single-A West Virginia, made a stop at the Futures Game and finished the season with Double-A Arkansas. Kelenic batted .291/.364/.540 overall with 23 homers, 31 doubles, five triples, 20 stolen bases and 68 RBIs. He batted .253 in the Texas League but was named Mariners’ minor league hitter of the year. Kelenic missed more than a month with a wrist injury and should make up that time in the AFL.
OF - Julio Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners (Peoria)
Rodriguez is the youngest prospect in the AFL and one of only three players born in the year 2000. He had one of the best offensive seasons in this minors this summer, boosted by his .426 average in his final 17 games in the hitter-friendly California League. Overall, he batted .326/.390/.540 with 42 extra base hits and 69 RBIs in 84 games. Rodriguez missed nearly two months after getting hit by a pitch on April 16 and suffering a hairline fracture in his left hand. He played more right field than center, which is where he should slot in next to Kelenic for years to come in Seattle.
RHP - Forrest Whitley, Houston Astros (Peoria)
Whitley has tremendous upside but needs a second turn in the AFL after another injury-riddled and, by his own admission, disappointing season. He was one of the best pitchers in the AFL last year, but couldn’t capitalize in 2019. Whitley was limited to 59.2 total innings where he compiled a 7.99 ERA. He’s still got wipeout stuff, as evident by his 86 strikeouts, but he couldn’t find consistency as he missed extended time with shoulder fatigue. He survived the Astros prospect purge at this year’s trade deadline, and should be the club’s replacement if they can’t retain Gerrit Cole in the offseason. The 2019 minor league season wasn’t a good step in that direction, but he can get back on track in the fall like he did last year.
OF - Jo Adell, Los Angeles Angels (Mesa Solar Sox)
Adell is an above-average athlete and defender that’s showed great bat to ball skills in his three professional seasons. Adell batted .289/.359/.475 overall but could stand to improve on his power (10 homers in 305 at-bats). Adell’s 2019 season didn’t start until late May after he suffered left hamstring and right ankle injuries on the same play in spring training. Even with the delay, Adell climbed to Triple-A Salt Lake before his 21st birthday. He can realistically force himself on to the Angels roster if he continues to perform in the fall and later in spring training.
LHP - Daniel Lynch, Kansas City Royals (Surprise Saguaros)
Lynch comes in as the best lefty in the AFL. He went 6-2 with a 2.99 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 96.1 innings over three levels of the minors. Lynch can touch the high 90s with his fastball and can throw four off-speed pitches with conviction. He missed extended time this season with arm discomfort.
RHP - Shane Baz, Tampa Bay Rays (Salt River)
Part of the Rays return in the Chris Archer deal, Baz struck out 87 in 81.1 innings for Single-A Bowling Green this year. He had a 2.99 ERA in his first full season.
3B - Nolan Jones, Cleveland Indians (Mesa)
Jones drew 96 walks and registered a .409 on-base percentage in 126 games. He racked up 40 extra-base hits (15 homers) and drove in 63 runs. His 148 strikeouts were a bit too many, and his .272 average was down from 2018.
Tonight the @MLBazFallLeague gets underway. Here’s #Marlins prospect Victor Victor Mesa talking a little bit about playing in it. @TheAthleticMLB @TheAthleticMIA @victorvmesa pic.twitter.com/KUxZKP0fYE
— Andre Fernandez (@FernandezAndreC) September 18, 2019
Prospects that could use a big fall season
OF - Victor Victor Mesa, Miami Marlins (Salt River)
The former top international prospect out of Cuba signed for $5.25 million in October. He played his first minor league season at 23 years old and batted .235, eventually finishing the season at Double-A Jacksonville. He’s been overshadowed by a Marlins prospect core that’s gotten much stronger since his signing.
OF - Mickey Moniak, Philadelphia Phillies (Scottsdale)
The 52 extra-base hits for Reading should be enough of a sign that Moniak is figuring out professional pitching. But the No. 1 overall pick in 2016 comes with a higher standard. He batted .252/.303/.439 with 15 stolen bases and 67 RBIs.
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