Every year in early October, a few hundred prospects converge on the Minor league complexes of Arizona to celebrate the grandest of all prospecting expeditions. The Arizona Fall League. Now I want you to backup, and read the words “Arizona Fall League” like you’re Ham Porter talking about Babe Ruth. Okay, now that you’ve reread the opening sentence, I’d like you to read the last one again in a “silly” old lady’s voice. Okay, now that you’ve done that we can move on. BTW, if you didn’t do any of that out loud, you win. You’re not an idiot. As for the Arizona Fall League, or the AFL as us “cool kids” call it, tis’ back in full swing. In case you don’t know it’s a 6 team league in Arizona run by MLB, and the teams are comprised of top prospects from almost every MLB organization. The ultimate goal is to showcase these talents for scouts and MLB executives, but there’s a multitude of reasons why players head to Arizona. It might be further refinement of a new swing adjustment or pitch, but it’s very often to make up time. Over the last few years we’ve had a string of exciting prospect classes in Arizona, and this year is no different. Needless to say, we’ll be covering some of the top prospects in the game today. Even one that earned his own Rookie post from the incomparable Grey Albright.
Ronald Acuna, Braves OF | Peoria Javelinas: Named the Hitter of the week for Week 3, Acuna was obviously inspired to make Grey Albright look good. He hit a cool .475 (10-21) with three doubles, three homers, six RBI, and 12 runs. Just to put this all in perspective 12 runs would be enough for third place overall in the entire league, and he did that in a week. Oh, and BTW he doesn’t turn 20 until December, this kid has monster written all over him. It’s going to be tough to keep Acuna down in AAA for any length of time.
Max Fried, Braves LHP | Peoria Javelinas: What a crazy year it’s been for the oft-injured lefty. It started with a messy 19 start run in AA, followed by a rather sudden promotion to Atlanta. Through 4 big league starts, and 5 pen appearances, Fried was solid. He also exceeded the 100 inning mark for the second consecutive season, both good signs. So far in Arizona, Fried has been the best pitcher in the league, through 4 starts he’s accumulated a 0.47 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, and 23 strikeouts to 5 walks in 19 innings. He’s got a shot at the rotation out of camp next year, and he’s slowly regaining my trust. “Regaining your trust? It’s 19 innings in October, Ralph!” Yes, but he was a little unlucky at AA, and he wasn’t a total dumpster fire at the MLB level. I mean he’s already better than Glasnow, right? At his best Fried mixes three plus pitches in his fastball, curveball, change mix, and generates tons of groundballs.
Austin Riley, Braves 3B | Peoria Javelinas: Between his play in the Arizona Fall League, and recent appearances in Top 100 lists, and Braves Top 10’s, Riley is kind of breaking out. Would you believe me if I told you he actually has a higher OPS than Ronald Acuna? It’s true, Riley owns a robust 1.208 to Acuna’s 1.160, and is leading the AFL in slugging by 80+ points. Not bad for a prospect considered an after thought by Braves fans as recently as two months ago. Make no mistake Riley has blossomed into one of the top 3rd base prospects in baseball. I ranked him 10th in my third base Top 10 back in mid-September, but I’d push him up to 7th if I re-ranked, and I more or less did when I slotted him 95th in my end of season Top 100.
Alex Jackson, Braves C | Peoria Javelinas: I can’t help that the four best players to talk about are Braves, the system is just that good. Jackson ranked 6th on my Top 10 Catcher list, and just missed the top 100, after just making it in the mid-season. He’s making me regret my decision to not rank him a little higher. At the moment, Jackson is the home run leader in the AFL through three weeks with 5 dongs, and is second to only the aforementioned Austin Riley in SLG. He’s never going to be an on-base machine, but he makes hard contact, and he makes lots of it. If he can stick behind the plate, Jackson has a chance to be one of the few impact bats at the catching position.
David Bote, Cubs 2B | Mesa Solar Sox: After starting out on fire through the first week, Bote has slowed down over the last few, but he’s undoubtedly been one of the early stars of the Fall League. He’s not a player I’m particularly high on, he’s been in the minors for 5 years, after being drafted in the 18th round back in 2012 out of a JuCo. He did put up a solid .272/.353/.438 at AA this year, and he has some approach (9% Bb% to a 18% K%), but at best he looks like a low end second division regular. Probably just a few hot weeks.
Sheldon Neuse, Athletics 3B | Mesa Solar Sox: Not going to lie, this post was almost an entire sleeper writeup on Neuse. Since being acquired by the A’s for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, Neuse has been on a one man mission to become fantasy baseball relevant. I’m sure the prospects of millions of dollars and models has nothing to do with it. Nope, Neuse is driven by the thought of you adding him to your dynasty roster. How is he showing this? By slashing .300/.364/.580 with 16 RBI in 13 AFL games, after hitting .321/.384/.502 across three levels of the minors. Sure he’s going to strikeout too much, but at a point in time, where there’s no real depth in the minors at the corner infield spots, Neuse presents a bat on the rise at a decent price.
Andrew Knizner, C Cardinals | Surprise Saguaros: I never thought I’d write a minor league update that featured 25%+ catchers, but it’s 2017 anything goes. A 2016 7th round pick out of NC State, Knizner had a very good under the radar season in the Cardinals organization between A and AA. He slashed .302/.349/.471 with 12 homers across 95 games, and has continued that hot hitting in Arizona. So far though 11 games, he’s hitting .386/.426/.568 with four extra base hits, and 10 RBI. This might be a breakout in the making, or he might be this year’s Ramon Laurenano.
Monte Harrison, Brewers OF | Salt River Rafters: Had a great season between the Midwest league and the Carolina League, accumulating 20/20 totals while slashing .272/.350/.481. So far in the AFL he’s picking up where he left off, a good sign he could build on his 2017 breakout, next season. Harrison has only featured in 6 games, but he’s knocked 4 extra base hits, including 2 homers, and stolen 2 bases. The Brewers have an abundance of outfield options, but Harrison brings a true power/speed combo that plays in fantasy.
Josh Naylor, Padres 1B | Peoria Javelinas: One of the tougher prospects to gauge an appropriate value for, and not surprisingly he’s a player I blow hot and cold on. The big question with Naylor is will he get to his batting practice power in games? So far in Arizona the answer is a resounding, yes! Through 14 games Naylor is slashing .288/.323/.508 with 3 homers and 4 doubles. Last Friday he collected four hits, in his 6th multi-hit game in his three weeks in Arizona. If Naylor can marry the advanced approach, plus contact, and raw power he’s shown in flashes, he could be a scary player. At still just 20 years old, it’s very possible 2018 could be a breakout for the burly Canuck.
Estevan Florial, Yankees OF | Scottsdale Scorpions: One of my favorite prospects, the toolsy 19 year old outfielder has yet to get to his power in the AFL, but otherwise he’s done nicely. At the moment he’s tied for 7th in the league in runs with 10, and is slashing .293/.408/.415. He’s striking out too much still, and a homer or two would be nice to see, but he’s young, and there’s a lot to like.
Will Smith, Dodgers C | Glendale Desert Dogs: Left off of my Top 10 catchers list, Smith is coming off an injury prone campaign that saw him limited to just 73 games. He’s making up for lost time in Arizona slashing .368/.419/.579 with a homer and three doubles. The Dodgers look to be committed to Barnes as the starter next year, but Smith might factor into the mix at catcher upon Yasmani Grandal’s departure. His defensive chops are solid, and the bat looks to be coming around, not a bad catcher in deeper leagues if you need one.
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