It’s opening day!
The Arizona Fall League begins early this year, and I’m interested to see how the prospect fallout differs now that the kids aren’t the only ballgame in town. The previous iteration created a month-plus layoff for the arms, which was deemed a bad thing for reasons known to someone, presumably.
Fantasy leagues might be frozen already, transaction-wise, but if you’re in one that’s not, it’s sound strategy to fit some fall-league prospects into your build. I think the echo-chamber value-bounce has increased year-over-year as more and more prospectors make their way to Arizona for live looks. Last year, Jazz Chisholm went from borderline top 100 to top 30 range in just those few weeks. Nico Hoerner made his first professional noise and climbed the lists under this same bright spotlight. So who’s likely to get that shine this time around?
My early guess for biggest fall bounce is Cincinnati Reds SS Jose Garcia. When the season ended, he was enjoying the best stretch of his young career: 14 games .418 AVG 3 HR 5 SB 4 SO 3 BB. Baseball Reference has him at 1.3 years younger than the average player in High-A, and he’ll be younger than the average fall league player, too. It took a minute for the ballyhooed Cuban to get acclimated, but he’s got a chance to outpace even aggressive projections for his talent. Plus, he checks all the boxes for what it takes to make a quick flight up the prospect lists: capable defense up the middle, power, speed, pedigree, developing hit tool that feels like it’s seething to bubble up any day now.
Miami Marlins SS Jose Devers fits somewhere between. He’s not a powerful as Garcia at the plate or as smooth as Allen in the field, but his blend of above average tools across the board makes him a must-track in dynasty leagues. He hit .325 as a 19-year-old in High-A this year and could ride that hit tool to a splashy fall.
Boston Red Sox SP Bryan Mata caught some helium this year as a 20-year-old making the leap to AA. He wasn’t great at the level, but he was also 4.3 years younger than the average player there, and he was superb (1.75 ERA) in ten starts at high-A, where he was 3.2 years younger than average.
Tampa Bay Rays OF Josh Lowe also had some hot-stretch helium early this year as a 21-year-old in AA but cooled off over the summer enough that he might available in most dynasty leagues. Hit 18 home runs and tallied a .341 on base percentage playing 2.6 years younger than level.
Texas Rangers OF Bubba Thompson has the kind of speed we need in the game (12 SB in 57 A+ games) but has lost the feel for his hit tool (.178 BA in that same stretch). If he gets hot in Arizona, he’ll breathe life back into his fantasy outlook a la Monte Harrison last year.
Cleveland Indians SS Ernie Clement will be a good test case for the baseballs in 2020. He figures to begin the year in AAA. He has three career home runs. He’s 23 years old. For whatever reason I get the feeling he’s gonna catch some eyes this fall in part because the air is thin and in part because he’s incredibly hard to strike out and will be at age or older than his competitors.
Detroit Tigers RHP Anthony Castro will enjoy as similar advantage. He’s a 24-year-old with seven minor league seasons under his belt, and he’s developed a deep arsenal across the years. If he can avoid the walks, he’ll begin a strong push for a 2020 rotation spot.
Philadelphia Phillies RHP Spencer Howard is already a named guy in prospect circles, but he could come out of this looking like a top-5 arm in the minors. Howard figures to hit 100 mph several times if he’s used in the short bursts most often employed in the league. Or course, the pitchers could find themselves throwing deeper into games considering their innings counts and arm health are the reason the league’s now in season.
Big names abound this season. Outfielders Jo Adell, Julio Rodriguez, Jarred Kelenic and Dylan Carlson should be owned or radared in even the shallowest of keeper leagues. SS Royce Lewis and SP Forrest Whitely earned themselves a return trip thanks to rough seasons, and C Joey Bart will be there picking up some of the innings he lost to injury this year. All in all, it’s a great day for baseball. I think I speak for many in this little corner of the world when I wonder aloud why these games aren’t televised and how long we’ll have to wait until they are.
Thanks for reading!