The Arizona Fall League is essentially a month-long series of all-star games among prospects across several levels of minor league baseball. 2019 brings our first opportunity to react to the outcomes during the fantasy season, so let’s check in and see how the kids are playing.
Miami Marlins OF Jerar Encarnacion brought some helium out of the Futures Game and has started hot among this super-talented field. He’s a premium athlete who’s already gone yard once in Arizona and can put on a show in batting practice. Scouts have expecting a bounce with the bat any day now. I’d add now in deeper dynasty and keepers (300 or so minor leaguers owned) and track closely throughout Fall.
Speaking of batting practice, Chicago White Sox OF Micker Adolfo is renowned for his gargantuan batting practice blasts but has walked an injury-riddled road so far as a professional. Nobody doubts the talent. Now Micker just needs a sustained run of health to see if his hit tool can keep pace with his physicality. If so, he might catch fire like Katniss Everdeen. (I doubt he’ll topple the government and whatnot, but his first Fall League home run showed he can still launch a baseball like it’s been shot from a bow.)
Chicago Cubs RHP Keegan Thompson began his 2019 season on April 6 with five no-hit innings in AA, elevating the hopes of many who had predicted a breakout year for the then 23-year-old from Auburn. After the spotless start, Chicago put Thompson on the 7-day IL and suggested it was nothing serious. We wouldn’t see him pitch again until August 20th on rehab in a rookie league, so this Fall stint is as critical for Keegan as any pitcher in the league. He’ll need to catch-up on some innings and find his command, but if his first three hitless Fall innings are any indication, that breakout year could begin late 2019 and roll over into 2020.
Trivia of the week: what did the Arizona Diamondbacks get in return for Red Sox OF Marcus Wilson? I’m only asking because I had to look it up—something that rarely happens in my brain that wants to use all its neurons on baseball, and especially on the sorts of oddly shaped dominoes that turn D.J. LeMahieu into Tyler Colvin or vice versa.
Got your guesses in? Or did you have to look it up like me?
What is the Catcher formerly known as Blake Swihart?
I don’t think anyone actually knows . . . I mean what Swihart is or why anyone traded anything for him. I’m not saying Wilson is some monster prospect who’s going to make the Diamondbacks look awful for taking a flier. I am saying Marcus Wilson displays a decent approach and the physicality to make it play in games if he finds his footing.
Pittsburgh Pirates OF Jared Oliva just keeps getting better. A strong enough defender to stay in center, Oliva brings the category we need most these days: speed, as demonstrated by his 36 steals in 46 attempts in AA. That along with his .352 on-base percentage should see him open 2020 in AAA, where the juiced ball awaits. He’ll be a 24-year-old but has run a positive wRC+ playing just a little older than average at every level. I’m not squeezing him onto shallow dynasty teams just yet, but a few good games in the thin autumn air could sway me that way. Speed prospects seem undervalued across the list-making community, given the dearth of steals available in the MLB fantasy world.
Another speedster playing slightly over-age for his level is 22-year-old New York Yankees OF Josh Stowers. At six foot and 200 pounds, Stowers brings a running back build to the batter’s box and combines that physicality with a discerning eye (.386 on base percentage). 35 for 51 in stolen base attempts in the Midwest League this year, he’ll have to increase his efficiency against batter batteries to keep getting the green light, but that’s within realm of his possible outcomes. A little better loft and continuing development of his baseball acumen could soon create the sort of five-tool producer foreign to free agent wires in all but the shallowest leagues. He’s already got an Arizona homerun, and as one of the least experienced players in the league, he just has to hang in to impress.
Last speed thought of the day: Tampa Bay 2B Vidal Brujan will run wild against the league’s premium catching talent and should be owned in pretty much all keeper leagues where steals matter. With a strong Fall League performance, he’ll elbow his way into my top five overall prospects. It’s rare enough for a 40-steal player to enter our game. Even rarer to find one who hits enough to earn himself regular playing time. Rarer still to find one who speaks five languages.
I mention this last piece because language learning requires the same determination needed for the grind of baseball. You’re going to make mistakes. Might look like an idiot. Might often feel dumb. But you have to keep putting yourself out there. And as long as you stay positive and focus on the long term, you can improve a little bit every day. In 2014, Tampa signed Brujan out of the Dominican Republic for $15,000. He was illiterate at the time. Now: five languages.
Brujan is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this December, so he’ll be on the Rays’ 40-man roster when next season starts. Just a phone call away in Triple A. He’s within reach of the dream he shared with his father, who died in early 2018. As he explained to MLB.com’s Juan Toribio this Spring: “I promised my dad that I was going to get to the big leagues in either 2019 or 2020. It’s a moment I’ve been dreaming of. I won’t be content with anything until I get up to the big leagues.”
This last one is just for fun.
Toronto Blue Jays RHP Maverik Buffo is a real person who must have had an interesting childhood. Also, he’s a 24-year-old pitcher who’s worked most of his career in relief and struggled. I’m not certain why he’s in the Fall league, but I wanted to give props to his parents for the extreme lean in.
Thanks for reading!