If you love prospects, then it doesn’t get any better than the Arizona Fall League. With six teams comprising players from all 30 organizations, the AFL offers top prospects an opportunity to refine their skills long after the end of the minor league season.
For some players, the competition in the AFL is superior to anything they’ve previously experienced as a professional. For others, it’s a chance to prove to their organization that they’re ready to be challenged at the highest level.
Then, of course, there are the reclamation prospects, guys who were once highly touted but have since dropped off the major-league radar as a result of injuries, poor performance or stunted development. With these prospects, teams use the AFL to gauge whether or not they’re deserving of a spot on the 40-man roster, especially with the Rule V draft roughly a month away.
The 2014 AFL produced a diverse group of promising big leaguers this season, a group that includes Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, Archie Bradley, Roberto Osuna, Greg Bird, Anthony DeSclafani and Raul Mondesi, just to name a few.
Although this year’s AFL class isn’t as loaded as previous years, it’s still likely to churn out numerous impact talents. We have you covered with an in-depth look at eight of those players.
Damien Magnifico, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
A fifth-round draft pick in 2012, Magnifico is coming off a breakout campaign at Double-A Biloxi in which he saved 20 games and posted a 1.17 ERA across 42 appearances. Although the 24-year-old right-hander only struck out 38 batters in 53 2/3 innings (6.4 K/9), the fact that 2015 represented his first season as a full-time reliever highlights his potential to miss more bats moving forward.
The whiffs certainly have been there for Magnifico in the Fall League, where he’s already fanned eight batters in 5 1/3 innings while saving a pair of games for the Saguaros. Magnifico’s stuff supports the numbers, too; the Oklahoma product has featured a consistent 98-99 mph fastball this fall while flashing a plus slider with depth at 84-85.
Lewis Brinson, OF, Texas Rangers
Brinson raced through the Minor Leagues this past season, beginning the year at High-A High Desert before moving up to Double-A Frisco and, ultimately, Triple-A Round Rock. Between the three levels, he batted a robust .332/.403/.601 and set career highs in home runs (20), doubles (31), RBI (69) and runs scored (74). He also swiped 18 bags, cut down on the whiffs and posted a career-best 9.7 percent walk rate.
I didn’t get to see Brinson as much as I would have liked since he was moved from the AFL to the Puerto Rico Winter League after the season’s third week. But in the games I did see, the 21-year-old was arguably the best player on the field in terms of his athleticism and tools as well as his overall performance. What makes Brinson special is his ability to impact a game in a number of ways; and that’s precisely what could get him to the big leagues at some point next season, even with Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara seemingly ahead of him on the depth chart.
Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees
After getting a brief taste of the Major Leagues in early October, the 22-year-old Sanchez is playing like a big leaguer in the Arizona Fall League, where he has a .306/.338/.667 batting line and leads all hitters in most offensive categories including home runs (seven), RBI (19) and total bases (48).
The jury is still out on whether Sanchez can stick behind the plate, but his defense has at least been passable in the Fall League. He still uses his cannon of an arm – I had his pop time at a stellar 1.82 seconds on that caught stealing in the Futures Game – to make up for some of his shortcomings as a blocker and receiver, although he has made strides in both departments since the end of the 2014 season. Meanwhile, in the wake of John Ryan Murphy being dealt to the Twins on Wednesday, Sanchez appears to be in a good spot to begin next season as the Yankees’ backup catcher.
Jurickson Profar, SS/2B, Texas Rangers
Good news, baseball fans: Jurickson Profar is looking more and more like the Jurickson Profar who ranked as the game’s unanimous top prospect headed into 2013 before missing the entire 2014 season and all but 12 games in 2015.
He’s a tick slower than he was a few years back and has been limited to DH duties in the Fall League – although I did see him playing catch before one game, probably at about 60 percent – but the 22-year-old’s approach, contact skills and power are all still there. Profar’s .260 average through 13 games in the AFL doesn’t tell the whole story; he’s repeatedly worked deep counts and made hard contact from line to line, while his 16 RBI ranks as the third-highest total in the league.
Given what I saw, now would be a good time to target Profar in your dynasty league if he happened to fall off owners’ radars in the last year. Along the same lines, I imagine there are some real-life general managers thinking the same thing.
A.J. Reed, 1B/DH, Houston Astros
Reed has done nothing but mash since the Astros selected him with the No. 42 overall pick in the 2014 Draft. In his first full professional season, the 22-year-old slugger paced all Minor League hitters in home runs (34) and RBI (127), and did so while hitting .340/.432/.612 in 135 games between High-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi. Unfortunately, Reed’s time in the Fall League was short-lived as he was removed from Glendale’s roster after only 11 games due to general soreness.
Reed will enter the 2016 on the cusp on the Major Leagues, and he seems unlikely to slow down whether he begins the year in Double- or Triple-A. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Astros moved one of their first base/DH types, such as Chris Carter or Jon Singleton, to clear the way for Reed, who represents a considerably cheaper option than either of the aforementioned players.
Josh Hader, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Prior to arriving in the Arizona, I had heard reports from trusted colleagues that Hader was running his fastball up to 98 mph consistently. But given his background as a low-90s, finesse lefty, I had to see it to believe it. Sure enough, the 21-year-old was 95-98 in my looks, while his crossfire delivery – from the first-base side of the mound, too – and backside arm action gives him a ton of natural deception. On top of that, Hader showed impressive feel for a filthy slider, throwing it for a strike before burying it in the dirt (especially on the back foot of right-handed hitters) when ahead in the count.
His Fall League stats, meanwhile, support the scouting in a big way: 10 IP, 4 H, ER, 4 BB, 15 K. During the regular season, Hader – who came over from Houston at the Trade Deadline as part of the Carlos Gomez deal – pitched to a 3.03 ERA with a 119/35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 104 innings (24 appearances/17 starts) between Double-A Corpus Christi and Biloxi.
Nick Burdi, RHP, Minnesota Twins
Burdi scuffled at Double-A Chattanooga during the first three months of the season, posting a 4.53 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings (30 appearances). However, the 2014 second-rounder fared much better following a demotion to High-A Fort Myers, registering a 2.25 ERA and 29/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20 innings across 13 appearances.
Burdi has yet to allow a run in the Fall League (5 IP, 2 H, 6 K), and that’s mostly because he’s been sitting in the upper-90s, touching triple digits at times, and consistently working downhill, which allows him to pound the bottom of the zone with quality strikes. As a result, his 88-91 mph slider has been more effective and he’s had to rely on it less. If Burdi’s success in the AFL can carry over into a likely assignment back to Double-A, the 22-year-old right-hander could have a spot in the Twins’ bullpen by the All-Star break.
Ray Black, RHP, San Francisco Giants
A seventh-round draft pick in 2011, Black missed all of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery but made up for it in a big way this past season, posting a 2.88 ERA with 51 strikeouts in 25 innings (18.4 K/9) at High-A San Jose.
The 25-year-old right-hander has been the talk of this year’s Fall League thanks to his ability to light up the radar gun, sitting 98-101 mph in each outing and topping out at 103 mph (or 104, depending upon whom you ask) in his outing Monday. The results have been equally impressive, as he’s already accrued 12 strikeouts in seven innings (seven appearances). Although Black’s strike-throwing ability still leaves something to be desired, he has proven he can get by on sheer velocity, and his slider can be nasty as well when he’s not getting around the side of it.