We are less than three weeks away from the Arizona Fall League, which generally represents the last meaningful baseball of the calendar year. The wins and losses do not matter, and it is not necessarily dominated by top prospects - so, to some, the word ‘meaningful’ may be a bit of a stretch. However, it does offer us a bit of insight as to how many players will be utilized the following Spring. Pitchers are largely present to make up for lost innings, to continue to work on a new offering, or to move from the bullpen to the rotation (or vice versa). Position players also make up for missed time, and occasionally use this time to learn (or continue to refine their play at) a new position.
The results may not matter - but the process and lessons to be learned have at least a bit of value.
The rosters are always subject to change, based upon injuries that may happen between now and the second week of October, or whatever else an organization may decide. Keep in mind that each team is composed of players from five different MLB organizations, but that doesn’t mean that these are All-Star teams (or anything approximating that). For six weeks from October through November, though, Arizona will be the place to be for talent evaluators. And there are plenty of talented players to watch.
Harrison Bader, OF, Cardinals
The Cardinals have aggressively promoted Bader since making him a 3rd round pick in the 2015 draft. He spent a week at Low-A before being promoted to Single-A in 2015, and opened this season at Double-A - where he hit .283/.351/.497 with 15 HR and 11 SB in 356 PA. He struggled at Triple-A (.652 OPS, 3 HR in 161 PA), but he has a well-rounded skillset and should be ready next year.
Cody Bellinger, 1B, Dodgers
Bellinger had a strong season at Double-A, and put an exclamation point on the year by hitting .545 with 3 HR in 3 games at Triple-A OKC. He also played 34 games in the outfield, and is no longer viewed as a first base only prospect. He may be on the Corey Seager plan, preparing to open 2017 as a Dodgers regular.
Willie Calhoun, 2B, Dodgers
I included Calhoun due in part to Ray’s adoration of his production, but he is a player to watch nevertheless. He has above-average raw power despite his size (5’8”, 187 pounds), as evidenced by his 27 HR this year (and 38 HR in 788 career AB), and he makes a great deal of contact. He can be a special player if he sticks up the middle.
Francis Martes, SP, Astros
Martes may well be the best pitching prospect in the league, and I suspect that the Astros are sending him here to build up arm strength with an eye on the 2017 season. He’s a no-doubt top-thirty-ish prospect at this point, thanks to his refined change-up, explosive fastball, and power curveball.
Austin Voth, SP, Nationals
Voth represents a solid pitching prospect with a relatively high floor, and will probably spend the majority of 2017 in the Majors. He has three average pitches and above-average command, and should sit comfortably in the back of a starting rotation for years to come.
Franklin Barreto, SS, Athletics
Barreto has a strong all-around season, hitting 10 HR, stealing 30 bases (albeit in 45 attempts), posting the lowest K% of his career, and upping his BB% by a full three percentage points. A move off of shortstop may be in the cards, but he has the tools to handle 2B or CF.
Ian Happ, 2B, Cubs
A move off of second may be a necessity, but Happ’s offensive tools will allow him to play anywhere. He has an incredibly advanced approach at the plate, and the ability to hit 15-plus home runs and steal 10-plus bases. If he sticks at second, he could be a star - in a corner outfield spot, he’d still be above-average.
Eloy Jimenez, OF, Cubs
Michael wrote about Jimenez’s brilliance a couple of weeks ago, and I don’t have much to add. He’s young and unbelievably toolsy, and may well be a top-15 prospect.
Frankie Montas, SP, Athletics
Montas missed the majority of the season due to surgery on his ribs, but he was in the consideration set for most every top-100 list heading into 2016. His fastball flirts with triple digits and his slider is a true swing and miss pitch. His control is below-average, leading some to believe that a move to the bullpen is unavoidable, but the stuff is just so good.
Bradley Zimmer, OF, Indians
Zimmer struck out in over 30% of his plate appearances this year, and is borderline impotent against LHP (.593 OPS). However, he managed to hit .253/.371/.471 with 14 HR and 33 SB in Double-A this year (407 PA) before struggling a bit in Triple-A. He’s undoubtedly in the Indians plans for 2017, but his overall stock may have dropped a bit.
Michael Gettys, OF, Padres
Gettys hit .305/.363/.442 with 12 HR and 33 SB between Single-A and High-A as a 20-year-old - an incredibly attractive line for both the real world and prospective fantasy owners. The biggest drawback here is that he has a great deal of swing and miss in his game, and adjusting to higher-level pitching could be an issue.
Luiz Gohara, SP, Mariners
Gohara has been on prospect lists for what seems like a lifetime, but he just turned 20 a couple of months ago. He has a mid-to-upper 90s fastball with terrific movement and a power slider, and his command has improved with each passing season. He has no experience above Single-A, so the AFL represents his biggest challenge yet.
Brent Honeywell, SP, Rays
Honeywell throws a true screwball, and that alone makes him worth watching. He also has a low-90s fastball, a fringe-average change-up, and well above-average command. He’s a personal favorite, and profiles as a mid-rotation starter.
Tyler O’Neill, OF, Mariners
Baseball America’s Double-A Player of the Year batted .293/.374/.508 with 24 HR and 12 SB (2 CS), and posted career-best walk and strikeout rates. There is a non-zero chance that he jumps into the top-fifty on some prospect lists, as he continues to demonstrate average or better tools across the board - and he’s still only 21.
Travis Demeritte, 2B, Braves
The soon-to-be 22-year-old hit 28 HR and stole 17 bases (4 CS) in High-A this year, and profiles as a solid defender at either second or third base. He has plus raw power and plus bat speed, and lays off of bad pitches. His contact skills are fringe average at best (he struck out in a third of his plate appearances in 2016), but it’s difficult to not get excited about his overall fantasy profile.
Isan Diaz, SS, Brewers
Diaz is a couple of years away from the Majors, but he has all of the tools one could ask for to be an impact bat at either 2B or SS. He hit .264/.358/.469 (143 wRC+) with 20 HR and 11 SB at Single-A, improving as the year went on. The 20-year-old slashed .296/.397/.563 from June 1 forward, with 17 of his HR coming in those 378 PA.
Ryan McMahon, 3B, Rockies
McMahon was a top-50-ish prospect heading into this season, but he struggled for the majority of the season at Double-A. The 21-year-old hit .242/.325/.399 with 12 HR in 534 PA, striking out in over 30% of his plate appearances. He also spent most of the second half playing first, which huts his value significantly. He did hit .250/.321/.434 after I labeled him as a disappointment, so there’s that.
Brett Phillips, OF, Brewers
Phillips also struggled this year, batting just .229/.332/.397 (albeit with 16 HR and 12 SB) in Double-A. He is generally regarded as a five tool prospect, but his hit tool utility is in question on the heels of a career-worst 29.8% strikeout rate. He’s only 22, and the ceiling is still there, but a strong showing could help his stock a bit.
Christin Stewart, OF, Tigers
I named Stewart my High-A Player of the Year, and nothing has changed since then. He’s going to hit and hit for power, and he could move quickly next year.
Greg Bird, 1B, Yankees
Bird is the reason why I kept saying “player” instead of “prospect.” He missed 2016 with a shoulder injury, but the last time we saw him he hit .261/.343/.529 with 11 HR in 178 PA for the Yankees. If he’s healthy, he could be a stealthy high-upside play at first base next year.
Gavin Cecchini, 2B/SS, Mets
Cecchini followed-up his strong 2015 at Double-A with an impressive showing at Triple-A, batting .325/.390/.448 with 8 HR and 4 SB. His fantasy upside is relatively low, due to his lack of power and middling speed, but he’s an up-the-middle player that can hit for average and get on-base. And he should have an inside track to a starting job in 2017.
Chris Stratton, SP, Giants
Stratton is similar to the above-mentioned Austin Voth, in that he is a high-floor prospect with a good chance of spending 2017 in an MLB rotation. He has a low-90s fastball, an average slider, a fringe-average change-up, and average command.
Gleyber Torres, SS, Yankees
Torres’ production dropped off a bit after being dealt to the Yankees, but he finished 2016 with a .270/.354/.421 slash line, as well as 11 HR and 21 SB. The 19-year-old shortstop has average or better tools in the five traditional categories, though he may have to shift off of the position if he continues to grow. He’s a top-25 prospect at this point.
Nick Gordon, SS, Twins
Gordon likely deserves the dreaded ‘better in real life than fantasy’ label, given that most of his value is derived from his tremendous defense. He does have an average to above-average hit tool, and the speed to be a factor on the basepaths as he continues to hone his craft. Gordon’s swing path and approach would have to change dramatically for him to hit double-digit home runs, though.
Michael Kopech, SP, Red Sox
Kopech is making up for lost time this Fall, as he missed fifty games with a stimulant suspension in 2015, and the first couple of months of 2016 after breaking his hand in an altercation with his roommate. He allegedly threw a 105-MPH fastball this Summer, though, and that plus his wipeout slider merit a viewing or three. If he can find even fringe-average control, he could be a stud.
Austin Meadows, OF, Pirates
Meadows broke out in a big way at Double-A, batting .311/.365/.611 with 16 2B, 8 3B, 6 HR, and 9 SB in just 45 games at the level, earning a promotion to Triple-A. He battled hamstring and oblique injuries at Triple-A, and hit .214/.297/.460 in between stints on the DL (though he still had 6 HR and 8 SB in 37 games). He is making up for lost time in the AFL, and is likely in the Pirates plans for 2017 - which could mean that McCutchen is (or will be) on the block.
Yoan Moncada, 2B/3B, Red Sox
Despite his 60% strikeout rate in the Majors, few would argue against Moncada being the top prospect in the game. He has played only 45 games above High-A, all of which came at Double-A, so it’s not shocking that he has struggled with the Red Sox. The only question right now may be whether he ends up attending the AFL at all (where he’s likely going to garner more experience at the hot corner).
Josh Staumont, SP, Royals
Full disclosure - Staumont is one of my guys. He routinely touches triple digits with his fastball (sitting in the mid-to-upper 90s), a hard curveball, and a promising change-up that plays up due to his premium velocity. The issue, however, is that he oftentimes has no idea where the pitches are going, leading to 104 BB in 123.1 IP between High-A and Double-A this year (as well as 167 K). He’s probably a reliever in the long run, but he has some of the best stuff you’ll see in the minors.