Arizona Fall League Roster Highlights by Eric Longenhagen August 29, 2017 The Arizona Fall League just announced its rosters for the 2017 season. These are subject to change for any number of reasons, and a combination of promotions, injuries, and trades will likely impact who arrives and who doesn’t between now and October 10th, when the Fall League’s seven-week season gets underway. For the uninitiated, the Arizona Fall League is a developmental league featuring six teams, each of which are assigned players from five parent MLB clubs. This league has been a fleeting but well-lit stage for many of MLB’s top talents, including Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole and dozens others. The league is heavily scouted and players sent here often debut in the majors the following season. With that as introduction, below are my thoughts on the prominent/interesting prospects headed to the desert in October. Glendale Desert Dogs (CLE, CHW, LAD, PHI, PIT) Glendale’s pitching staff has a few notable names, led by Pirates RHP Mitch Keller, who’ll pick up the summer innings he dropped in June due to a back strain. Keller has one of the best fastball/curveball combinations in the minors, but the changeup might be his developmental focus here in Arizona. Also on Glendale’s staff is hard-throwing Pirates LHP Taylor Hearn who came to Pittsburgh from Washington as part of last year’s package for Mark Melancon. He hasn’t thrown since July 13th, when he struck out a career-high 10 hitters in 4.2 innings for High-A Bradenton. He was put on the disabled list with an oblique strain two days later. Hearn has had several injuries throughout his career. He suffered from a strained UCL in high school and had a screw put in his elbow as a college freshman after suffering two humeral fractures. When healthy, Hearn sits 94-97 and throws a hard slider. Phillies lefty Elniery Garcia, whose velocity spiked into the mid-90s late last year and who was (coincidentally!?!) busted for Boldenone in April, missed 80 games this year. His fastball has been in the 89-93 range lately. Glendale hitters of note are led by Cleveland’s top prospect, switch-hitting catcher Francisco Mejia, who’s slashing .300/.350/.490 as a 21-year-old at Double-A Akron. He has the best catching arm the league has seen since Gary Sanchez was here in 2015. He’ll be joined behind the plate by athletic Dodgers catcher Will Smith, who broke his hand during his first Double-A game back on July 10, and White Sox backstop Seby Zavala, a grinder with power whose climb up the organizational ladder is being slowed by the presence of Zack Collins. Glendale’s infield includes Cleveland power-over-hit 1B Bobby Bradley, World Baseball Classic standout infielder Tyler Krieger, White Sox infielder and Fringe Five regular Danny Mendick, as well as the Pirates middle-infield duo of Kevin Kramer and Cole Tucker. Kramer is a bat-first second baseman who was hitting .297/.380/.500 at Double-A Altoona before he fractured his hand in June. Tucker, a big, athletic, and physically projectable shortstop, is a Phoenix native. Among the outfielders is Colombian Tito Polo, who was acquired by the White Sox in the Todd Frazier trade with New York. He’s undersized but has a good approach and baseball instincts. Tooled-up Dodgers OF D.J. Peters is on the team’s taxi squad, so his reps will be limited. Teammate OF Yusniel Diaz might be the best position prospect on this team after Mejia, possessing a well-rounded set of tools that began to actualize into on-field production this season. Phillies LF Cornelius Randolph is the youngest player on the roster. Mesa Solar Sox (CHC, DET, HOU, OAK, WAS) Tigers RHP Adam Ravenelle and his mid-90s fastball will be back for a third consecutive Fall League, all with different AFL teams. He joins oft-injured Cubs righty Oscar de la Cruz, who was mostly 89-92 for me in a recent AZL rehab appearance. Cubs rotation-depth arm Alec Mills is also on Mesa’s roster and was 88-91 in the Arizona rehab outing I saw. He’s working back from an ankle contusion. Oakland is sending changeup artists Logan Shore, last year’s second rounder out of Florida, and Cuban Miguel Romero, who sits 92-95 and throws a knuckle changeup. The position-player group on this roster is led by Washington OF Victor Robles and Houston OF Kyle Tucker, two top-15 prospects with completely different bodies and skill sets. Tucker is tall and gangly with pole-to-pole power and good feel to hit, while the compact Robles’ scouting report reads like a that of leadoff catalyst with a bazooka tied to his right shoulder. Tucker’s numbers have fallen off since his promotion to Double-A, his BABIP and walk rates both declining. Opposing baserunners would do well to avoid running on either A’s catcher Sean Murphy or Astros catcher Jake Rogers, both of whom have at least plus arms. Contrasting styles of hitting will be seen at third base: Nationals 3B Kelvin Gutierrez, a high-contact hitter, and newly acquired Athletics 3B Sheldon Neuse, who strikes out a lot and hits for power, will see time on the left side of Mesa’s infield. I’m most excited to see mammoth Astros 1B Yordan Alvarez, who had a 1.100 OPS at Low-A and has continued to hit (though not for quite as much power) since a promotion to Hi-A. Salt River Rafters (ARI, BAL, COL, MIA, MIL) Brewers prospects Corey Ray and Lucas Erceg are coming off disappointing first full pro seasons that they’ll look to salvage, while 1B Jake Gatewood — who many had written off long ago due to his swing-and-miss issues and dramatic tumble down the defensive spectrum — has hit enough this year to earn a promotion to Double-A and a clean-slate evaluation. Sleeper Marlins arms LHP Dillon Peters, who missed time this summer with a fractured thumb, and RHP Ben Meyer, who made a recent edition of Fringe Five, are on the roster. I’ve long been intrigued by the bat of Orioles INF Ryan Mountcastle and look forward to nailing down where he fits on the defensive spectrum, as scouts unanimously agree it won’t be shortstop, with some doubting it’s on the infield at all. Scottsdale Scorpions (CIN, LAA, NYM, NYY, SF) Yankees RHP Dillon Tate returns for a second straight year after he was shelved for the first half with a shoulder injury. Two of the best defensive shortstops in the minors, Mets SS Luis Guillorme and Yankees SS Kyle Holder, are both on this roster; Yankees utility prospect Thairo Estrada and Reds SS Blake Trahan are capable defenders there, too, giving Scottsdale more viable defensive shortstops than the entire AL West. Angels 1B Matt Thaiss has been as advertised in pro ball, making lots of contact but hitting for less power than is typically associated with his position, clubbing just one homer since his promotion to Double-A on July 11. Surprise Saguaros (KC, MIN, StL, TB, TEX) The Cardinals are sending hard-throwing righties Jordan Hicks and Sandy Alcantara to Arizona. Hicks has been handled conservatively this season, often with five or more off-days between starts until mid-July, when he began going every fifth day. Both he and Alcantara, who has struggled a bit with an aggressive assignment to Double-A, have been pitching out of the bullpen lately and are likely to continue to do so here in Arizona. Twins lefty Tyler Jay attempts to return from thoracic outlet syndrome, one of the myriad injuries that have slowed his minor-league climb. His 2016 ended due to neurapraxia. Several relatively unheralded prospects who are having great statistical seasons will have their tools stress-tested in the advanced Fall League. Two former Maryland Terrapins, Twins OF LaMonte Wade and Rays INF Brandon Lowe, are having good years with the bat but may not have enough thump to play every day. Royals SS Nicky Lopez hails from an underrated Creighton program and hit well enough at High-A Wilmington that some think he has a chance to play every day. Peoria Javelinas (ATL, BOS, SD, SEA, TOR) Braves LHP Max Fried will be one of the few Fall Leaguers who have already made their big-league debut. His fastball averaged 93 in his Atlanta bullpen appearances. He’ll be joined by Red Sox lefty Henry Owens, who is now 25 and has walked 104 hitters in 114 innings this year. The curveball of Braves righty Touki Toussaint might be the AFL’s best pitch, while Padres righty Andres Munoz, whose fastball sits in the mid to upper-90s and will crest 100, might have the League’s hardest fastball. He’s also its youngest player. Peoria’s triumvirate of catchers will all seek to answer defensive question marks. Mariners C Joe DeCarlo has only been catching since extended spring training; Alex Jackson attempts to return to his high-school position after spending his early pro career in the outfield; and Blue Jays C Max Pentecost looks to quell age- and position-related concerns about his solid offensive season. This team has arguably the most talented group of position players, led by Braves teenage OF Ronald Acuna, who’s had as impressive a season as any minor leaguer, rocketing from A-ball to the doorstep of the majors. Atlanta INF Austin Riley and Red Sox INF Michael Chavis have both had bounce-back seasons. Mariners OF Kyle Lewis missed the early part of the year as he continued rehab from a torn ACL. Pro scouts didn’t think he looked fully recovered when he finally began to play in games but were impressed by his power. He’ll be joined by fellow Mariners prospect, defensive ace Braden Bishop. The Padres are sending a trio of polarizing infielders in 1B Josh Naylor and INFs Luis Urias and Javier Guerra.