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Arizona Fall League AL West Threat Assessment

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Scouting the names that will likely haunt Mariners fans over the coming years

Peoria Javelinas v. Scottsdale Scorpions
Julio fraternizing with the enemy
Photo by Jill Weisleder/MLB Photos via Getty Images

As you might have noticed, I’ve been mostly absent from the site for the past couple weeks. The reason for that is I was recently in Arizona for two weeks: the first week was Mariners-focused, conducting interviews with prospects and scouting out the Mariners playing in the Fall League, and the second week was mostly spent at a scouting school for women, learning about the art of scouting baseball. The fruits of these labors will start to emerge over the coming weeks—site editor John Trupin was also in attendance for the first week, so he’ll have some stuff for you too—but one thing I wanted to do early was a general overview of the AL West prospects we saw at the Fall League. Later on this off-season we’ll be doing a series on AL West Threat Assessments for the 2021 season and beyond, doing our best to peer into our crystal balls and envision what the AL West might look like when the Mariners are theoretically ready to round back into competitive form. High Threat players are those with an excellent chance of being everyday above-average players; Medium are those who stand a good chance of being everyday players or high-upside players with some risk; and Low means their MLB futures are fringy, limited to a bench role, or nonexistent. Here’s a sneak preview of some of the names that might come up in that series:

Los Angeles Angels

OF Jo Adell

Age/Level: 20y 6m, AAA (Salt Lake)

MLB ETA: 2020

Threat assessment: Very High

The Angels have gone high-risk, high-ceiling with recent draft choices, and it’s paying off big time with their 2017 first-rounder. The athletic Adell has easy power in his bat, and is a true center fielder, rangy and able to get good reads off the bat. He’s a true three-outcome player who will hit for power, take his walks (around 10% in the AFL), and strike out quite a bit (30%, similar to his career K rate). The strikeout percentage is the only potential red flag on Adell’s profile, although he was able to adjust in a second go-round at AA-Mobile this past season. I did see him get beaten in three pitches in an at-bat where the pitcher didn’t have premium velocity, but was able to locate 92-93 against him along with a tricky slider. The Angels have been aggressive with Adell; expect to see him in Anaheim early this season if not breaking with the team out of ST.

OF Brandon Marsh

Age/Level: 21y 10m, AA (Mobile)

MLB ETA: 2020

Threat assessment: High

Marsh, the Angels’ second-round pick in 2016, has been overshadowed some by the Jo Show, but he’s a solid prospect in his own right. Despite a large frame (6’4”/215), Marsh has plus athleticism and is surprisingly quick down the line—I had the lefty batter at 4.1 to first. He has plus range in the outfield and a strong enough arm to profile as a plus everyday corner outfielder. Marsh has had some injuries and inconsistencies at the plate but looks to have settled down in the upper minors into a player with solid plate discipline and some raw power in the bat. With his plus defense and more consistent contact, he’s a safer floor than Adell if the strikeouts prove prohibitive for his more-ballyhooed counterpart, although obviously not as high-ceiling in the power department. The injuries have held Marsh behind Adell for a while, but both could conceivably fill out the Halos outfield this season.

2B Jahmai Jones

Age/Level: 22y 2m, AA (Mobile)

MLB ETA: 2021

Threat assessment: Medium

After a rough-at-times transition from the outfield to the infield, Jones looked like an average defender at the keystone when I saw him, although his range wasn’t challenged in the look I got. The ability to stick at second will be crucial for Jones’s prospect profile moving forward, as the Angels are loaded up in the outfield and thin on the infield, and it’s likely he won’t hit enough to hold down a corner spot (the best power marks of Jones’s career come from the two seasons he spent at High-A with Inland Empire, one of the most hitter-friendly environments in minor-league baseball). Many predicted a bounce-back season for Jones in 2019 as he became more comfortable with the position switch, but the bat fell flat in both the power and contact departments this year at AA. In the AFL, the hit and power tools came back in a big way as he ranked third on the Solar Sox in OPS, indicating a breakout season might be ahead, but his 30% K rate is something to be wary of.

RHP Aaron Hernandez

Age/Level: 22y 10m, A+ (Inland Empire)

MLB ETA: 2021

Threat assessment: Low-medium

The Angels’ third-rounder in 2018 out of Texas A&M, Hernandez didn’t pitch at all in his draft year. The Angels skipped him straight to the California League and High-A Inland Empire this year, a miserable place to pitch, where over 72.2 innings he posted an FIP of 4.7 with decent strikeout numbers (24%) against awful walk ones (14%). Hernandez reportedly dealt mid-90s velocity out of college, but sat 91-92 in this look. Some scouts have pegged him in a bullpen role but it looks like the Angels are trying to keep him as a starter, as he started both times I saw him. Hernandez paired his fastball with a curveball in the mid-70s and a low-80s slider that served as an out pitch and helped him rack up 19 strikeouts in 14.2 innings despite fairly pedestrian stuff. If he sticks in a starter role and can survive the high minors, he profiles as a back-of-the-rotation pitcher.

Did not see: C Franklin Torrres, RHP Nathan Bates, RHP Isaac Mattson, RHP Austin Warren

Houston Astros

RHP Cody Deason

Age/Level: 22y 9m, A+ (Fayetteville)

MLB ETA: 2021

Threat assessment: Low

Deason is proof that not every arm in the Astros’ system is a high-velocity/low-control fireballer. The 2018 fifth-rounder is enormous, at 6’4”/215 (listed—he looked closer to 230+), but despite his extra-large frame and high-effort delivery, he throws in the low 90s, a few ticks off where he sat in college at Arizona, just up the road. The word to describe Deason’s pitching is “workmanlike,” and his out pitch is a 12-6 curveball that showed good depth. Working as a reliever in the AFL, Deason struck out 10 batters in just 8.0 IP, but also surrendered six runs on 11 hits, as his fastball proved extremely hittable.

1B J.J. Matijevic

Age/Level: 23y 11m, AA (Corpus Christi)

MLB ETA: late 2020/2021

Threat assessment: Medium

The Astros’ decision to trade away defensively-limited slugger Seth Beer at the deadline to acquire Zack Greinke made sense in watching Matijevic play this fall, as the skillsets for the two players overlap. Matijevic has an athletic enough look for the outfield, but subpar footwork and limited range confine him to first base. While he split time at left field and first base in the regular season, Matijevic spent most of his time in Arizona at first putting even more pressure on the bat. Matijevic was in the AFL making up time after a 50-game suspension (drug of abuse) this year, and also to work on his power profile while keeping his strikeouts, which ticked up over 30% this year at AA, in check. Matijevic’s AFL line (about .250/.315/.415) almost exactly mirrors his line at Double-A, and the strikeouts are mirror images as well (he actually struck out a little more often in the AFL).

It’s a little difficult to square Matijevic’s output with breathless MLB Pipeline updates on Twitter praising his power. When he connects with the ball, it does travel far, and Matijevic reportedly has some of the best exit velocities in the system, but in multiple looks at him I didn’t see enough skills-wise or consistency-wise for an everyday role at present.

SS Jeremy Pena

Age/Level: 22y 1m, A+ (Fayetteville)

MLB ETA: 2021

Threat assessment: Medium

Plus defender with excellent range, smooth footwork, and a strong arm. Made multiple plus plays in the various looks I got at him. Offensively, succeeded at High-A this year but struggled in this, his first exposure to higher-level pitching, striking out 35 times in 93 ABs and rarely accessing his raw power, and often looked overmatched at the plate. The AFL was a challenge assignment for Pena, so his solid full-season numbers are a better reflection of his talent, but there is a ways to go here before this is more than a defense-first utility infielder profile.

RHP Carlos Sanabria

Age/Level: 22y 9 m, AA (Corpus Christi)

MLB ETA: 2020

Threat assessment: Low-medium

Tall (6’3”), slender frame with live arm, 70 grade fastball with 30 grade control. Struck out 30% of batters between High-A and Double-A this season while walking 15%, a trend that continued at the AFL, where he struck out 12 in 9.0 IP but also walked four and allowed nine runs on 13 hits. If Sanabria can get the walks under control he profiles as a back-end of the bullpen option, but at 23 and headed for his second go-round of Double-A, that seems less likely.

C Colton Shaver

Age/Level: 24y 1m, AA (Corpus Christi)

MLB ETA: ?

Threat assessment: Low

A 39th-round pick out of BYU in 2017, the Astros sent Shaver to the AFL in an effort to convert the former DH into a catcher. Shaver is a dead ringer for Evan Gattis, and the Astros clearly hope to have another one of those on their hands, but Shaver is poor at most aspects of the catching position, especially limited in lateral quickness and blocking as well as controlling the run game. Shaver can mash with the bat and has slugged at all levels of the minors, although that power wasn’t on display in the AFL and the strikeout issue from Double-A (30+%) carried over into the fall, where he struck out 23 times in 57 ABs. With the power in his bat, if he was even passable at the catching position that could accelerate his timeline to the majors, and he’d only played 29 games at the position prior the AFL. Unless Shaver makes great strides forward defensively in a short amount of time, however, it’s not anywhere close to an MLB-acceptable level of play behind the dish.

RHP Jojanse Torres

Age/Level: 24y 2m, A+ (Fayetteville)

MLB ETA: 2021

Threat assessment: Medium

Another 70/30 arm in the Astros system, Torres has better pure stuff than Sanabria, which makes it even more terrifying when he throws it to the backstop or near a player’s head, something I witnessed multiple times in the AFL. Torres had some of the best K/9 numbers in the AFL, striking out 16 batters in just 8.0 IP, but also walked five and surrendered five runs (although only three earned). His arm is electric and whippy and the fastball can easily sit triple-digits, which he pairs with a hard slider, reminiscent of Edwin Diaz. Torres overpowered batters at High-A Fayetteville this year while being a touch old for the level, but it remains to be seen how he’ll fare against competition that is a little more advanced in dealing with both elite velocity and maintaining plate discipline against Torres, who walked 12% of batters who faced him this season.

RHP Forrest Whitley

Age/Level: 22y 1m, AAA

MLB ETA: 2020

Threat assessment: Very High

After a lost year in 2019 involving injury, ineffectiveness, and lingering disuse from a 50-game PED suspension in 2018, Whitley spent the fall not in the Astros’ playoff bullpen, where many speculated he’d be, but pitching on the spring training fields of the AFL for the second year in a row. To his credit, Whitley looked a far cry from the pitcher who averaged an FIP of 6+ between AA and AAA this year, recording 32 strikeouts in just 25 innings (his second straight year leading the AFL in that category), and pairing his nasty high-velo fastball with a breaking ball he can throw in multiple distinct shapes:

His changeup comes in at a similar velocity, and was absolutely devastating to left-handed hitters. Whitley had moments where he wobbled, all the same. He gave up three dingers, including a ball Jo Adell absolutely demolished, and his development hasn’t exactly been what one would call smooth. The AFL isn’t meant to stretch pitchers out, typically, but after a regular season where he averaged just 3.1 innings per appearance, made it thru five innings just four times in his 18 appearances (15 starts), and had a season-high of 5.1 IP in a single game, Whitley didn’t entirely quiet questions about his inefficiency with pitches in the AFL. With Gerrit Cole likely departing this off-season, Whitley is poised to become Houston’s next ace, and potentially their first homegrown one. Whether he reaches those heights immediately or hits a more Robbie Ray level initially as a 10-K, 4-5 inning pitcher will come down to building on the improved command he showed (with the minor league ball) in the AFL.

Oakland Athletics

OF Greg Deichmann

Age/Level: 24y 4m, AA (Midland)

MLB ETA: late 2020

Threat assessment: High

Led the AFL in slugging with more than twice as many HR as the next-closest players. Easy plus power from a compact, level swing from a wide, balanced stance with minimal to no leg kick. Keeps his head still and stays rigid through front side. Aggressiveness at the plate leads to some swing-and-miss to his game as he struck out over 30% in the past two seasons and 35% in the AFL. Average outfield defense with a slightly above-average arm locks him solidly into an everyday corner OF spot, likely right. Three true outcomes player who walks a lot, strikes out a lot, and hits tanks. Some injury history as he’s missed time in each of his two full pro seasons.

1B Alfonso Rivas

Age/Level: 23y 1 m, A+ (Stockton)

MLB ETA: 2021

Threat assessment: Medium-low

A fourth-rounder in 2018 out of Arizona, just up the road from the AFL parks, Rivas has a short stroke geared for contact and plus plate discipline. A below-average runner, Rivas doesn’t have the range to play outfield at the next level, and his arm would be a stretch even in left. He’s more than capable of handling duties at first, but lacks the power of a traditional first baseman. Perhaps chalk it up to hitting in familiar environs, but Rivas brought some doubles power to the AFL, with seven in 49 ABs, and finished with a strong overall line of .306/.417/.449. If he’s able to beef up his power profile in Midland next year, his stock will be on the rise.

SS Nick Allen

Age/Level: 21y 1 m, A+ (Stockton)

MLB ETA: 2022

Threat assessment: Low-medium

The A’s gave Allen $2M in the third round of the 2017 draft to buy him out of his college commitment to USC and secure one of the best shortstops in the draft. Allen’s defensive prowess is well-known, as he’s near-flawless at short, but the offense has been a question since the day he signed. Allen has an extra-small frame (listed at a very generous 5’9”) and a swing that, while praised by scouts for its speed and compactness, looked to me noodle-y and out of rhythm, as he lunged across the plate at times. To be fair, the AFL was a challenge assignment for Allen, coming off his most successful year as a pro yet in High-A Stockton, where he hit for contact and some power in the hitter-friendly California League before getting shut down with a high ankle sprain. Even if he was there to make up lost time, the advanced arms of the AFL proved too much for Allen, as he struck out about 30% of the time, well above his career numbers. There’s potential here, and his plus defense ensures a fairly high floor, but Allen’s bat is a long-term project.

Did not see: LHP Jhenderson Hurtado, RHP Jesus Zambrano, RHP Brady Feigl (the A’s one)

Texas Rangers

INF Jax Biggers

Age/Level: 22y 6m, A (Hickory)

MLB ETA: 2021

Threat assessment: Low

Typical light-hitting utility infielder profile with plus speed. Plus bat speed, flat swing built for line drives more than power, excellent bunter. Very difficult to strike out; walked more than he struck out in the AFL, although wasn’t able to muster much else with the bat in a challenging assignment after spending all year in the Sally League. Tied for fourth in the league in stolen bases after not running as much as expected at Hickory (12/18 in SB).

RHP Nick Snyder

Age/Level: 24y 1m, A (Hickory)

MLB ETA: 2021

Threat assessment: Medium-Low

A crew of Rangers prospects trained at Driveline this past summer, and the 6’4” Snyder, who can rush his fastball up to the plate at 97-98, is maybe the most intriguing. A 19th-rounder in 2017 out of a JUCO, Snyder was old for single-A ball this year as he’s continued to plod through the Rangers’ system. His stuff is electric—the riding fastball has late life in addition to its plus velocity, and he pairs that with a hard slider—but control has been an issue, although he walked a career-low 8.3% of batters this year. The stuff didn’t quite match the results in the AFL, where he struck out just seven in 10 IP while walking four and surrendering six earned runs, but Snyder is a candidate to jump multiple levels this season if he can iron out some of his mechanical issues.

OF Bubba Thompson

Age/Level: 21y 4m, A+ (Down East)

MLB ETA: 2022

Threat assessment: Medium

The Rangers’ first-round pick in 2017, Thompson missed a month of action this season with a broken hamate bone, and was sent to the AFL to make up reps after a disappointing season in the Carolina League. (Thompson, a quarterback in high school, also missed a few weeks after being drafted in 2017 with tendinitis in both knees.) His bat woke up in Arizona, with 18 hits in 71 ABs, including three homers, but he also struck out 35% of the time against more advanced pitching, continuing a trend from full-season ball. Thompson has plus raw power with quick hands but will struggle to access it as long as he can’t keep his strikeouts in check. He’s still raw in the outfield but profiles as an above-average defender who projects to stick in center and can use his 70-grade speed not only to make some splashy diving plays but also to be a real menace on the bases (32 SB in 2018, 6 in the AFL).

RHP Cole Uvila

Age/Level: 25y 8m, A+ (Down East)

MLB ETA: 2020

Threat assessment: Low

A 40th-rounder in 2018, Uvila is a unicorn in a few ways: the 25-year-old has struck out between 35-40% of batters he’s seen in pro ball, but has also walked about 13% of them. That trend continued in the AFL, where he punched out 16 batters in 10.2 innings but also issued seven free passes. Uvila is a Port Angeles native.

C Matt Whatley

Age/Level: 23y 9m, A (Hickory)

MLB ETA: 2022

Threat assessment: Low-medium

Whatley is a defense-first catcher the Rangers took out of Oral Roberts, a school with a reputation for developing good catchers, in the third round in 2017. After two middling offensive seasons in pro ball that saw him repeating A ball in 2019, the Rangers challenged Whatley with an assignment to the AFL. A taxi-squad player, Whatley didn’t play a lot (just 32 ABs) and struck out in about a third of his at-bats, but also showed off some of the raw power scouts have seen in his bat with a triple and a double. How far his bat can advance will determine Whatley’s ceiling, as his defense is already Gold-Glove caliber, and he’s coming off a season where he led all affiliated catchers in his own stolen bases with 29 on 37 attempts.

Did not see: RHP Josh Advocate, RHP A.J. Alexy