Signs of fall: rainy skies, football on every available television all the time, and a group of baseball’s splashiest prospects headed to the desert to play in the Arizona Fall League. This year, the AFL begins earlier than ever; this Wednesday, in fact.
We’ve already covered which Mariners prospects are headed to the AFL, including bright young stars Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic, heralded by Baseball America as the best organizational 1-2 punch in the AFL.
However, every team is sending their best and brightest to “baseball graduate school,” and following the AFL is a great way to get a glimpse of who the superstars of the future might be. Fun anecdote: I caught up with Art Warren this weekend and asked him if the Arkansas Travelers was the best team he’d ever been on, expecting the answer to be a resounding yes, before he gently reminded me he’d played on the 2017 Peoria Javelinas, a team that included Boston’s Michael Chavis, Toronto’s Lourdes Gurriel and TJ Zeuch, San Diego’s Luis Urías and Franmil Reyes, and Atlanta’s Max Fried, Touki Touissant, and Ronald Acuña. Whoops.
For those of you who play fantasy baseball, especially in dynasty leagues, following the AFL can be a great way to get a leg up in your drafts. But what I’ve found is it’s just plain fun to deepen my baseball knowledge by finding new players to become attached to and get invested in early (I will always love you, Luis Urías). If you’re reading this article, you’re probably already planning to follow the Jarred/J-Rod tandem in the AFL as best you can (with only Gameday information except for a few select games, this can be challenging); here are a few highlights from each team to help you get invested in the rest of the AFL and maybe find a new prospect crush or two.
Also, here is where I again encourage you to make a trip to the AFL for a weekend; if you’re based in Seattle or on the West Coast, plane tickets are extremely reasonable (I got a one-way flight on Delta that had a base price of thirty-six dollars before taxes), and you can stay right by the complex for about a third of the price as in high season, eliminating the need for a rental car. If you’ve wanted to go to Spring Training but been overwhelmed by the cost (or made anxious by the idea of facing down throngs of people), the AFL is a great way to have a Spring Training experience for a fraction of the cost (and people).
On to the AFL teams! Complete rosters can be found here, and a link to the schedule here. Sadly the games aren’t televised, except the Fall Stars game (October 12) and the Championship game (October 26), both on MLBN, but you can follow along on Gameday from the home page, and check the LL Twitter, where we’ll try to retweet any footage we can find from scouts at the games.
The Desert Dogs, who will play their home games at Camelback Ranch because the Dodgers are the friends with rich parents, have just one Top 100 prospect: Reds 3B Jonathan India, the 5th overall pick in 2018, who is a bit of a tweener defensively; Cincinnati, set at 3B with Eugenio Suarez, was said to be shopping him in trades last off-season, and his AFL stint might be meant to showcase some trade value. The other Top-100 prospect, Cardinals OF Dylan Carlson, a Kelenic-esque wunderkind who was a real headache against the Arkansas Travelers this year, was removed from the roster. The Reds are also sending Seattle native OF Stuart Fairchild, who had an excellent season at Double-A with the Chattanooga Lookouts and appears to be MLB-adjacent. Pitching-wise, the Dodgers’ Marshall Kasowski is a nasty flamethrowing reliever who struggled with health this year but has drawn comparisons to Josh Hader.
You should already know about the prospects the Mariners are sending; if you don’t, go read this and come back (sigh I’ll wait). The AFL alliances re-shuffle every year, except for teams who share a complex like the Mariners do with the Padres, so this year our sweet Mariners babies have to be near the Astros prospects. Ewwww. Aside from the 1-2 punch of Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez, other Top-100 prospects who will be skunk pigs include Astros pitcher Forrest Whitley, who is probably too advanced for the league but suffered through a rough season and missed time due to injury and suspension, and Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz, who is six foot six inches! I’m excited to watch him play. Padres catcher Luis Campusano isn’t technically a Top-100 prospect but should be; he was a real menace against the Modesto Nuts this season while playing for the Lake Elsinore Storm in the California League. I’m not sure how prospect evaluators have missed Campusano, honestly, who showed up on offensive and defensive leaderboards all season long in the Cal League.
I don’t know if it’s the mix of teams here—the Mariners play BAL, WAS, and NYY in the Sally League, and the Rangers and Royals in the Texas League, and that’s about it—or the quality of prospect, but I didn’t recognize most of the names on the SS roster. RHP Dean Kremer I recognize from writing up as part of the Machado deal; he’s been solid since coming over from the Dodgers and hovers at the edge of MLB-adjacent once the Orioles are ready to stop being MLB’s dryer lint. Royals 1B Gabriel Cancel is a power hitter that the Arkansas Travelers were able to control when they played the NW Arkansas Naturals, but who might, like Kyle Lewis, flourish away from the confines of the Texas League. The Yankees are sending erstwhile Mariner Josh Stowers, whose father Clarence I desperately hope to meet at the AFL. Remember when the Mariners took Josh Stowers second and it was called a reach and then the Yankees traded for him because they really wanted him and then suddenly he was a great prospect? Because I do. Nationals SS Luis Garcia will be, along with Juliooooo, one of the youngest players in the AFL (Julio is still seven months younger).
If you’d like a preview of which players will be tormenting the Mariners in the AL, especially the AL West, this is the division for you. Angels OF Jo Adell is the highest-ranked prospect who will be appearing in the AFL, ranging from #2-#4 overall depending on the outlet. Adell, who finished his season in Triple-A, is probably too advanced for the AFL, but he missed the first month or so of the season with an injury sustained in Spring Training so he’s here to make up extra at-bats. SS Nico Hoerner, the Cubs’ 2018 first-rounder, is also slated to wear sustainable sox; the Cubs sent him straight to Double-A Tennessee this year, which for context, would be like the Mariners sending Austin Shenton to Double-A. Hoerner proved equal to the task, though, and could be threatening to earn the job at short in Chicago as early as next season, which would be...good, I think. The Cubs are also sending their top pitching prospect, 20-year-old lefty Brailyn Marquez, a 6’4” flamethrower who can routinely hit triple digits and got bumped to High-A this season despite walking 13% of batters he faced in 77 innings in South Bend. As far as AL West rivals go, beyond Adell the Angels are sending another OF, Brandon Marsh, who is probably too advanced for the level but missed time with injury, and the Athletics are sending defensive wizard SS Nick Allen, who also was hurt while at High-A Stockton, and Arizona grad 1B Alfonso Rivas, who caused Modesto’s pitching staff a fair amount of fits this year with the Ports.
Salt River Rafters (Diamondbacks, Marlins, Rays, Rockies, Twins)
After Adell, the next highest-ranked prospect to participate in the AFL is Twins SS Royce Lewis. The #1 overall pick in 2017 wasn’t impressive in a repeat of High-A with Fort Meyers—not exactly a difficult place to hit—but was promoted to Double-A Pensacola anyway, where he continued to struggle, showing virtually no power despite it being, you know, Florida. The only possible contenders for top organizational 1-2 punch besides Jarred/J-Rod would have been Lewis and fellow Top-100 prospect Alex Kirilloff, but the Twins have removed Kirilloff because they are cowards, and definitely not because Alex Kirilloff is a Bond villain who has to go kidnap the Archduke instead of playing in the AFL. The D-Backs are sending their newly-acquired Top-100 prospect 1B Seth Beer, and also a player who isn’t on the Top-100 list but was a real thorn in the side of Modesto this year in SS Geraldo Perdomo, as well as OF Jake McCarthy, who was a similar pain but spent time on the IL. As for other intriguing prospects, the Marlins will send the jewel of their 2018 international class, OF Victor Victor Mesa (the prospect so nice we named him twice). They’ll also send old friend Nick Neidert, who at one time was the best pitcher in the Mariners’ system. Speaking of interesting pitchers, the Rays will be sending Shane Baz, acquired in the Chris Archer deal, who dealt with some injuries this year and has wipeout stuff but can struggle to command it. The Rays will also be sending a pitcher named Simon Rosenblum-Larson, who I know nothing about, but whose hyphen I celebrate.
There’s no Vlad Guerrero Jr. this year but the Scorps still have a loaded squad. The Giants are sending not one but two Top-100 prospects in C Joey Bart and OF Heliot Ramos, both of whom missed time this season with injuries. The Phillies are sending two former first-rounders, the very intriguing Top-100 prospect 3B Alec Bohm, the third overall pick in 2018 who torched the Sally League this year, and the less-intriguing OF Mickey Moniak, picked first overall in 2016, who is finally coming off a strong season at Double-A Reading. The Phillies are also sending RHP JoJo Romero, who I once foolishly dreamed might be a return for Jay Bruce, who bounced between Double-A and Triple-A this year posting fine numbers (in Double-A; no one posted fine numbers in Triple-A) but was not rewarded with a September call-up. Enjoy the Arizona heat instead, JoJo! He should have been ours. Pitching should be a strength for Scottsdale, as the Mets are also sending former Oregon lefty David Peterson, a 2017 draftee who missed a few weeks towards the end of this season.