The off-season is underway and there is little for baseball fans to do but to wait for deals to be made. However, there has been baseball played recently by some youngsters. Brandon Magee lets us know who the top performers were in the Arizona Fall League.
For Minor League prospect watchers, the Arizona Fall League is the only truly covered bridge from a summer of baseball to spring training. While prospects play in instructional “leagues” in the spring training complexes of Florida and Arizona, statistics are not sent out to the hungry hoardes craving information. And while some prospects do play in the various winter leagues around the Caribbean, they soon lose playing time as Major League players come in as the teams near the end of each league’s season and the beginning of the Caribbean Series. The AFL, on the other hand, plays 30 competitive games with only minor league prospects… and information flows freely to the awaiting watchers of prospects.
A Word of Warning
Thirty Games. One month of baseball. That is not a lot of time to make an impression, either good or bad, and one small slump can make a prospect’s fall look worse than it actually was. It should also be noted that the AFL starts a month after the minor league regular season ends, making the AFL more like spring training than the regular season.
Due to the nature of the league and the lack of repetition for pitchers (Only ten pitchers in the league pitched 25 innings or more), we will only be looking at how some of the offensive players in the AFL performed.
The Stars of the League
Adam Engel was a Carolina League Post-Season All-Star this year, batting .251/.335/.369 with 65 stolen bases. But, no one would have expected that the speedy White Sox outfielder would dominate the Arizona Fall League. But, dominate he did. Engle, who won the AFL MVP, batted an absurd .403/.523/.642 (leading the league in each) with ten stolen bases. For good measure, Engle walked 16 times while striking out only ten times.
Engle’s Glendale Desert Dogs teammate, Jacob Scavuzzo, was the only other player in the league to finish the season with an OPS over 1.000. The Dodger prospect batted .377/.389/.623 with five doubles and four home runs. Scavuzzo spent the final half of the 2015 regular season with Rancho Cucamonga of the California League, where he slugged 32 extra-base hits while hitting .308/.376/.568.
Cardinal’s shortstop prospect Aledmys Diaz also continued his scorching finish to the end of the season. After putting up a 1.068 OPS in 14 AAA games, Diaz slugged .315/.370/.616 with eight doubles and four dingers. Diaz had spent the majority of his season in AA Springfield, where he batted .264/.324/.421.
The Yankees’ Gary Sanchez has been earning kudos since debuting in the GCL in 2010. His slow but steady climb led him to a Futures Game appearance and an Eastern League All-Star nod this season, before ending the season in AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he batted .295/.349/.500. His successful season continued in the AFL, where he was named the Rising Stars MVP and produced a line of .295/.357/.625 while leading the league with seven homers. The catcher turned 23 on December 2nd.
Cubs third baseman prospect Jeimer Candelario had a breakout season, batting .270/.318/.415 in High-A Myrtle Beach before ending the season on a tear for AA Tennessee, where he put up a line of .291/.379/.462 in 46 games. His hot ending to the season continued in Arizona, where Candelario hit .329/.371/.610 with five home runs, the same number he had hit in each of his previous two spots during the season.
25-year old outfielder Mac Williamson hit .275/.368/.433 in the minors this season, splitting time between AA Richmond and AAA Sacramento. He also played in ten games for the San Francisco Giants in September. Williamson continued his first season above A Ball with a trip to Arizona, where his successful season continued, hitting .370/.442/.493 and leading the Scottsdale Scorpions to the AFL title.
Chad Hinshaw batted .289/.391/.365 for the AA Arkansas Travelers this season, stealing 27 bases in 71 games. The Angels prospect missed two months during the season due to injury, but was able to make up some of that time with fifteen games in the AFL, where he put up a line of .349/.397/.508 with six extra-base hits.
The Dregs of the League
The AFL is not Lake Wobegon, not everyone is above average. For every player that excels in the league, there are just as many who have a rough time. But, remember, a rough time could simply be a poor month… and many of these prospects still have a bright future.
Braves’ outfield prospect Connor Lien had a fine year for the High-A Carolina Mudcats, batting .285/.347/.415 with 36 extra-base hits and 34 stolen bases, earning a post-season All-Star nod. His time in Arizona was a low point of his season, however, as Lien hit .169/.220/.221 with a whopping 35 strikeouts in 77 at bats.
Lien’s teammate for both Carolina and the Peoria Javelinas, shortstop Johan Camargo, also had an abysmal AFL foray. Camargo, who earned a post-season All-Star appearance in the Carolina League, put up a line of .206/.265/.222 this fall.
Former first round draft pick Austin Meadows earned a place on the Florida State League Post-Season All-Star team after hitting .307/.357/.407 with 33 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases in Bradenton. The Pirates outfielder had a rough go in the AFL, however, batting .169/.194/.308 with five extra-base hits.
Reds shortstop prospect Alex Blandino batted .278/.350/.374 in the regular season for High-A Daytona and AA Pensacola. His stint in the AFL was not as good, putting up a line of .175/.246/.270 with 19 strikeouts in 19 games.
White Sox third baseman Nick Delmonico has had a difficult time staying on the field since being drafted in the sixth round in 2011. Playing with AA Birmingham this season, Delmonico hit .238/.313/.386 with 24 doubles in 62 games. His offensive numbers dipped in the fall, where he hit .162/.237/.279 with 18 strikeouts in 18 games.
In his second professional season, Casey Gillaspie had a fine season for A-Ball Bowling Green, batting .278/.358/.530 with 16 home runs in 64 games. The Rays first base prospect had a rough time stepping up to the AFL competition, however, hitting .191/.273/.281 with a pair of dingers in 23 games.
Mets third baseman Jeff McNeil earned a post-season All-Star appearance in the Florida State League after putting up a line of .312/.373/.382 with 25 extra-base hits and 16 stolen bases in St. Lucie. His time in Arizona was not as kind, batting just .230/.309/.246 in 20 games.