The Arizona Fall League is back and ready to be better than ever.
The global pandemic kept the AFL from taking place in 2020, but Major League Baseball’s finishing school for the game’s top prospects will be back in action starting on Oct. 13. And the rosters of the six teams, announced on Wednesday, are once again chock full of elite-level talent.
There are 16 of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects slated to play in the AFL this year, headlined by three in the top six. Spencer Torkelson (No. 4) of the Tigers will be there playing for the Salt River Rafters. Shortstop Marco Luciano (No. 5) of the Giants will play for the Scottsdale Scorpions while Padres shortstop CJ Abrams (No. 6) will be on the Peoria Javelinas, a team that has a league-high five Top 100 players on its roster.
The other Top 100 prospects headed to the desert are: Triston Casas, 1B, Scottsdale Scorpions (No. 18, Red Sox); Nolan Gorman, 2B/3B, Glendale Desert Dogs (No. 24, Cardinals); Gabriel Moreno, C, Mesa Solar Sox (No. 32, Blue Jays); Brett Baty, 3B/OF, Salt River Rafters (No. 45, Mets); MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Peoria Javelinas (No. 56, Padres); Nick Gonzales, 2B, Peoria Javelinas (No. 62, Pirates); Asa Lacy, LHP, Surprise Saguaros (No. 66, Royals); Shea Langeliers, C, Peoria Javelinas (No. 69, Braves); JJ Bleday, OF, Mesa Solar Sox (No. 71, Marlins); Bobby Miller, RHP, Glendale Desert Dogs (No. 78, Dodgers); Justin Foscue, 2B, Surprise Saguaros (No. 83, Rangers); Sam Huff, C/1B, Surprise Saguaros (No. 91, Rangers); Bryson Stott, SS, Peoria Javelinas (No. 97, Phillies).
The AFL is composed of six teams – the Glendale Desert Dogs, Mesa Solar Sox, Peoria Javelinas, Salt River Rafters, Scottsdale Scorpions and Surprise Saguaros. Each Major League team will send seven top prospects to fill the rosters of the six teams. The AFL teams and their MLB affiliates will be as follows for the 2021 season: Glendale (Los Angeles Angels, Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox), Mesa (Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago Cubs, Miami Marlins, Baltimore Orioles), Peoria (Atlanta Braves, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates), Salt River (Milwaukee Brewers, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Mets, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers), Scottsdale (San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Tampa Rays, Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins) and Surprise (Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees).
The league’s annual Fall Stars Game will be played on Saturday, Nov. 13, and the AFL Championship Game is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 20, both of which will air LIVE beginning at 7 p.m. ET/5 p.m. MT on MLB Network as well as streaming on MLB.com and in the MLB App.
The AFL has also long been a place where Major League Baseball has tried out new ideas. MLB announced that after extensive testing this season in the Minor Leagues, the following experimental rules will be used in the Arizona Fall League: pitch timer, restriction on defensive positioning, larger bases and the Automatic Ball-Strike System (“ABS”). Pitchers and catchers also will be permitted to use PitchCom, a pitcher-catcher communication device.
Below are the initial AFL rosters, broken down by big league team (with MLB Pipeline organization Top 30 rankings in parentheses). There are still a handful of roster spots to be filled.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
The Toronto Top 30 cohort is heavy on hitters who had big years in limited samples. Moreno hit an astonishing .373/.441/.651 for Double-A New Hampshire but lasted only 32 games before suffering a broken thumb. Jimenez was limited to only 54 games at Low-A Dunedin but hit .315 with a .517 OBP and 35/51 K/BB ratio in that span. This is the perfect opportunity to gauge just how real their stellar performances were as they expand their seasons to the fall.
A 2019 draftee out of Stanford, Stowers had a breakout 2021 campaign, showing off his power across three levels, finishing in Triple-A en route to leading the system with 27 homers. On the other side of the spectrum is Diaz, who has had several injuries reduce his chances of maximizing the tools that made him a target in the Manny Machado trade with the Dodgers.
Despite being lower-ranked for now, Mead is coming off the more stellar season with a .321/.378/.533 line and 15 homers over 104 games across three levels. The 20-year-old infielder, who plays third base but could have a future elsewhere on the infield, will have his breakout tested in Arizona. Hernandez was no slouch with the bat either, hitting 12 homers while slugging .453 in 73 games at Low-A Charleston in his full-season debut. Now a full-time outfielder, the 21-year-old could be out to prove he has even more pop than that in the desert.
U.S. Olympic hero Casas headlines a strong Red Sox contingent and could use the AFL as a springboard to regular playing time in Boston at some point next year. The Sox also are sending four Top 30 Prospects acquired in trades the last two years, including Downs and Wong (both part of the Mookie Betts blockbuster) as well as 2022 rotation hopeful Seabold. Downs will look for a positive finish to a year that saw him fall off the Top 100 Prospects list after batting .190/.272/.333 in Triple-A.
One of the best college hitters available in the 2020 Draft, Wells went 28th overall and batted .264/.390/.476 with 19 homers and as many steals in 103 games between Low-A and High-A in his pro debut this summer. Dunham (.263/.362/.463, 13 homers, 28 steals) and Chaparro (.267/.381/.468, 15 homers) also posted solid numbers at those two levels in their respective first tastes of full-season ball.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
The Cleveland system is overflowing with sweet-swinging infielders, including Tena (.281/.337/.467, 16 homers, 10 steals in High-A) and Palacios (.295/.398/.472, 20 steals between Double-A and Triple-A). Palacios, who hadn't played since 2018 because of labrum surgery on his shoulder and the COVID-19 cancellation of last season, is trying to become the third member of his family to make the big leagues, following uncle Rey and brother Josh.
Lacy is the headliner here. The 2020 fourth overall pick was inconsistent in his time with High-A Quad Cities and was limited to 52 innings due to a shoulder injury. The Royals never stopped believing in the stuff, however, and his plus fastball, slider and changeup will be put to the test in the AFL. Tresh brings his own level of intrigue as a 17th-rounder from this year’s Draft. The former NC State backstop brings plenty of power and arm, and it’s fascinating that Kansas City wants to send the 21-year-old to this level of competition this early, even if it’s in a taxi-squad capacity.
Torkelson is one of the headliners of the entire Fall League because of his offensive potential, and it will be interesting to see he produces for yet another month-plus after his first full pro season. Kreidler, a 2019 fourth-rounder, has a chance to build on a breakout campaign of his own -- he hit 22 homers at Double-A and Triple-A.
Twins (Scottsdale): Matt Wallner, OF (No. 14); Andrew Bechtold, 3B; Zach Featherstone, LHP; Kody Funderburk, LHP; Michael Helman, 2B; Cody Laweryson, RHP; Evan Sisk, LHP
The Twins took Wallner in 2019 for his power, and he showed it off with 15 homers (.504 SLG) in 68 games. They also knew there was swing-and-miss in his game, and that showed up (33.3 percent strikeout rate). He played in just 68 games due to a wrist injury, so he can work on his approach and make up for lost at-bats at the same time. Helman (19) and Bechtold (18) were also among the system’s leaders in home runs.
The younger brother of Yoenis Céspedes, Yoelqui has similar tools and signed for $2.05 million in January before batting .285/.350/.463 with eight homers and 18 steals in 72 games between High-A and Double-A. Rodriguez has at least average tools across the board with some sneaky pop and reached Double-A at age 20. Sanchez is one of the system's better defenders, and Freeman and Moore are hard-throwing relievers.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Jackson missed a good amount of time in 2021 with a quad strain, but will look to build off an otherwise successful season offensively in which he posted a .906 OPS in 218 plate appearances. Pina will have to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason, and the AFL gives the Angels one more chance to get a look at him after he pitched across three levels and led the system in batting average against (.207) and was third in strikeouts (140) en route to a 13.2 K/9 rate. Martinez wasn’t taken in last year’s Rule 5 and has the chance to earn a spot on the roster again after hitting 16 homers in his first taste of Double-A this year.
The Astros are shipping their two best prospects to the Fall League. A surprise first-rounder in 2019, Lee has well above-average power and arm strength and batted .281/.346/.448 with 11 homers in 85 games while zooming from High-A to Triple-A in his first full pro season. Leon, who landed the largest bonus ($4 million) in the 2020-21 international class and combines well-above-average raw power with top-of-the-scale arm strength, hit .224/.345/.380 with nine homers and 18 steals in 69 Double-A games.
The A’s sent Davidson, their first-round pick in 2019, to Double-A this year and he struggled, topping the organization with 155 strikeouts (30.1 percent strikeout rate) and finishing with a .630 OPS. Eierman also had a high K rate in Double-A, though he was starting to heat up in June and the beginning of July when a quad injury ended his season. He’ll be making up for lost time just as Criswell, the organization’s second-round pick in 2020, will be, as the right-hander managed to amass just 12 innings this year dealing with arm issues.
After a strong showing at the Mariners’ alternate training site right after he was drafted in the second round a year ago, DeLoach followed up by hitting his way from High-A to Double-A in his first full season. While he scuffled a bit after the promotion, he still finished with a solid .276/.373/.468 line across both levels. Fellow outfielder Marlowe was a bit old (he turned 24 in late June) for his levels, but he did make quick work of Low-A and hit 20 homers in High-A en route to leading all of the Minor Leagues with 106 RBIs this year.
Foscue will get to build on a strong pro debut in which he batted .275/.371/.590 with 17 homers in 62 games (mostly in High-A and Double-A) despite missing two months with a left rib contusion. Huff's raw power also will rank with the best in the AFL and translated into 16 homers in 60 games this year, mostly in Double-A, after he missed the first two months following surgery on his right knee. Some scouts believe the hard-hitting Duran (.267/.342/.486, 19 homers, 19 steals in High-A) is the best of the four prospects the Rangers got from the Yankees in the Joey Gallo/Joely Rodriguez trade in July
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Langeliers had a very solid season in Double-A, hitting 22 homers and throwing out 42 percent of potential basestealers, before getting bumped up to Triple-A to finish the campaign. He earned Braves Hitting Prospect of the Year honors from MLB Pipeline. Diaz was our reliever on the Prospect Team of the Year after pitching his way to Double-A and posting a 47.4 K rate along the way.
Bleday (.212/.323/.373 in Double-A), Misner (.253/.355/.433, mostly in High-A) and Banfield (.180/.258/.308 in High-A) are seeking more consistency at the plate after signing for a combined $10.6 million as top-two-round picks in recent Drafts. Fitterer has drawn comparisons to Kyle Hendricks with better stuff but worked just 30 1/3 innings this summer while dealing with back issues.
Baty really impressed with the bat at High-A Brooklyn and then was above average as a 21-year-old at Double-A, so the Fall League will offer a good third test for him in 2021. Watch out for how he’s used in Arizona; Baty started to get looks in left field this season, and the AFL is always another chance to work on that versatility. Cortes and Senger are opposite types of prospects. The former is a good hitter who faces questions in the field. The latter is a promising defensive catcher with something to prove with the bat.
There may be more attention paid to the Nats’ AFL cohort than there has been in some time, given how much emphasis is on the farm system now. There are some old hands here in Rutledge and Henry, two right-handed pitchers who entered 2021 with promise but were limited by shoulder and blister issues (Rutledge) and elbow injuries (Henry). Casey and Millas were two of the many prospects the Nats picked up at the Trade Deadline, and they could use the opportunity to attempt to carve out bigger spots in Washington’s future.
The Phillies’ Hitting Prospect of the Year, Stott played across three levels, getting stronger as he moved up and finishing with a .306/.398/.500 line as he started to knock on the big league door. Acquired at the Trade Deadline from the Rangers, Crouse pitched very well in six Double-A starts after the trade (2.73 ERA, 11.5 K/9), had a rougher go of it in one Triple-A outing and made his big league debut on Sept. 26 with a one-run, three-inning start for the Phillies.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Putting the prospect ranking aside for a moment, Wiemer might be the player Brewers fans are most excited to see here. The 2020 fourth-rounder was a Prospect Team of the Year selection after hitting .295/.403/.556 with 27 homers and 30 steals between Low-A and High-A, and the Fall League will represent a real test of how far he can take that power-speed combo. Gray meanwhile will be building on his breakout 20-homer season at Low-A and High-A, so this should prove his toughest test yet. Keep an eye on Uribe, a 21-year-old right-hander who can sit around 100 mph with his fastball but struggles with control.
St. Louis jumped the line by announcing its AFL contingent last week, and there are some exciting names here for Cards fans. It should be fun to see how Gorman’s plus power plays back in his home state of Arizona, while Yepez was one of the system’s best performers in 2021 with 27 homers and a .971 OPS at Double-A and Triple-A. Thompson will be searching to get back on track after posting a 7.06 ERA in 93 innings at Triple-A Memphis.
The best pitcher acquired by the Cubs during their frenzied Trade Deadline activity, Kilian led the Minors in K/BB ratio (8.6) while logging a 2.42 ERA with 112 strikeouts in 100 1/3 innings between High-A and Double-A. Jensen has a live arm capable of reaching the upper 90s but still is learning to harness it. Velazquez is starting to tap into his power and nearly doubled his previous career high with 20 homers while batting .270/.333/.496 with 17 steals in 103 games between High-A and Double-A.
The Pirates are sending six prospects to Arizona, led by Hitting Prospect of the Year Gonzales, who posted a .950 OPS in 80 games, missing over a month due to a fractured pinky. Burrows was putting himself on the map as a serious pitching prospect in the first half of his High-A season, but an oblique injury kept him off the mound for nearly two months. A strong Fall League would put him right back on that radar.
It will be fun to watch Siani roam the outfield with his plus defense and run the bases with his plus speed (30 steals) while he continues to work on impacting the baseball more consistently (.648 OPS) and his overall approach. Johnson is coming off a year cut a bit short by injury, but one that saw him play across two levels of A ball and reach double-digits in homers and steals.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
Both right-handed pitchers are still finding their footing in the Arizona system. Cecconi -- the 33rd overall pick in 2020 -- was limited to only 59 innings at High-A by wrist problems and elbow soreness. The D-backs built him back up explicitly for the AFL, so he should have plenty in the tank to show off his plus fastball and above-average slider. Curtis was picked up in July in a deal with the Yankees and should continue to try to make it as a reliever with his own mid-to-upper-90s fastball and good breaker.
The Dodgers are sending their top two 2020 Draft Picks to Glendale, and both Miller (2.40 ERA, 70/13 K/BB in 56 1/3 innings) and Knack (3.18 ERA, 82/8 K/BB in 62 1/3 frames) are coming off strong pro debuts between High-A and Double-A. Hoese and Amaya are two of the better position prospects in the system but had rough seasons in Double-A.
The second-highest-ranked Top 100 Prospect in the Fall League, Luciano has some of the best bat speed and power potential anywhere and showed it by hitting .258/.344/.471 with 19 homers in 106 games between Low-A and High-A at age 19. Bishop, Bailey and Wilson are all former first-round picks who haven't hit as much as expected, though Bailey finished strong in Low-A. Santos made his big league debut in April but hasn't pitched since drawing an 80-game suspension in late June after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Well, this is a pleasant surprise. After Abrams went down with serious knee and leg injuries in early July, it looked as if his season was completely over. Because of that comeback, he may be the most closely watched player in the AFL to see how his many tools (especially his 80-grade speed) have held up following the missed time. Fans and scouts alike will also champ at the bit to catch Gore and his slightly reworked delivery aimed at helping him regain the command and control that made him one of baseball’s best prospects before some serious struggles at Triple-A. Rosario brings above-average speed, a strong arm and some defensive versatility to the Peoria infield, and Waldron could be a fun follow as a knuckleballer still getting used to the pitch.
All three of the Rockies’ 2021 Futures Game participants will be together in the Fall League. Toglia, who homered in the Futures Game, finished with 22 across High-A and Double-A this year, though that came with a 28.5 percent K rate. Vilade’s power didn’t show up consistently, but he did hit very well late in Triple-A and made his big league debut, while MacIver hit 15 homers and stole 20 bases as a catcher, though Double-A was a challenge.