Last week, we took a look at the top prospect each organization sent to the Arizona Fall League this year. This week, we figured we should dig a bit deeper.
Over the years, not every AFL standout has been one of those top prospects, but rather has come from a list similar to the 30 “sleeper” prospects listed below. And many of them used their time in the Fall League to either jump to the big leagues or rise up prospect lists the following season(s). In other words, keep an eye on these names, even if they’re not so familiar just yet.
For this story, we defined “sleeper” as anyone not on the top 10 of a team’s Top 30 list. Players are not ranked unless otherwise indicated.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Leo Jimenez, SS/2B (No. 11)
Jimenez certainly had one of the most under-the-radar stat lines of the season, batting .315 with a .517 on-base percentage over 242 plate appearances at Low-A Dunedin. How? He walked 51 times in that span, compared to only 35 strikeouts. It was Vladimir Guerrero Jr. levels of plate discipline. The comparison stops dead in its tracks there as Jimenez shows little power (.381 slugging, only one homer) at this stage in the 20-year-old’s career. How he can carry that approach to the Fall League deserves close monitoring.
Orioles: Logan Gillaspie, RHP
A product of Oxnard College in California, Gillaspie spent a year and a half toiling in independent ball before latching on with the Brewers in July 2018, but he was released following the 2019 season. The Orioles signed him in June of this year, and the hard-throwing reliever pitched well enough to earn a promotion from High-A to Double-A, striking out 11.2 while walking just 2.4 per nine over 41 2/3 combined innings.
Rays: Curtis Mead, 3B/2B (No. 14)
Mead may not fit the bill of under-the-radar in the Tampa Bay system, but those who don’t follow the deep pipeline might still be unaware of his breakout 2021. The Australia native built on a strong winter league back home to hit .321/.378/.533 with 15 homers across three levels, primarily Low-A and High-A. The reports on his promising bat control from the right side back up the numbers, and this Fall League campaign will be the perfect measure of how Mead’s bat handles advanced competition. A strong autumn would be the perfect cap to an already strong year.
Red Sox: Connor Seabold, RHP (No. 13)
Acquired from the Phillies along with Nick Pivetta in what looks like a one-sided deal for Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree in August 2020, Seabold has an outstanding changeup with fade and tumble that helps his low-90s fastball and average breaking stuff play up. He starred in the AFL in 2019 and posted a 3.50 ERA with a .215 opponent average and 52/19 K/BB ratio in 54 Triple-A innings this year after missing the first 10 weeks with elbow issues.
Yankees: Elijah Dunham, OF (No. 24)
Signed for $20,000 as a nondrafted free agent out of Indiana in 2020, Dunham broke into pro ball this year by batting .263/.362/.463 with 13 homers and 28 steals in 93 games between Low-A and High-A. He's a well-rounded offensive player with a compact left-handed stroke, the bat speed and strength to hit for power, good strike-zone awareness and average speed.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Cleveland: Richie Palacios, 2B/OF (No. 14)
Part of a baseball family that includes an uncle (Rey) and brother (Josh) who reached the big leagues, Palacios was a third-round pick out of Towson in 2018. After missing all of 2019 following labrum surgery on his shoulder and losing the 2020 season to the COVID-19 pandemic, he returned this year to bat .297/.357/.404 with seven homers and 20 steals in 103 games between Double-A and Triple-A. With his bat-to-ball skills, on-base ability and plus speed, he fits the leadoff profile.
Royals: Luca Tresh, C (No. 25)
Sending a player to the Fall League in his Draft year is a rare occurrence, and it’s even rarer that the player in question is a 17th-round pick. But the Royals clearly see something in Tresh after signing him for $423,000 at that spot. The 21-year-old backstop is best-known for his power, having homered 15 times in the spring at NC State, and he can show a plus arm from behind the plate. He may be inexperienced relative to his AFL peers, but he has the skills to hold his own in October and November.
Tigers: Zack Hess, RHP
The 2019 seventh-rounder out of LSU is a prototypical two-pitch reliever with a mid-90s fastball and impressively darting slider that can both earn plus grades. That kept High-A batters off-balance this summer as he fanned 66 over 49 2/3 innings for West Michigan. He struggled to find the zone regularly in 2021, however, walking 15.3 percent of the batters he faced. Hess did get a brief look at Double-A to end the season, and this is another opportunity for him to add innings and iron out those control issues. The potential for dominance is there.
Twins: Andrew Bechtold, 3B
Bechtold put up monster numbers at Chipola Junior College after transferring from Maryland to land in the fifth round of the 2017 Draft. He struggled out of the gate in 2018 and, while he improved a bit and played across two levels of A ball, the power most expected didn’t really show up until this year when he homered 18 times and slugged .459 in 99 Double-A games. Primarily a third baseman previously, he played some first base in 2021 and also caught one game, a spot he’ll continue to explore this fall.
White Sox: Yolbert Sanchez, 2B/SS (No. 15)
A Cuban defector, Sanchez signed for $2.5 million in July 2019 primarily on the basis of his middle-infield defense. He hit better in his 2021 full-season debut than anticipated -- .308/.352/.419 with nine homers in 99 games between High-A and Double-A -- and possesses solid speed.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Zach Linginfelter, RHP
A ninth-round pick by the Angels in 2019 out of Tennessee, Linginfelter didn’t make his professional debut until this season. He began the year starting in High-A and ended it pitching in relief in Double-A. Command has continued to be an issue, as he walked six per nine in 2021. But he also struck out 10.2, and a relief role where he can just let his fastball-curve combination fly could be his ticket to the big leagues.
Astros: Grae Kessinger, INF (No. 23)
A potential third-generation big leaguer trying to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather Don (a six-time All-Star) and uncle Keith, Kessinger went in the second round of the 2019 Draft out of Mississippi because the Astros liked his bat-to-ball skills and his high baseball IQ. He spent his first full pro season in Double-A this summer, hitting .209/.287/.330 with nine homers and 12 steals in 86 games.
A’s: Jonah Bride, C
A late-round (23rd) pick in 2018, Bride has moved slowly up the A’s ladder as a corner infielder, playing at Double-A and posting an .831 OPS in 78 games while rarely striking out. He went to instructs earlier this fall to learn how to catch and took to it pretty well. Now he’ll get to continue that work in the AFL as the A’s replacement for Tyler Soderstrom, who was initially slated to play.
Mariners: Cade Marlowe, OF (No. 27)
Marlowe played his way onto the Mariners Top 30 as an off-the-radar 20th-round senior sign who turned in a 20-20 season and led the Minors with 107 RBIs this year. The 24-year old did that across two levels of A ball (along with 27 percent K and 12.5 BB rates), so the AFL will provide a good test of his tools against better competition while preparing him for the upper levels.
Rangers: Owen White, RHP (No. 29)
White was one of the more athletic and projectable high school pitchers in the 2018 Draft, but after going in the second round he had Tommy John surgery the following spring and didn't make his pro debut until this May -- after which he broke his pitching hand by slamming it on the ground and missed three more months. Armed with a mid-90s fastball, high-spin curveball and promising changeup, he logged a 3.24 ERA, .205 opponent average and a 54/12 K/BB ratio in 33 1/3 innings in Low-A.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Indigo Diaz, RHP (No. 21)
Diaz was the reliever on this year’s Prospect Team of the Year, and for good reason. The Michigan State product (2019, 27th round) pitched his way from High-A to Double-A, posting a whopping 47.4 K rate to go along with 1.20 ERA and .135 BAA with a mid-90s fastball and breaking ball clearly ready for more advanced competition.
Marlins: Evan Fitterer, RHP (No. 24)
A California high schooler who signed for $1.5 million as the first pitcher drafted (fifth round) by the Marlins in 2019, Fitterer draws some Kyle Hendricks comparisons for his pitchability and has four offerings in his arsenal, highlighted by a lively low-90s fastball and an upper-70s curveball with depth. He missed much of this season with back problems and recorded a 4.56 ERA with a 27/6 K/BB ratio in 25 2/3 innings in Low-A.
Mets – Brian Metoyer, RHP
Fans of spin kings will want to keep a close eye on the 2018 40th-rounder. Metoyer won’t blow many away with his fastball and typically sits around 91-93 mph. But his curveball is what will make many stand up straight when it’s on. The pitch averages around 3,000 rpm, and that would put him around the top five in curveball spin rate in the Majors had he taken the pitch there right now. The spin baffled High-A hitters in 2021 as Metoyer posted a 2.18 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 33 innings of relief at the level. Without another impressive offering, Metoyer’s ceiling is limited, but this Fall League is a chance to show how far he can make it with the one pitch.
Nationals: Donovan Casey, OF (No. 18)
Washington is still getting to know Casey after picking him up at the Trade Deadline in the Max Scherzer-Trea Turner blockbuster, and it's about to learn a bit more about how close he is to joining the big club. Casey’s best skills right now are in his plus speed and good all-around defensive tools from the outfield, so it’s on the bat to determine how good he can be. He showed promise, albeit as a 25-year-old, with a .303/.361/.483 line and 14 homers in 85 games at Double-A before struggling offensively at Triple-A Rochester. The AFL is an opportunity to prove he can be more than a fourth outfielder at best.
Phillies: James McArthur, RHP
McArthur will stand out in Arizona -- for his 6-foot-7 frame if nothing else. He worked mostly as a starter in Double-A and was much better on the road (3.42 ERA) than in hitter-friendly Reading (5.52 ERA). He’s Rule 5 eligible this offseason, so he’s pitching for a spot on the 40-man roster.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Abner Uribe, RHP (No. 26)
Want to see some elite velocity? Pay attention to the Statcast data whenever Uribe pitches at home in Salt River this fall. The 21-year-old right-hander can sit -- not top out at, sit -- 100-101 and touch even higher when he really rears back. He might be tempted to do so in Arizona, given the size of the stage. As with many hard-throwers, the development of control and a second pitch will be keys to Uribe’s present and future. He struck out 52 in 33 2/3 innings at Low-A Carolina this summer but walked 25 in the same span. A jump this high will be a tough, but promising challenge for the Dominican Republic native.
Cardinals: Brendan Donovan, INF/OF (No. 18)
Nolan Gorman and Juan Yepez (he of the Wild Card Game callup) are two prominent infielders that the Cards sent to Arizona, so Donovan might slip through some radars. This will be his fourth club of the 2021 season after he climbed from High-A Peoria to Triple-A Memphis over the summer, posting promising numbers at every stop. He finished with a .304/.399/.455 line and 12 homers in 108 games across those three clubs, and he did so while playing six positions (all but pitcher, catcher and center field). That versatility will help him in Arizona and beyond, and if he can squeeze out some more pop, he’ll help his chances of being an everyday player.
Cubs: Nelson Velazquez, OF (No. 29)
Drafted in the fifth round out of a Puerto Rico high school in 2017, Velazquez has showcased some of the best raw power and exit velocities in the Cubs system for years and finally began translating them into consistent production this season. He batted .270/.333/.496 with 20 homers and 17 steals in 103 games between High-A and Double-A while continuing to display a plus arm that bolsters his right-field profile.
Pirates: Michael Burrows, RHP (No. 14)
Burrows might be more firmly on the prospect map if he hadn’t missed a chunk of 2021 with an oblique injury. When he was on the mound for High-A Greensboro, the 21-year old was very good, using a three-pitch mix headlined by an at least above-average fastball-curve combination to post a 2.20 ERA, .143 BAA and 12.1 K/9 rate, albeit across just 49 inning.
Reds: James Marinan, RHP
Drafted by the Dodgers in 2017 and traded to the Reds in July 2018, Marinan has teased with size (6-foot-5) and stuff, but has struggled to gain traction. He dealt with an elbow stress fracture in 2019 and logged just 64 2/3 innings this year. He did finish strongly in 2021, including two starts up in High-A, giving a glimpse of what could be to come, with the AFL perhaps serving as a springboard to the upper levels and as a 40-man roster spot audition.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Keegan Curtis, RHP (No. 28)
After debuting in the system in the second half of this season, Curtis -- whom the D-backs got in a July 1 deal with the Yankees for Tim Locastro -- has the chance to show his new organization a little more. The 2018 22nd-rounder moved to the bullpen in college and has stuck there in the pros, where he’ll show an impressive fastball-slider combo that generates plenty of whiffs. He hit a bit of a wall at Triple-A Reno following the trade with a 7.04 ERA and 5/5 K/BB ratio in 7 2/3 innings, so this is a chance to end on a better note.
Dodgers: James Outman, OF (No. 27)
Though Outman hit just .249 in three seasons at Sacramento State, he showed plus raw power, speed and arm strength, so the Dodgers selected him in the seventh round in 2018. He hit .266/.379/.490 with 18 homers and 23 steals in 104 games between High-A and Double-A.
Giants: R.J. Dabovich, RHP
A fourth-round pick out of Arizona State in 2020, Dabovich earned a promotion from High-A to Double-A five weeks into his pro debut this year and saved 10 games with a 2.78 ERA, .133 opponent average and 62 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings between the two levels. He can make hitters look bad with a 92-96 mph four-seam fastball that reaches 98 and a downer curveball in the low 80s.
Padres: Matt Waldron, RHP (No. 30)
The great knuckleball experiment continues. San Diego allowed Waldron to start throwing a knuckler this season to some solid effect. It’s not a typical slow pitch in that it can sit around the 80 mph mark, and Waldron will still occasionally mix in a low-90s fastball that can look a lot faster to a batter looking for the knuckler. He reached Double-A this season and posted a 6.61 ERA there, so this will be another chance to show the new pitch really can work at the upper levels.
Rockies: Jake Bird, RHP
The Rockies took Bird in the fifth round of the 2018 Draft after he had a very successful year as a senior starter at UCLA. After getting some starts in his first full season in 2019, he’s pretty much a full-time reliever now, one who pitched his way from Double-A to Triple-A this year. His stuff has ticked up in shorter stints, with some more power to his sinking fastball and a good feel to spin a breaking ball.