Richie Palacios starred for three years at Towson, setting school records for single-season and career steals before Cleveland made him the highest-drafted player in the program's history by taking him in 2018's third round. When he hit .361/.421/.538 and reached Low-A in his pro debut, he appeared poised to shoot through the system.
But then Palacios' career got put on hold for two years. Labrum surgery on his shoulder in March 2019 wiped out what would have been his first full pro season before the COVID-19 pandemic eliminated the 2020 schedule.
After retuning his quick left-handed swing in instructional league last fall and Spring Training, Palacios returned to raking. He jumped to Double-A this season and spent the final two months in Triple-A, batting a combined .297/.404/.471 with seven homers and 20 steals in 103 games. Now he's getting more at-bats in the Arizona Fall League with the Scottsdale Scorpions.
"I've been wanting to do this since I've been in professional baseball," said Palacios, who hit .316/.458/.632 with a homer and a steal in his first five AFL games. "It was extremely exciting when they told me I was going to have the opportunity and I'm excited to be here now."
Palacios is well equipped to bat at the top of a lineup. He has the hand-eye coordination to make quality contact, a discerning approach to enhance his chances of getting on base and the plus speed and baserunning instincts to make things happen once he does. He also has added some strength since turning pro and could provide 12-15 homers per year.
The question is where Palacios fits best in the field. A shortstop at Towson, he spent much of his debut at second base before also seeing action at all three outfield spots in 2021. He has played only the outfield in the Fall League thus far and most scouts think he fits best there because he lacks smooth infield actions and has fringy arm strength.
Palacios is very close to becoming the third member of his family to play in the Majors. His uncle Rey spent parts of three seasons with the Royals as a backup catcher and his brother Josh, an outfielder, played 13 games with the Blue Jays this year.
"I attribute a lot of my success to my older brother and my uncle and my father," Palacios said. "They've pretty much paved the way for me and told me what was to come. Through that, it's helped propel my career."
Cleveland hitters in the Fall League
Jose Tena, INF (No. 12): Signed for $400,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2017, Tena has one of the best left-handed swings and some of the best bat-to-ball skills in the system, not to mention solid speed and arm strength. He hit .281/.331/.467 with 16 homers and 10 steals in 107 games while making his full-season debut in High-A at age 20.
Michael Amditis, C: One of the top high school catchers in the 2016 class before he tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder, Amditis played collegiately at Miami before signing as a 21st-rounder in 2019. He has battled injuries in college and pro ball too, and he hit .192/.300/.375 in 34 games in High-A this season.
Cleveland pitchers in the Fall League
Damon Casetta-Stubbs, RHP: The player to be named later from the Mariners in the Jake Bauers trade this summer, Casetta-Stubbs works with a 92-96 mph sinker, an average slider and changeup and a below-average curveball. He posted a 6.42 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings in Low-A before missing nearly three months with shoulder soreness.
Aaron Pinto, RHP: Pinto set single-season (12) and career (15) saves records at Stony Brook before turning pro as a 24th-rounder in 2018. He has continued to excel in the Minors, including logging a 2.30 ERA, .197 opponent average and a 67/13 K/BB ratio in 43 Double-A innings while showcasing a 92-93 mph fastball and solid slider.
Tanner Tully, LHP: Tully fits the mold of a crafty lefty who pounds the zone with four pitches, the best of which are an average slider and changeup that help his upper-80s fastball play up a bit. The 2016 26th-rounder from Ohio State had a 3.50 ERA with a 97/32 K/BB ratio in 113 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.
Matt Turner, LHP: A Florida high schooler who signed for an over-slot $200,000 as an 11th-rounder in 2017, Turner has added about 5 mph to his low-slot sinker since turning pro and now operates at 92 while mixing in an average changeup and fringy slider. He missed three months this year with a flexor strain in his forearm and recorded a 3.15 ERA with 20 strikeouts in as many innings between Rookie ball and High-A.