2021 Fall League statistical standouts

November 22nd, 2021

The ink is dry on the 2021 Arizona Fall League season. That’s right, ink. All stats are final and unchanging.

So now with everything settled, the end of this year’s AFL campaign allows us one final chance to look back and evaluate how some of the top prospects in baseball performed during their time in the Grand Canyon State.

These are some standout statistics -- each of which are league leaders, unless otherwise noted -- from the last six weeks in the desert, listed in numerical order.

.227: JJ Bleday (MIA No. 5, MLB No. 71), slugging percentage improvement -- A lot has been made about Bleday’s struggles at Double-A Jacksonville. Two years after he led NCAA Division I in home runs as a Vanderbilt junior, the 2019 fourth overall picked slugged just .373 in 110 games at Double-A Pensacola. Thanks to some fall adjustments, Bleday showed a much-improved ability to drive the ball in the Fall League, pushing that slugging percentage up to .600 over 24 games. Half of Bleday’s 30 hits went for extra bases, including five homers (not counting his Fall Stars Game blast).

.338: Juan Yepez (STL No. 26), ISO -- A breakout prospect in 2021, Yepez deserved a place on this list somewhere, and we find one for him here in isolated slugging percentage. His ISO did place third among AFL qualifiers, but it’s worth noting that Yepez (103 plate appearances) got a lot more time at the plate than those above him in Ivan Johnson (.367, 70 PA) and Drew Lugbauer (.346, 64 PA). The 23-year-old first baseman/outfielder followed up his run to the NL Wild Card roster by hitting .302/.388/.640 with seven homers and eight doubles in 23 games for Glendale.

.387: Jose Tena (CLE No. 12), batting average -- It was a competitive race for the AFL batting title with four qualifiers finishing with a mark above .370. Tena took the cake by going 24-for-62 in his 17 games for Scottsdale. (Only seven of those 24 hits went for extra bases, and none were home runs.) Tena’s AFL batting title is just his latest accolade of the offseason. He also captured a Minor League Gold Glove for his work at shortstop earlier this month, and the Guardians added him to the 40-man roster Friday to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.

.495: Triston Casas (BOS No. 2, MLB No. 18), OBP -- How’s this for a 2021? The 21-year-old first baseman saw time with Double-A Portland and Triple-A Worcester as well as separate Team USA stints for Olympic qualifying and the Games themselves in Japan. He ended the year as the Fall League’s OBP leader, having reached base safely 48 times (29 hits, 17 walks, two hit-by-pitches) in 97 plate appearances. Casas’ power is still emerging in-game -- he only clubbed one homer for Scottsdale -- but his approach proves why he could be in Fenway early next summer.

0.53: Graham Spraker (TOR unranked), WHIP -- This was Spraker’s second AFL turn, having also appeared in 2019. The Fall League vet was dominant this time around and didn’t allow a run in 11 1/3 innings. He allowed only four hits and two walks in the same span, leading to the low WHIP. Spraker relied heavily on a mid-90s fastball that he locates well and mixed in a cutter that batters couldn’t touch at all this autumn.

1.91: Owen White (TEX No. 28) ERA -- Of course, the AFL Pitcher of the Year award had to be here. In a league traditionally dominated by bats, White was a standout every time he took the mound for Surprise. He held opponents scoreless in three of his six starts and never allowed more than three earned runs in any of those outings. He finished with a 1.16 WHIP and 29 strikeouts in a league-best 28 1/3 innings. Pretty good for a right-hander who entered the fall with only 35 1/3 pro innings since being drafted in the 2018 second round.

11: Gabriel Moreno (TOR No. 1, MLB No. 32), doubles -- There were some high expectations for the top Blue Jays prospect coming into the fall. Moreno broke out in a big way by showing a plus hit tool and above-average power but was limited to only 32 games at Double-A New Hampshire due to a fractured thumb. He looked like himself for title-winning Mesa as the league leader in two-baggers with three more than anyone else. He hit .329/.410/.494 in 100 plate appearances, underlining how much his hard contact landed in the gaps more than over the fence. Bonus fact: Moreno had the highest exit velocities in both the Fall Stars and Championship Games.

18: Curtis Mead (TB No. 14), hitting streak -- “Did Mead keep it going?” was a question asked often down the stretch. The Scottsdale infielder picked up at least one knock in each of his first 18 games, a stretch running from Oct. 13 to Nov. 12. That hitting streak is tied for third-longest in the AFL since 2005. Mead finished with a .313/.360/.530 line in 20 games, giving his soaring stock another boost before the year is up.

26: Bryson Stott (PHI No. 2, MLB No. 97), on-base streak -- There is talk that Stott could be competing for the Phillies Major League shortstop position next spring. How’s this for a resume builder? He played 26 games for Peoria. He reached base in 26 games. While Stott showed off a slew of skills in Arizona, his advanced approach stood out most. He walked 24 times, compared to 14 strikeouts, on his way to posting a .318/.445/.489 line in 119 plate appearances.

36.1: Cole Henry (WAS No. 7), K% -- After being limited to 47 innings during the regular season due to elbow issues, Henry was a classic AFL case of making up for lost time. He did more than that with Surprise. The 2020 second-rounder struck out 30 of the 83 batters he faced in the desert, thanks to a mix of four-seamers, two-seamers, changeups and curveballs. He had a 3.32 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in six appearances (19 innings).

74: Nelson Velazquez (CHC No. 29), total bases -- There are a number of categories in which we could have featured the 2021 AFL MVP. He led the league in homers (nine), hits (40), slugging percentage (.712) and OPS (1.191). But we highlight total bases here because Velazquez had the biggest lead in that category. Bleday placed second with 57, 17 fewer than his fellow Solar Sox outfielder. Velazquez, who was added to the Cubs’ 40-man on Friday, also finished among the top three with a .385 average and .480 on-base percentage, all while leading the league with 123 plate appearances. That’s a lot of production over a lot of playing time.

100.6: Abner Uribe (MIL No. 26), fastball velocity (mph) -- The 21-year-old right-hander has still yet to play above Low-A in the Minors. You know what makes everyone pay attention, regardless of level? Elite velocity. Uribe’s 100.6 mph heater on Oct. 22 was the hardest-thrown pitch measured by Statcast in games at Salt River this season. Uribe didn’t stop there either. He had 13 of the 14 highest Statcast velos of the fall, ranging from 98.9 to the 100.6. His 13 earned runs and 17 walks allowed in nine innings for Salt River highlighted just how far Uribe has to go when it comes to harnessing his arsenal, but the stuff can be there.

117.0: Andres Chaparro (NYY unranked), exit velocity -- The Yankees know a thing or two about elite exit velocities. Chaparro did his best to pop in pinstripes with his 117 mph double on Nov. 15. It came off the bat 3.8 mph faster than any other ball measured by Statcast at Salt River this season. Only 45 balls were hit harder in the Majors this season, including 25 by Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Chaparro hit .275/.363/.522 with 11 of his 19 hits going for extra bases in 20 games. Not hard to see why.

447: Seuly Matias (KC unranked), home run distance -- Matias can certainly be a human highlight reel. His Nov. 3 homer on a slider from Mets right-hander Garrison Bryant was Statcast’s longest homer of the Fall League, and it’s possible he would have popped on the leaderboard more had he played for Salt River rather than Surprise. Even so, his outfield arm also registered the three hardest defensive throws with velocities of 98.0, 96.7 and 95.2 mph. The Royals prospect’s swing-and-miss remains his biggest issue; he struck out 31 times in 94 plate appearances and batted only .188 in the AFL.

3,142-3,493: Brian Metoyer (NYM unranked), curveball RPM -- That’s the range of the 35 highest spin rates measured by Statcast this fall. All of them belong to Metoyer from his seven home games at Salt River Fields. Keep in mind, Garrett Richards led the Majors in 2021 with an average curveball rpm of 3,142. Spin rate is certainly nice, given how much movement it adds to a pitch. It is not everything. Metoyer allowed 12 earned runs and walked 10 in 10 1/3 innings out of the Rafters bullpen. Still, he struck out 17 of 56 batters faced (30.4 percent), and he could be an interesting Rule 5 option after going unprotected by New York last week.