Inbox: AFL performances impacting rankings

November 17th, 2022

I'm back from the Arizona Fall League and already looking forward to my return next October. There are several AFL questions this week, so let's get to them.

Given that he was a Top 100 Prospect before his health issues, does Orioles outfielder Heston Kjerstad’s solid 2022 season and great AFL performance get him back into the Top 100 conversation? -- Chris W., Harrisburg, Pa.

I always caution about reading too much into Fall League performance because it's a small sample and the hitters are significantly better than the pitchers. In Kjerstad's case, I'll make an exception. Because he came down with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, he didn't make his pro debut until two years after the Orioles made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft.

Kjerstad faced better arms than he ever had before in the AFL and won MVP honors while hitting .357/.385/.622 and leading the developmental circuit in hits (35), doubles (nine), extra-base hits (15) and total bases (61). He offers big left-handed power and while his K/BB ratio was 31/5 in 104 plate appearances, scouts believe that didn't reflect any flaws with his swing or pitch recognition. He's not afraid to fall behind in the count while zeroing in on specific pitches and zones early in at-bats, and he can make some refinements to that approach.

One evaluator I spoke to thought Kjerstad was the best prospect in the AFL, ahead of even Cardinals outfielder Jordan Walker, who ranks No. 6 on the Top 100. He was one of the top five prospects in the league and that definitely will put him in the Top 100 conversation when we update the list again in January.

For more on Kjerstad, I interviewed him as part of our latest Pipeline Podcast.

I know his time in the AFL was cut short by injury, but considering Jordan Lawlar's great season do you think he is a candidate to reach the #1 spot on the prospect list sometime next season? -- @KyleWeatherly6

Lawlar was the best player I saw during the first week of the Fall League season, and the D-backs shortstop was sidelined with a broken left scapula after getting hit by a pitch before I returned for the final week. The No. 6 overall choice in the 2021 Draft, he's a potential five-tool shortstop with a mature approach and quality makeup.

Lawlar already ranks No. 12 on the Top 100 after hitting .303/.401/.509 and reaching Double-A as a 19-year-old in his first pro season, so he could push for the No. 1 spot at some point next year. My gut feel is that Orioles shortstop Jackson Holliday, the top selection in the 2022 Draft, will headline the list by the end of the season.

How big a jump do you expect from Mason Miller in the A’s Top 30 prospects? -- @theelephantin13

Miller currently sits at No. 20 on our Athletics Top 30 and should rise into the 6-10 range when we revamp the list early next year. A third-round pick from Gardner-Webb in 2021, the right-hander showcased the most impressive stuff in the AFL. He sat in the upper 90s and touched 102 mph with his fastball and also wiped out hitters with an upper-80s slider while logging a 3.24 ERA, .158 opponents' average and 20 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings.

Miller does come with some reliever risk and some health questions, as he's a Type 1 diabetic and missed most of this season with a scapula strain. But he also has a lot of upside and could become a mid-rotation starter if he can improve his changeup and handle the workload. If not, he might be Oakland's closer of the future.

How do you view Will Wagner as a prospect based on his AFL performance? Might he be considered a potential option at 1B for the Astros? Same questions about Scott Schreiber. -- @ToddBrody

Both Wagner and Schreiber helped their cause with their play in the Fall League, where they also delivered the game-tying and championship-winning hits in the 11th inning of the title game. Neither presently sits on our Astros Top 30 but I plan on including them on the list in the spring. 

Schreiber has profile power at first base, while Wagner does not. The defending World Series champions will look for a more established first baseman to open the 2023 season, but Houston isn't afraid to give unheralded hitters (Chas McCormick, David Hensley, Jake Meyers) a chance when they merit one.

The son of former Astros star Billy Wagner, Will has played all over the infield since signing as an 18th-rounder from Liberty in 2021 and fits best at second or third base. He doesn't have loud tools but he has a good approach at the plate and fine instincts. He led the AFL in slugging (.712) and one scout likened him to Joey Wendle.

A 2018 ninth-round pick from Nebraska, Schreiber has some of the best right-handed pop in the Astros system. He's also quicker and more athletic than most 6-foot-3, 230-pounders and can play first base or handle the outfield corners. Hampered by back problems since his college days, he missed much of this season after surgery in the spring but says he has felt healthier than ever since returning.