Inbox: Prospects heading to AFL?

September 23rd, 2021

With the Minor League playoffs underway, that means the 2021 season, at least as it pertains to prospects, is almost over. But there are a ton of high-level prospects in the postseason and teams that are absolutely stocked. There’s still time to watch a lot of them and the remaining players in the Triple-A Final Stretch, in action on MiLB.TV (for free!).

But don’t worry, prospect fans, there’s more to come with the return of the Arizona Fall League, which just released its schedule for the upcoming season, beginning Oct. 13. In honor of that, the first question of this week’s Pipeline Inbox is about the Fall League.

Which players do you expect to see in the AFL? -- @jessereyes811

We broke this down pretty well on this week’s Pipeline Podcast, so give that a listen, but we’re all eagerly anticipating that initial roster release that should be coming in the next couple of weeks. We kind of pivoted to talk about players we’d really like to see in the AFL, without having expectations or inside knowledge who is going yet. Colleague Sam Dykstra did bring up the Mets’ Brett Baty, currently No. 46 on our Top 100, as someone who has been reported to be set to attend. He also pointed out that the Phillies' Bryson Stott (No. 99) and the A’s Tyler Soderstrom (No. 43) are also reportedly heading to Arizona. He would love to see Blue Jays catcher Gabriel Moreno (No. 33) to make up for lost time due to a fractured thumb.

That got me thinking about injured players who might want or need to make up for lost time, wishing that CJ Abrams (No. 6) of the Padres or the Twins’ Royce Lewis (No. 36) would be ready to go (they likely won’t). So I pivoted to a pair of top 15 prospects: the Mariners’ Noelvi Marte (No. 11), who I’d love to see make the jump from High-A to the AFL, and Brennen Davis (No. 14) of the Cubs, who has only played 91 games and is in Triple-A, and it would be fun to see him return to his home state of Arizona.

Which Top 100 Prospects do you believe will make the Opening Day roster for their team next year? -- @StevieDAles97

We tackled this one on the podcast as well, pointing out that not only do we not totally know what teams will want to do regarding service time -- the common reason why they wait a little to put a player on the roster instead of having them begin on Opening Day -- but we also don’t know what the new CBA will look like in terms of things like service time issues. That being said, we came up with a list of some pretty good candidates, listed in order of their Top 100 ranking:

3. Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Royals
4. Spencer Torkelson, 1B/3B, Tigers
7. Riley Greene, OF, Tigers
16. Joey Bart, C, Giants
19. Keibert Ruiz, C, Nationals
20. Shane Baz, RHP, Rays

A note on who we chose and who we didn’t choose. I have a sense the Tigers are feeling the pressure to return to contending status and they’ve taken a nice step forward this year. So I don’t think they’ll hesitate to begin the year with anyone they think will help them compete in the AL Central. And given there was some pretty loud buzz about Witt starting this year on the Royals’ Opening Day roster, the fact that he’s played his way to Triple-A puts him in very strong position to do so in 2022. On the flip side, while it wouldn’t be shocking to see Adley Rutschman, our No. 1 prospect, begin the year with the Orioles, the thinking was they’re still in rebuilding mode and it’s unlikely they’ll be ready to compete next year, so there isn’t as much of a rush to get Rutschman up (though he will be there at some point in 2022 for sure).

The last three on the list all have big league time, so there aren’t the service time or roster issues to deal with in the same way, but Sam’s hot take was that Bart will be on an Opening Day roster… but it won’t be with the Giants.

Any particular red flag or reason why Shea Langeliers wasn't listed as a Top 10 catcher across the Minors? -- @cantguardjake

It really has more to do with how deep the catching position is these days than any indication of issues around Langeliers, the Braves’ first pick in the 2019 Draft. Langeliers spent his first full season of pro ball in Double-A this year and showed off why he was considered one of the best defensive catchers in his Draft class, throwing out nearly 42 percent of potential basestealers. He also showed his power is going to play, with his 22 home runs tying him with fellow 2019 Draft classmate Rutschman for sixth among all catchers in the Minor Leagues.

Two of the catchers ahead of Langeliers on our Top 100 are also ahead of him on that homer list, MJ Melendez of the Royals and Francisco Álvarez of the Mets. Melendez led the Minors in homers with 38 and Alvarez hit 24 across two levels of A ball. Melendez reached Triple-A and is a year younger than Langeliers while Álvarez is still a teenager and has huge upside.

While no one surpasses Langeliers defensively (Rutschman comes close), overall the catchers ahead of Langeliers on that list all grade out a bit better than he does, thanks largely to their offensive profiles. I think Langeliers is going to be a very good everyday catcher in the big leagues and it should be noted that he would come in at No. 11 on that catcher list since he’s No. 70 on the Top 100 and Melendez is No. 68, so in some ways we are splitting hairs here.

Seeing that you and Jim Callis have Elijah Green falling down to No. 5 in next year’s Draft. Do you see any other potential red flags besides his contact? Or did this new crop of shortstops take the next step? -- @PiratesFanDan

I’m working under the assumption that you’re referring to the back-and-forth draft Jim and I did on a recent podcast episode that was turned into a story. A word about that.

It’s not really a mock draft in that we weren’t guessing where we think guys are going to go in the 2022 Draft. There’s no way we would have any idea of that now, for a whole host of reasons. It was really more of a fun exercise using our Top 20 high school players list and our Top 20 college players rankings and taking turns selecting who we would take as of right now.

Will Elijah Green, the tooled-up high school outfielder at IMG Academy in Florida, actually go fifth? It’s way too early to tell, but there were concerns I heard from scouts about the swing-and-miss that showed up at times over the summer. He’ll have plenty of opportunities facing good competition in IMG’s spring schedule to show off all his tools, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he ends up in consideration at the very top, and even with some strikeout concerns, his skillset shouldn’t allow him to fall too far.

As for this “new crop of shortstops,” I think you’re referring to Brooks Lee, who Jim took No. 1 out of Cal Poly, and Termarr Johnson, the high schooler from Georgia (who likely will play second base as a pro). Lee was the top college prospect on that top 20; Johnson was listed one spot ahead of Green on the prep list as scouts I talked to for that story felt his bat was currently more of a sure thing. Long story short, this one is definitely a to be continued …