SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The 2021 Arizona Fall League season is officially in the books, and there were scores of outstanding performers throughout the campaign. For years, the AFL has handed out one performance-based award, the Joe Black MVP Award, as well as the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award. This year, the league has added several awards to the list: Pitcher of the Year, Hitter of the Year, Breakout Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Here are this year’s winners:
MVP: Nelson Velazquez, OF, Cubs
The Cubs’ No. 29 prospect seriously tapped into his run-producing potential, leading the AFL with a 1.191 OPS and a .712 slugging percentage, finishing with a .385/.480/.712 slash line, nine homers and 24 RBIs. He easily topped the league in total bases (74) and also led all hitters with 16 extra-base knocks. Full story »
Pitcher of the Year: Owen White, RHP, Rangers
In a hitter-friendly league, White’s dominance really stood out. The Rangers’ No. 28 prospect made the most of his league-leading 28 1/3 innings, compiling a 1.91 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP and a .202 batting average against. The right-hander also struck out just over one batter per inning and pitched into the fifth inning in all but one of his six starts. Full story »
Hitters of the Year: Juan Yepez, 1B, Cardinals; JJ Bleday, OF, Marlins
Yepez went from being a surprise add to the Cardinals’ Wild Card roster to raking all fall. The organization’s No. 26 prospect finished with a 1.028 OPS and a .302/.388/.640 slash line. He was third in total bases (55) and tied for second in extra-base hits (15) while also ending up second in RBIs (26). Bleday, No. 5 on the Marlins’ Top 30 and No. 71 on the Top 100, carried over success from a strong finish to a trying regular season in Double-A. The outfielder tied with Velazquez with 24 RBIs and had a .316/.435/.600 slash line, landing just ahead of Yepez with 57 total bases and tying with him for XBH, not counting the long home run he hit in the Fall Stars Game.
Reliever of the Year: Graham Spraker, RHP, Blue Jays
A 31st-round pick out of Quincy University in 2017, Spraker made his second visit to the AFL (his first was in 2019) really count, logging 11 1/3 shutout relief innings. He allowed just four hits (.111 BAA) and two walks while striking out 17 and recording three saves. Spraker used a fastball that sits in the low 90s and touches 95 mph with solid spin rates to go along with a strong cutter to get outs. He was not added to the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster, so he’s eligible for teams in the Rule 5 Draft next month.
Breakout Player of the Year: Elijah Dunham, OF, Yankees Dunham continued to show that perhaps teams should have taken him in the five-round 2020 Draft. After a solid first full season across two levels of A-ball, the Yankees’ No. 24 prospect looks ready for the upper levels after hitting .357/.465/.571 in 23 Fall League contests. His 1.037 OPS placed him fourth in the league, and he led the loop with 11 steals in 12 tries.
Defensive Player of the Year: Jackson Cluff, SS, Nationals
No. 19 among Nats prospects, Cluff showed why he’s been given a 60 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale (that’s plus) for his arm and a 55 (above-average) on his overall defense. He made just one error in 22 games at shortstop and displayed an arm that could deliver throws across the diamond in the upper-80s.
Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award: Logan O’Hoppe, C, Phillies
The Phillies’ No. 11 prospect not only put up good numbers (.299/.440/.519), but stood out for his continuous work ethic, leadership and ability to work with pitchers. He put himself on the map as a prospect in 2021 and certainly raised his profile among Minor League catchers with how he produced, and how he carried himself, in the AFL. Full story »