Here are the AFL's top Statcast performers

October 29th, 2019

Analytical information isn’t always easy to come by in the Arizona Fall League. It’s why MLB Pipeline often relies on scouts in attendance as well as services like TrackMan to help provide the measurables (e.g., velocity, home-to-first times, catcher pop times, etc.).

Statcast™ data is only available for games at Salt River Fields, the Spring Training home of the D-backs and Rockies and the AFL home to the Salt River Rafters. This year, the Scottsdale Scorpions also used Salt River as their home park, and in turn we obtained more Statcast™ data than ever before.

The only caveat is that Salt River was one of just four fields used in the Fall League this year, and therefore the data is skewed, for better or worse, toward the players with the largest sample sizes at that ballpark. For that reason, Statcast™ AFLdata should be taken with a grain of salt and not be viewed as a surefire predictor of future success.

At the same time, such raw data still can effectively highlight certain physical tools, giving evaluators a general idea about whether a player is capable of the type of physical feats that are commonplace in the Major Leagues. 

Below is a look at the players who led Statcast™ in five different categories in the 2019 Arizona Fall League:

AFL top exit velocities:
113.0 mph -- Ronaldo Hernandez, TB (double)
111.4 -- Trey Harris, ATL (GIDP)
111.2 -- Josh Lowe, TB (home run)
111.1 -- Roberto Ramos, COL (single)
109.7 -- Jo Adell, LAA (double)
109.7 -- Gavin Sheets, CWS (single)
109.6 -- Nick Banks, WAS (double)
109.5 -- Joey Bart, SF (lineout)
109.5 -- Sheets (lineout)
109.1 -- Ramos (single)

Hernandez, Tampa Bay’s No. 7 prospect, consistently hit the ball on the nose for Salt River en route to a team-leading .359 average. His 113 mph double on Oct. 9 was the hardest-hit ball recorded by Statcast™ in the AFL and ranks 16th on the all-time AFL exit velocity leaderboard, which dates back to 2015.

Ramos and Sheets were the only players to record multiple Top 10 exit velocities, and Sheets, who also hit a 108.7 mph double this year, was the only player to make three appearances inside the Top 20. Lowe’s tape-measure blast to center field on Oct. 4 represents the only home run on this year’s list. Though that may seem unusual, only three of the Top 20 hardest-hit balls in the past five Fall Leagues have left the park.

For context, four of the top five entries and six of the top 10 on the aforementioned leaderboard were recorded in 2018, while Eloy Jiménez’s 119.4 mph groundout from ’16 continues to occupy the top spot.

Top fastball velocities:
100.1 mph -- Shane Baz, TB
99.9 -- Baz
99.7 -- Baz
99.5 -- Baz
99.4 -- Baz
99.3 -- Baz
99.3 -- Baz
99.3 -- Baz
99.3 -- Baz
99.3 -- Baz

As the youngest pitcher in this year’s Fall League, Baz, 20, consistently lit up the radar gun as he flashed his bright future on the mound. Though he had control problems at times and ultimately finished with an 8.18 ERA and eight walks in 11 innings for Salt River, Baz’s mixed results did nothing to detract from his status as one of the more highly touted hurlers in the league.

Other than Baz, the only other player to crack the top 20 spots on this year’s velocity leaderboard was fellow 20-year-old flamethrower Bryan Mata, whose 99 mph heater ranked 18th.

Despite reaching triple digits this fall, Baz’s best heater failed to crack the all-time leaderboard in terms of sheer velocity. Thirteen of the 20 hardest-thrown pitches since 2015 belong to Mauricio Cabrera, who topped out at a Statcast™-best 103.1 mph in 2015, though it can also be argued that Nate Pearson, who reached 104 mph in the 2018 Fall Stars Game, owns the best recorded fastball in AFL history.

Top spin rates (four-seam fastball):
2,899 rpm -- Nick Snyder, TEX
2,872 -- Snyder
2,852 -- Shane Baz, TB
2,851 -- Forrest Whitley, HOU
2,850 -- Whitley
2,840 -- Baz
2,838 -- Baz
2,825 -- Snyder
2,815 -- Whitley
2,810 -- Daniel Lynch, KC

Snyder was recently profiled at MLB Pipeline in a deep-dive article highlighting some of the most interesting pitchers in this year’s Fall League. The 24-year-old right-hander’s fastball is naturally explosive, sitting at 96-98 mph with an elite spin rate that causes it to jump on opposing hitters, netting him whiffs inside the zone.

Two of the fastballs Snyder threw during his Oct. 6 outing -- his only Statcast™-recorded game -- had the highest spins rates of any fastball thrown in this year’s AFL. On top of that, he now also occupies the top two spots on the all-time list, with Baz and Whitley also cracking the top 10. Baz, Whitley and Lynch, who are all Top 100 prospects, were also among the hardest-throwing pitchers this year.

Top spin rates (curveball):
3,340 rpm -- Cole Uvila, TEX
3,276 -- Uvila
3,243 -- Uvila
3,215 -- Beau Sulser, PIT
3,195 -- Uvila
3,181 -- C.J. Carter, MIA
3,181 -- Carter
3,165 -- Carter
3,132 -- Carter
3,120 -- Carter

As you have probably already inferred from the above list, Uvila has a dandy of a breaking ball -- a 12-to-6, spin-rate monster. The 25-year-old right-hander and former 40th-round pick (2018) used his curveball to rack up 16 strikeouts over 10 2/3 frames for Surprise after fanning 95 batters in 64 2/3 innings in his first full season as a pro.

Carter, 22, is an undersized right-hander who barely touches 90 mph with his fastball, but he averaged better than 3,000 rpm with his curveball in every AFL outing for Salt River. Beyond Uvila, Sulser and Carter, only Dakota Chalmers (3,115 rpm) managed to crack the top 20 for 2019.

From a historical standpoint, Uvila’s top three breaking balls from this year also occupy the top three spots of the all-time list, each of which was previously held by Trent Thornton (2018).

Top home-to-first times:
*3.67 sec. -- Andres Gimenez, NYM
*3.72 -- Vidal Brujan, TB
*3.78 -- Gimenez
3.95 -- Justin Dean, ATL
3.96 -- Derek Hill, DET
4.00 -- Gimenez
4.03 -- Jarren Duran, BOS
4.04 -- Duran
4.05 -- Heliot Ramos, SF
4.06 -- Gimenez
4.06 -- Dean
4.07 -- Brandon Marsh, ANA
4.08 -- Jax Biggers, TEX

*The top three home-to-first times on this list were achieved via bunts, which is why it has been expanded from 10 to 13 results.

Gimenez put it all together for Scottsdale in his second straight AFL campaign as he paced the circuit in both batting (.371) and OPS (.999) after slashing .125/.250/.292 across 19 games in 2018. In addition to his impressive showings with the bat and in the field, the Mets’ No. 3 prospect also proved to be one of the Fall League’s fastest players as he consistently posted plus home-to-first run times of 4.0-4.1 seconds on non-bunted balls in play.

Dean and Hill are both 70-grade runners (based on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, where 50 represents Major League average) and the duo showcased their wheels by recording the two fastest times (also the only sub-4.00 second times). Duran, another 70-grade runner, recorded two of the fastest home-to-first times, while Ramos, Marsh and Biggers round out the rest of the list.