There's no better setting for evaluating prospects than the Arizona Fall League.Entering its 27th year, the AFL features six teams that are composed of players from all 30 Major League organizations. It offers the unique opportunity to gauge young talent against competition that usually is superior to what they experienced
There's no better setting for evaluating prospects than the Arizona Fall League.
Entering its 27th year, the AFL features six teams that are composed of players from all 30 Major League organizations. It offers the unique opportunity to gauge young talent against competition that usually is superior to what they experienced during the Minor League season.
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The preliminary rosters for this year's Fall League, released Thursday, are loaded with future stars. The group features 18 players ranked on MLB Pipeline's list of the Top 100 Prospects -- up from 11 a year ago -- including four in the Top 10, and there are many more who could contend for such a ranking next season with a strong showing in the desert.
The large contingent of highly touted prospects participating in this year's Fall League means there will be plenty of future big leaguers to observe on any given day during six-week season.
The 10 players below, however, are the ones I most look forward to seeing when the Fall League begins on Oct. 9.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Surprise Saguaros
Blue Jays' No. 1 | No. 1 overall
The 19-year-old phenom likely will come up short in his quest to hit .400, but there's a very real chance he'll accomplish the feat in the AFL, where the past three batting champions have finished with a .400-plus average. An elite, generational-type hitter who's batted .382 with 19 homers, 76 RBIs and more walks (41) than strikeouts (37) this season between the Double-A and Triple-A levels, Guerrero's focus this fall will be on improving his defense at the hot corner as he works to avoid a relegation down the positional spectrum.
• Fall League rosters
Forrest Whitley, RHP, Scottsdale Scorpions
Astros' No. 1 | No. 7 overall
After nearly reaching the Majors last season during his professional debut, Whitley logged just eight starts with Double-A Corpus Christi this year as he made two trips to the disabled list (oblique discomfort; right lat strain) after sitting out the first 50 games in the wake of an offseason suspension for a drug of abuse. The 20-year-old righty still made five scoreless outings and, overall, struck out 34 batters in 26 1/3 frames while permitting just 15 hits. Whitley will now make up for lost innings from the regular season in the Fall League, where he'll rank as the circuit's top pitching prospect.
Bo Bichette, SS/2B, Surprise Saguaros
Blue Jays' No. 2 | No. 9 overall
The Blue Jays are keeping the developmental timelines of Guerrero and Bichette intertwined by sending both players to the Fall League. The latter has spent his entire age-20 season in Double-A, where he's produced a .289/.348/.458 line in 127 games with New Hampshire. What's more, Bichette is leading the circuit in hits (151), doubles (43), total bases (239) and runs scored (94), and he also ranks second in stolen bases (32), highlighting his abilities as an all-around offensive contributor.
Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Scottsdale Scorpions
Phillies' No. 1 | No. 17 overall
Sanchez, 20, was beset by injuries this year as right elbow inflammation prematurely ended his campaign in early June after just eight starts in the Florida State League. The right-hander was excellent when healthy, allowing two earned runs over his final 25 2/3 innings (four starts) while showing stuff that ranks among the best in the Minors. Meanwhile, that Sanchez will pitch in the same rotation as Whitley is sure to make Scottsdale games a popular destination for fans and scouts alike.
Luis Robert, OF, Glendale Desert Dogs
White Sox No. 3 | No. 25 overall
One of the more intriguing selections for the Fall League, Robert missed the first two months of the season with a sprained ligament in his left thumb that also landed him on the disabled list for a month in early July. While the injury has understandably detracted from the 21-year-old's power output this season, his tools remain as exciting and explosive as ever, making Robert a must-see talent this fall in Arizona.
Keston Hiura, 2B, Peoria Javelinas
Brewers' No. 1 | No. 26 overall
The best pure hitter in the 2017 Draft has lived up to his reputation by hitting .291/.352/.465 with 13 homers and 33 doubles while reaching Double-A in his first full season. The Brewers already have the 22-year-old second baseman on the fast track to the Major Leagues, and the hope is that he'll get a jump-start on the 2019 season with a productive campaign in the AFL. Hiura also stands to benefit from additional work at second base after lingering issues with his throwing elbow limited him to DH duties for the first month-plus this season.
Carter Kieboom, SS, Salt River Rafters
Nationals' No. 2 | No. 34 overall
Kieboom was plagued by injuries during his first full season, but he put it all together this year during a breakout campaign in which he reached Double-A at age 20. In 120 games across two levels, the 2016 first-round pick has hit .283 with 16 home runs and 30 doubles. He'll likely see times at both middle-infield positions for Salt River, who added No. 6 overall prospect Brendan Rodgers (Rockies' No. 1) to its roster on Thursday night.
Cristian Pache, OF, Peoria Javelinas
Braves' No. 5 | No. 55 overall
Viewed by many as the premier defensive center fielder in the Minors, Pache's defensive prowess will be on full display this fall as he patrols some of the spacious outfielders in the Fall League. The 19-year-old is no slouch at the plate either, having produced a .283 average with nine home runs -- he failed to go yard in his first 176 pro games -- and 30 doubles in 119 games while reaching Double-A.
Andres Gimenez, SS, Scottsdale Scorpions
Mets' No. 1 | No. 57 overall
Like Pache, Gimenez also has moved quickly in his age-19 season, beginning the year in the Florida State League before advancing to Double-A in July. The toolsy shortstop has performed equally well at both stops, combining to hit. 286/.348/.416 with 40 extra-base hits and 38 steals in 119 games. Gimenez only has gotten better as the season's progressed, and he could be in store for a breakout turn this fall as part of a loaded Scottsdale roster.
Nico Hoerner, SS, Mesa Solar Sox
Cubs' No. 6
Selected by the Cubs in the first round (No. 24 overall) in June, Hoerner is the lone 2018 pick to be selected for this year's Fall League. The Stanford product hit .327/.450/.571 in 14 games across three levels and had recently been promoted to Class A South Bend when he suffered a strained ligament in his left elbow while diving for a ball in mid-July.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.