Inbox: From the AFL to MLB OD rosters?

October 27th, 2022

Not only is Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski the first executive to lead four different franchises to the World Series, he also has a chance to become the first to take three different clubs to a championship. The Astros may not allow that to happen -- my prediction is Houston in five games -- but Dombrowski has a Hall of Fame résumé regardless.

Now on to your Fall League- and Fall Classic-related Inbox questions...

Which prospects in the AFL have the best chance to make their team's Opening Day roster next year? -- @StevieDAles97

We tackled this question on our latest Pipeline Podcast, and to me the obvious choice is Cubs first baseman Matt Mervis (CHC's No. 21 prospect), who's tied for the Arizona Fall League lead with five homers in just 11 games. He tore up Triple-A for the final two months of the season, led the Minors with 78 extra-base hits, 310 total bases and 119 RBIs, and has little if anything left to prove. Chicago also has a gaping hole at first base.

Mervis is the clear pick among the developmental circuit's position prospects, very few of whom have even played in Triple-A. However, it wouldn't be a shock if right fielder Jordan Walker -- the AFL's highest-rated prospect at No. 6 on the Top 100 -- powered his way into the Cardinals' lineup next spring.

Sam Dykstra and I also nominated a pair of reliever candidates on the podcast, which you can listen to here.

I assume it’s unlikely to happen, but as we await the World Series and its rosters, would you add right-hander Andrew Painter to the Phillies if the decision were yours? Even if only as a bullpen option, I would think he has a decent shot to hold his own, his lack of experience notwithstanding. -- J.P.S., Springfield, Ill.

Our Pipeline Pitcher of the Year, Painter dominated in his pro debut this year. The 2021 first-rounder from a Florida high school posted a 1.56 ERA, .181 opponent average and 155/25 K/BB ratio in 103 2/3 innings while advancing from Single-A to Double-A. He dominated with his fastball and slider, improved his curveball and changeup and demonstrated advanced command for a 19-year-old.

Painter's stuff and polish are impressive, no doubt, and we could see him in Philadelphia at some point in 2023 at this rate. But if an injury created an opening on Philadelphia's World Series pitching staff, I wouldn't ask him to fill it.

Painter is so talented that he very well might hold his own, but he also might be in over his head as a teenager with 28 1/3 innings of experience at Double-A or higher. I'd hate to find out it's the latter in a crucial situation with a championship on the line. He also hasn't pitched in a game since Sept. 16, which was his worst outing of the year, so rust would be another concern.

What are your current thoughts on Heston Kjerstad? -- @as913

Kjerstad homered on Opening Night in the AFL and has been consistently productive, batting .373/.403/.672 and topping the league in hits (25), homers (five), extra-base hits (10), total bases (45) and RBIs (17). After having his pro debut delayed two years by myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, he's showing why the Orioles made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 Draft.

When I saw him during the first week of the Fall League season, Kjerstad looked like the guy who starred for three years in college at Arkansas. The right fielder has well-above-average raw power from the left side of the plate, and while his pop overshadows his hitting ability, he makes more than enough hard contact to do damage.

Kjerstad still needs to prove he can handle advanced pitching after scuffling in High-A in the final two months of his first pro season, but his return to the diamond this year has been encouraging. If he can fulfill the promise he showed before he was sidelined, he'll give the Orioles another middle-of-the-order bat to go with Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson.

What's the reasoning behind Miguel Bleis' massive stock boost this past season? -- @soxfanjoey

Bleis' stock did soar this year, mainly because he displayed his all-around ability to a larger audience while making his U.S. debut. When the Red Sox signed him for $1.5 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2021, they projected him as a center fielder with the potential for at least solid tools across the board. That's exactly what he looked like while hitting .301/.353/.542 with 23 extra-base hits and 18 steals in 40 games as an 18-year-old in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League.

The fifth-ranked Red Sox prospect will need to develop more plate discipline, but time is on his side and he's a potential 25-25 player whose instincts impress along with his tools. He should be able to remain in center, and if he has to shift to a corner, his offensive upside and arm strength will profile nicely in right. He's Boston's best international prospect since Rafael Devers.