The first week of the Arizona Fall League is perhaps the best week of the year for me personally in my work at MLB Pipeline. Yes, I'm running around like my hair is on fire (no bald jokes, please), doing a ton of video interviews that will be used for
The first week of the Arizona Fall League is perhaps the best week of the year for me personally in my work at MLB Pipeline. Yes, I'm running around like my hair is on fire (no bald jokes, please), doing a ton of video interviews that will be used for our organizational AFL overviews which will start rolling out next week. But I'm like a kid in a candy store every year.
Not only are these prospects great to talk to, they are so much fun to watch play. Seeing all this talent on the field at one time is a real treat. Just on Day 1 alone on Tuesday, I saw No. 1 overall prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. do what he does in the afternoon (three hits) then got to watch No. 8 overall Forrest Whitley strike out the first seven batters he faced in an AFL nightcap.
One way to look at the first question is to check out our 30 AFL sleeper prospects story and pick one of them. There are many solid candidates, but the one I'm really keeping an eye on is Twins right-hander Griffin Jax.
Jax hasn't been able to pitch much because he was coming out of the Air Force Academy. He had to finish his degree in 2016 and then in 2017 he was continuing to fulfill his military obligations, so he had just 39 2/3 innings on his professional resume heading into 2018. He managed to get more time in the Florida State League in 2018, 87 2/3 IP in total, and because he's now in the World Class Athlete Program, he'll be able to develop full-time as a member of the Twins organization. He has size and stuff and now that he'll be able to focus solely on developing his craft, he could really use the AFL to take a huge step.
In the slightly better-known prospect, but non-Top 100 category, I'll go with Cole Tucker, the Pirates shortstop. It was just one game, but on Tuesday he looked every bit a big leaguer on both sides of the ball. He showed good range and actions and a strong arm from all over the field. He also had a pair of base hits, driving the ball well, a walk, a stolen base and three runs scored.
Finally, in the Top 100 category, keeping an eye on Blue Jays right-hander Nate Pearson would be a good idea. He has nasty, nasty stuff, but only got 1 2/3 innings in 2018 after a line drive fractured his arm. The No. 90 prospect has his first start here on Friday and he could use this to springboard up the Top 100 as he returns to health.
As for my favorite Brewer here, how can I go with anyone but Keston Hiura? With all due respect to the others, that guy can just flat-out hit.
On Tuesday night, it was certainly Whitley creating most of the buzz, what with his eight strikeouts in the first three innings. What may have been missed is what Hernandez did coming in relief for Mesa, the team facing Scottsdale. The Red Sox's No. 7 prospect struck out five in two scoreless frames, allowing just one single. He was absolutely dominant in that relief role. That, of course, begs the question over his long-term job. Hernandez started for most of the 2018 season in the Class A Advanced Carolina League, missed a ton of bats, but walked a few too many along the way. He made five relief outings in Double-A at the end of the season, where he walked six in six innings, though he had no problems with his command here on Tuesday. Finding a left-handed starter with his stuff is tough, so I'd keep him in a rotation to start the 2019 season, knowing it will be easy to shorten him up if the big league bullpen needs help.
It's true, Monte Harrison continues to be a favorite, even with his 200-plus strikeout season in 2018. Other than him, I think I'd go with fellow outfielder Brian Miller. I had the chance to talk with him on Tuesday and I appreciate a guy who knows who he is. And that's a guy who will make a living with his legs. The Marlins' No. 11 prospect swiped 40 bags in his first full season after being taken No. 36 overall in the 2017 Draft. He also made it to Double-A thanks to a very strong approach and a knack for not striking out (9.8 percent in the Florida State League; 13.6 percent in the Southern League). He did that without hitting a single home run. Granted, Jupiter is a really tough place to hit the ball out, but it's clear he's never going to be a huge power guy. Think maybe an early career Brett Gardner type?
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.