The following is an excerpt from this week's Pipeline Podcast, in which Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo discuss what they've seen in the Arizona Fall League and what stands out to them so far, particularly from the annual Fall Stars Game. To listen to the show in its entirety, go to the MLB Pipeline Podcast page.
Jim Callis: Let's start by talking about individual players, and I guess the most obvious guy to talk about, and he's arguably the best prospect in the league and was the MVP of the Fall Stars Game, Victor Robles, who showed a little bit of everything. He didn't go deep, but he had a hit, stole a base, scored a couple runs, drew a walk. It seems like he did a little bit of everything and showed off his broad array of skills.
Jonathan Mayo: Yeah he did, he did. It was one of those things where he was MVP because his team won. I don't think he was the single best performer. I think he was No. 3 on my list of top performers. But he did show why everyone is excited about the tools. And not only did he steal second, but we had Statcast™, which is always fun to dig into, and he got up to just over 30 feet per second, which is Byron Buxton territory. Now Byron Buxton averaged 30-plus feet per second, and this was a one-time measurement, but it shows you what Robles is capable of doing. His base hit wasn't all that exciting but he fought off a good pitch and drove in the tying run late in the game. So he definitely showed off tools.
So did Ronald Acuna, who is the other super-toolsy outfielder that we love talking about. He actually got thrown out stealing, mostly because Tomas Nido's pop time was insane. But he had a solid base hit, he got up to good speed on the stolen base attempt, and even though he didn't have a chance at throwing Corey Ray out on a sacrifice fly, he made an absolutely ridiculous throw from sort of deep down the right-field line, a sort of laser one-hop from the right-field line to the catcher. Kind of like what he did in the Futures Game, even though he had a hit in this one, just in terms of, he didn't hit a ball 900 feet or anything like that but he showed off all the different tools at different points in the game.
Callis: Our next Top 100 Prospects list comes out in January. Our current Top 100 has Victor Robles at No. 2, and Ronald Acuna at No. 5. Where do you stand on those two guys versus each other?
Mayo: In the Fall League, I happened to see Acuna several times, and I really only saw Robles once, so I didn't really get as good a look. That said, Acuna has -- when a guy is that hyped, it's sort of hard to really live up to it. And he did. And these guys are tired, too. They're running on fumes, I think, many of them at this point. Especially the guys who were healthy and played all year. The guys who missed time due to injuries are excited still to be out there. They're all efforting, but it was clear to me that some of them were starting to look at the calendar a little bit and things of that nature. But I would put Acuna ahead of Robles. Some of the scouts I talked to and even some of the other players I talked to when we brought that up a little bit, most of them put Acuna over Robles as well. Again, narrowly, but nonetheless it would go in that order.
Callis: Not the same kind of power, but I know from your article on our website that the player who impressed you the most was Luis Urias. We knew he could hit -- I don't think he's leading the league in hitting as of right now, but he was for a bit -- and I think he might be the best pure hitter in the Minor Leagues. This guy just hits wherever he goes and controls the strike zone, but he's not a big, physical guy, and power's not going to be a big part of his game. But you got to see him turn on a 96-mph fastball and look pretty impressive with the power.
Mayo: Yeah, 416 feet and it was 100-plus mph off the bat. He told me Monday or Tuesday that that was the farthest ball he's ever hit in his life. He's like, 'I don't know how that happened.' You know, he's not going to hit for a ton of power. Could he run into eight-to-10 a year? Maybe. He's more likely to become a guy that will vie for batting titles I would think. He's just a ton of fun to watch hit. I think occasionally he can cheat on a fastball and do what he did in the Fall Stars Game. He also made a really, really good play at shortstop, which I don't think is where he will play long-term -- I'm actually answering an inbox question about his abilities to play short as we speak -- but he's just a good all-around player who can really, really hit. So it was fun to see him sort of come up on that sort of stage in that moment. I hope people who don't know him well don't suddenly expect him to have Jose Altuve-type power, but it's fun to watch him control the strike zone and hit for a high average once he gets to the big leagues.
Callis: How about on the pitching side? I know there were a number of pitchers pitched well, it was a low-scoring 4-2 game. Who stood out to you most on the mound?
Mayo: Well the guy I ranked the highest in that story was Tanner Scott, and I'll get to him in a second. Both starters, even though they both got touched for runs, threw well, and did what they do. Mitch Keller was a little amped up in the first inning and struggled with his command, which is a strong suit of his. He was up to 97 mph, which I think he was overthrowing a little bit. And then he settled down, had a really quick second inning, and only gave up one hit. And Justus Sheffield was solid. He got thrown a little bit -- he got called for two pitch-clock violations and I think that threw him off a little bit -- but then he reestablished himself. They were kind of what you expected them to be.
And then after that, Scott, who we saw in the Futures Game, he was just filthy. He went two innings, just gave up one hit, struck out the side in the third, one more strikeout in the fourth, and all four of his strikeouts were on his slider. Now, from my recollection, only a couple of those were really good sliders, but his fastball was so good, and it was 97-98 mph consistently in the strike zone, that just having anything different if [the hitter] is trying to get ready for that upper-90s fastball, he had guys looking really uncomfortable. So he was really, really impressive.
And then I'll add in Sandy Alcantara, who is really frustrating -- he got knocked around a little bit in the Fall; he's one of those guys who throw really hard but get hit. And one of the things I thought was interesting during the broadcast that Joe Magrane brought up, is that there's no deception in his delivery. There's no hip turn or anything. So Magrane thinks the hitters are maybe seeing the ball coming out of his hand better, and it's giving them a better chance. Because he's the only guy that threw 100 mph in this game, and he was actually quite effective outside of giving up a double to Ryan Mountcastle. Alcantara filled the strike zone more, his command was better, had a really good spin rate according to Statcast™ on the fastball, so all of that was good over two scoreless innings. So I don't know if he was just locating his power stuff better in this particular game, but that was the best that I've seen him throw in a Fall League that's seen him kind of mirror the 2017 season in terms of how hittable he's been.