One of the best things about the Arizona Fall League is getting to see top prospects from around baseball compete with and against each other for an extended period of time. The Futures Game is a great event to start off the All-Star break, but it's just a one-game exhibition.
One of the best things about the Arizona Fall League is getting to see top prospects from around baseball compete with and against each other for an extended period of time. The Futures Game is a great event to start off the All-Star break, but it's just a one-game exhibition. The AFL provides the opportunity to see the top Minor Leaguers in action over a seven-week span, where evaluators and prospect writers alike can compare and contrast the top prospects in the game.
This year's Fall League has included one of the best head-to-head matchups of top prospects in recent memory, and the duo will face off one last time on Saturday when Peoria and Mesa square off in the AFL title game at 3 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.com.
:: 2017 Arizona Fall League championship game coverage ::
The Braves' Ronald Acuna was with the Javelinas from the opener, while Victor Robles of the Nationals joined the Solar Sox after being on Washington's National League Division Series roster. Both are in the current top five of MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list (Robles is No. 2; Acuna is No. 5) and there will be a spirited debate over who goes where for the 2018 edition of that list.
Both are very young. Robles turned 20 in May and Acuna is still a teenager. Both have the makings of all five tools and have shown the ability to use them against good competition. A discussion over who is the better outfielder could rage on in the National League East for years.
It seemed like such a tough call to make that it was time to get some help. MLBPipeline.com conducted an anonymous survey, both of players currently in the AFL and team executives (general managers, scouting directors, etc.), to see who they preferred. The result was far from unanimous, but with 30 players and 15 executives weighing in, there is a definite majority leaning in Acuna's direction.
Acuna won the player vote, 19-11, while he took the executive vote, 11-4. While that might seem to be a wide margin, there were six players who simply refused to pick one. One player summed it up perfectly:
"I'm not picking one," he said. "They're both too good."
Two executives independently used the phrase "splitting hairs" when deciding. And several asked if they could have both of them. Nearly every response began with "Both are great prospects" or "Love both players."
The Acuna camp
While there were no responses that thought it was an easy call, it still is noteworthy that 30 of the 45 total respondents came down on Acuna's side. Many had to think it through and shared the process.
"Wow, this one could be too close to call," a scouting executive said. "Similar age with almost identical Minor League performance. Acuna has more pop/power, but Robles probably has a little more value with the glove and on the base ability, but not by much. Acuna has less experience and polish in center than Robles, but has the tools and athleticism to play a very good center field. Slight edge to Acuna with impact power and feel to hit combo."
"I would choose Acuna due to being slightly more advanced given their ages," one general manager said. "You really should not go wrong either way."
"Acuna," a pro scouting director said. "They're similar players for sure, Acuna just does it a bit louder."
Players who voted Acuna were equally praiseworthy.
"He's been pretty awesome," one said. "He's impressive to watch when he's hitting. His hands are so good."
"The kid can play," a second said. "He has tools, the bat, the speed and everything else."
"He has more power and that plays in the Majors. He can be a 30-homer guy," a third said.
"He's more complete," a fourth chimed in. "He can run, he can hit, he can hit home runs."
The Robles camp
Just like with Acuna, the 15 who voted for Robles lauded the skills of both young outfielders. Many pointed to Robles' approach at the plate and his defense as deciding factors.
"Splitting hairs," one executive said. "I'll say Robles. He's a dynamic center fielder to go along with extra base power, speed, and hitability."
"You are probably splitting hairs here," another executive said. "I'll take Robles, a more well-rounded, slightly more polished player now with a more sustainable swing and hitting approach for future consistency."
"Both have exciting tools," a general manager said. "Acuna may have more power but Robles has the drive to be a great player... edge to Robles."
"This is a ridiculously tough question," a scouting director said. "I'm not sure. Maybe Robles because of on-base ability and although both can really run, Robles may be a better base stealer?"
Players in the Robles camp raved about his tools, his on-field performance and his general persona.
"Robles is one of the best players I've ever seen in person," one Robles fan said.
"He does stuff on the field I've never seen before," a pitcher said. "Definitely one of the strongest arms I've ever seen."
"They're both good, but Robles is better defensively," a third player said.
"He's more complete," a fourth player said. "I like Acuna but I like the way Robles plays more."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.