The final week of the Arizona Fall League provides an early opportunity to reflect on some of its top players and performances. The MLB Pipeline crew has been present for more games this year than ever before, with our team alternating stints covering up to two games per day throughout
The final week of the Arizona Fall League provides an early opportunity to reflect on some of its top players and performances. The MLB Pipeline crew has been present for more games this year than ever before, with our team alternating stints covering up to two games per day throughout the six-week season. While my two-week tour of AFL recently came to an end, many of the players that I saw while in Arizona left an indelible impression.
Here are thoughts on some of them, both hitters and pitchers, who stood out the most. And for those wondering about the omission of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., MLB Pipeline's No. 1 prospect and clearly the best player in the Fall League, and Forrest Whitley, MLB Pipeline's top-ranked pitching prospect, please understand that this article is designed to take a deeper dive, looking at impressive AFL performances by prospects who don't carry the hype and widespread fanfare such as the aforementioned names.
Daz Cameron, OF, Tigers' No. 8
Cameron was raw and viewed as a developmental project when the Astros selected him in 2015. Flash forward three years and the 21-year-old outfielder's game has really rounded into form in the AFL after a regular season in which he reached three levels, including Triple-A. Though the approach leaves something to be desired, Cameron has cleaned up his swing while also advancing his spin recognition to the point where he now consistently puts together good at-bats, consistently finds the barrel and is able to tap into his above-average raw power.
Jon Duplantier, RHP, D-backs' No. 1 (No. 80 overall)
Duplantier turned in one of the Fall League's better starts on Nov. 6, when he racked up nine strikeouts and recorded over 32 percent of his 51 strikes via swings and misses. The right-hander held his velocity throughout the start, topping out at 97 mph while sitting consistently at 94-95, and used the fastball to effectively set up his secondary pitches. What impressed me in this particular outing, however, was his feel for creating separation between his low-80s curveball, a more vertical-breaking pitch, and his power slider at 85-88 mph.
Nico Hoerner, SS, Cubs' No. 6
The Cubs' 2018 first-rounder's inexperience has been a non-factor in the AFL, where he's hit .321 and looked like a player straight out of Double-A, and one possibly even on the cusp of the Majors. That's not to say that Hoerner will springboard up the ladder in such fashion in 2019 -- but he certainly could. At the plate, he has a knack for barreling the ball to all fields, can handle velocity and adjust to secondaries, and he has more juice in his bat than you'd expect. His arm stroke is a little stiff at shortstop, but it plays up because he creatively finds ways to achieve a good slot, has sound footwork and consistently follows his throws with his body. He's a very, very solid ballplayer.
Connor Jones, RHP, Cardinals' No. 30
Jones seems poised to jump on the fast track to the Majors as a reliever in 2019 just as Jordan Hicks did after his eye-opening AFL turn last year. Jones, like Hicks, had worked mostly as a starter before the AFL, where he's shown dominant stuff in short bursts with an upper-90s heater and plus breaking ball. It's a dynamic pairing that could have him logging key innings out of the Cardinals' bullpen next season.
Justin Lawrence, RHP, Rockies' No. 17
Lawrence blew the save in the Fall Stars Game, but anyone watching in person or at home saw a guy with premium big league-caliber stuff and movement. Working from a low three-quarters slot, Lawrence dials up a 96-99 mph two-seamer with late, darting arm-side life that nets him both whiffs and ground balls. He pairs his heater with a hard, late-breaking slider at 82-84, and together they give the right-hander a two-pitch mix that will be a clean fit in a big league bullpen, likely sometime in '19.
Tyler Nevin, 3B/1B, Rockies' No. 11
In my first look at Nevin he enjoyed his first career two-triple game, with exit velocities of 105.8 and 101.2 mph, as part of a 3-for-4 game. What's more, he hit both triples to the opposite field. I didn't get a look at Nevin again until Nov. 3, when he was just 1-for-4 but also produced 100-plus-mph exit velocities in all four trips to the plate, including three at 104-plus. Right now, at age 21, Nevin still is more hit over power. However, it's easy to envision the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder tapping into his plus raw power during games moving forward, which also would help to offset any concerns about his long-term defensive home.
Nate Pearson, RHP, Blue Jays' No. 4 (No. 90 overall)
After leaving his 2018 debut after just 1 2/3 innings with a fractured right ulna that he suffered on a comeback line drive, Pearson was understandably rusty early in the AFL, showing little feel for repeating the arm action on his triple-digit fastball, and even less so with his secondary offerings. He turned the corner in the Fall Stars Game, when he absurdly (and legitimately) topped out at 104 mph while striking out the side, and he was brilliant in his subsequent start, tossing four perfect frames while mixing an elite heater with a plus slider and above-average curveball. Between the two outings, he showed the highest ceiling of any pitcher I saw this fall.
Luis Robert, OF, White Sox No. 4 (No. 44 overall)
Robert still has a ways to go in terms of his approach, plate discipline and pitch recognition, but his pure tools and overall ceiling are both tantalizing. His bat speed is among the best in the Fall League, which speaks to his high average there despite a pull-heavy approach that has him hunting fastballs and consistently well out in front of most pitches, and he showed at least above-average wheels on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, that he's started getting to his raw power during games -- like he did on Nov. 8, when he hit a ball that still hasn't landed (see below) -- is a significant development for Robert, who failed to jump the yard in 50 regular-season games but possesses enormous strength and explosiveness in his 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame.
Cole Tucker, SS, Pirates' No. 5
Few players made a greater impression on me than Tucker, and not just because he hung around on the field after every day game, signing autographs and chatting with fans until there was no one left. He's a good dude. He's a quick-footed, plus defender at shortstop with a plus, versatile arm and great feel for crashing on balls in front of him. It's not like Tucker picks up scratch hits at the plate, either. He hits the ball hard -- he hit a triple with a 109.1 mph exit velo in one of my looks -- and does so across the entire field, especially from the left side of the plate. He's less advanced as a righty, but still puts together strong at-bats and makes solid contact. Altogether, it's the profile of an above-average regular at shortstop.
Daulton Varsho, C, D-backs' No. 5
Varsho takes impressively loud batting practice. He compensates for being undersized with a combination of strength and athleticism (including above-average speed) that fuels his profile as a dual-threat backstop. That he's spent most of the AFL leading off for Salt River is a testament to his advanced eye and patient approach -- qualities that also portend a potential 55-hit/55-power future.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.