Here are the Top 25 AFL prospects for 2021

November 24th, 2021

Finding a balance between prospects and performance is truly an inexact science. Throw in a small sample size like the one the Arizona Fall League provides and it can be even tougher. But we at MLB Pipeline aren’t afraid of a challenge. Below is a list of the Top 25 Arizona Fall League prospects, compiled by MLB Pipeline staff and with feedback from scouts who evaluated the talent in Arizona all fall. While there’s no formula, we tried to strike a balance between prospect status/upside potential and production in the AFL.

1. Gabriel Moreno, C, Blue Jays (No. 1/MLB No. 32): His performance on both sides of the ball is what really made him stand out. The 21-year-old backstop hit a robust .329/.410/.494 in 22 games and also threw out 47 percent of potential basestealers from behind the dish. And not for nothing, he looked very comfortable in his two starts at third base, too.

2. Nick Gonzales, 2B, Pirates (No. 4/MLB No. 62): Gonzales picked up where he left off from the end of a very productive first full season of pro ball, showing that when he’s healthy, he hits. He finished third with his .380 average and seventh in the AFL with his 1.032 OPS, walking nearly as much as he struck out and showing off as quick hands at the plate as anyone. That bat is going to move him quickly up the Pirates’ ladder.

3. Brett Baty, 3B, Mets (No. 2/MLB No. 45): Baty’s numbers were solid enough at .292/.373/.404, but it was more the quality of the at-bats and how frequently he hit the ball hard. He also looked pretty good at third, answering some questions about his ability to stay there for the long-term.

4. Marco Luciano, SS, Giants (No. 1/MLB No. 5): This is the first example of prospect status > performance in the AFL. He did swing the bat better in the second half of the fall to bring his season line to .253/.356/.373 with three homers. But the raw power was on display a lot and he ended up holding his own as the youngest player in the league. 

5. Bryson Stott, SS, Phillies (No. 2/MLB No. 97): If I were to pick one position player who looked big league ready right now, it’s Stott. He hit .318/.445/.489 and led the AFL with 31 RBIs, consistently turning in professional at-bats, which led to a 24/14 BB/K ratio, all while playing a solid shortstop.

6. Triston Casas, 1B, Red Sox (No. 2/MLB No. 18): Casas finished the season with a 17-game hit streak and picked up at least one hit in all but two of his 21 games to finish with a .372/.495/.487 line, topping the league with his OBP. This is another bat nearly ready for big league action, even if he is limited to first base (the only reason Stott is ahead of him on this list).

7. JJ Bleday, OF, Marlins (No. 5/MLB No. 71): One of two AFL Hitters of the Year, Bleday took adjustments he made during a rough regular season and applied them very well this fall, helping him finish fifth in the league with a 1.035 OPS and with a .316/.435/.600 line. He earned Fall Stars Game MVP honors with a huge home run and showed off his plus arm from the outfield consistently.

8. Nelson Velazquez, OF, Cubs (No. 29): There may not be another prospect in the league who did more to raise his profile than Velazquez, the first non-Top 100 prospect on this list. The AFL MVP led the league in a host of offensive categories, including home runs, total bases, slugging and OPS, while narrowly missing out on the batting title. Most importantly, he made some real adjustments to his approach at the plate that could bode well for his future.

9. Owen White, RHP, Rangers (No. 28): The AFL Pitcher of the Year finally got to show why the Rangers liked him enough to go over slot to sign him in the second round of the 2018 Draft out of high school, following Tommy John surgery in 2019 and a broken hand this year. He was by far the most consistent pitcher in the league and his 1.91 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and .202 batting average against stand out even more given how offensive-minded the league was this fall.

10. Bobby Miller, RHP, Dodgers (No. 4/MLB No. 78): Throw out the numbers (9.90 ERA in five outings) as Miller struggled with his command this fall. But from a pure stuff standpoint, there may not have been anyone better. He showed off four pitches, with a fastball that often hit 97-98 mph with life, a cutter-slider, a changeup and a curve.

11. Roansy Contreras, RHP, Pirates (No. 6): After being a bit of a revelation during the regular season en route to making his big league debut, Contreras looked ready for a full-time gig in the Pirates’ rotation. He commanded a fastball that touched 97-98 mph very well and mixed in a nasty breaking ball and solid changeup. All he needs to do is stay healthy.

12. Jose Tena, 2B, Guardians (No. 12): One of the youngest players in the league at 20, Tena had no problem going from High-A to the AFL, walking away with the batting title and a .387/.467/.516 line in 17 games. He had seven extra-base hits and walked as much as he struck out.

13. Austin Wells, C, Yankees (No. 6): This bat is going to play. Wells finished sixth with a 1.034 OPS and was in the top 10 in average (.344) and OBP (.456). He’s athletic and has played other positions in the past, in college, but he’s dedicated to improving behind the plate as well.

14. Juan Yepez, 1B, Cardinals (No. 26): Yepez showed his breakout 2021 season was no fluke by sharing Hitter of the Year honors with JJ Bleday. The bat will have to play because he’s likely limited to first base, but it looks like it should after he finished with a .302/.388/.640 line, seven homers and 26 RBIs in 23 games.

15. Ezequiel Duran, 3B, Rangers (No. 7): Acquired by the Rangers this summer in the Joey Gallo deal, Duran stood out for his loud contact (not to mention his .611 SLG) and his ability to play multiple positions. He looked particularly good at third, where he could develop into a solid everyday player coming off a near 20-20 regular season.

16. Cole Henry, RHP, Nationals (No. 7): Henry was extremely tough to hit over his 19 AFL innings, with a .176 BAA and a 14.2 K/9 rate. He did walk 4.3 per nine in that time, but his fastball-curve-change mix was working very well for him more often than not.

17. Logan O'Hoppe, C, Phillies (No. 11): The winner of the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award was also very productive at the plate (.299/.440/.519), walking more than he struck out and even stealing three bases. He also looked very good behind the plate and got very high praise for his work with pitchers.

18. Justin Foscue, 2B, Rangers (No. 4/MLB No. 83): While his organization-mate Duran might have looked better during this stint, Foscue still showed off enough bat speed and pop (five homers) to fit the offensive-minded second baseman profile well.

19. Curtis Mead, 3B, Rays (No. 14): The Aussie reeled off a long hit streak to help him finish with a .313/.360/.530 line over his 20 games. He made a ton of hard contact with hard exit velocities. While it remains to be seen where he lands defensively, he reminded one scout of Evan Longoria in the box.

20. Korey Lee, C, Astros (No. 1): Lee was a bit up-and-down this fall, swinging the bat well early, but scuffling a bit behind the plate, then getting stronger defensively while slowing down at the plate late. Scouts did like his cannon for an arm and felt he was a better receiver than they expected, with a chance for 15-20 homer pop as well.

21. Caleb Kilian, RHP, Cubs (No. 14): Take away his first awful start of the AFL and Kilian was very, very good, ending things with a six perfect inning exclamation point in the championship game. His fastball was up to 94-96 mph and he showed off an outstanding cutter, curve and even a changeup to put Cubs fans on alert for a 2022 arrival.

22. Hans Crouse, RHP, Phillies (No. 4): In his 14 innings of work, Crouse struck out 13.5 per nine and had a .211 BAA. The stuff was electric, though there’s still command work to be done.

23. Jacob Amaya, INF, Dodgers (No. 14): Amaya showed excellent mastery of the strike zone (13 BB, 13 K) to help him finish with a .333/.463/.556 line while playing solid defense on both sides of second base.

24. Ezequiel Tovar, SS, Rockies (No. 11): This one is an upside nod as Tovar’s overall numbers didn’t stand out. But the 20-year old was one of the youngest in the league, homered three times and played the kind of shortstop that screamed full-time gig at the premium position.

25. Elijah Dunham, OF, Yankees (No. 24): The AFL’s Breakout Player of the Year, Dunham flat-out performed his way onto this list, with a .357/.465/571 line while leading the league with 11 steals (in 12 tries).