These 5 hitters have stood out in the AFL

October 22nd, 2019

Some of the top players in the Minors are putting the final touches on their seasons in the Arizona Fall League, where the final week of the season is underway. MLB Pipeline has been on location for more games than ever before this year, with members of our team present at all but a few games during the six-week season.

Covering Weeks 2 and 4 of this year’s Fall League gave me a chance to see each of the six teams at least once, and as a result I was able to get a look at just about every player.

Here are thoughts on some of the hitters who stood out in the AFL:

Brandon Marsh, OF (Angels No. 2): Nico Hoerner was the player who seemed to collect multiple hits (or at least find multiple barrels) every time I saw him in last year’s Fall League. This year it was Marsh, and for me, he improved his stock more than any other hitter.

Marsh, 21, drives the ball with authority from line to line with a swing geared toward using the big parts of the field, and he consistently puts together deep, quality at-bats thanks to his advanced pitch recognition and selectivity. The raw power is there -- he’s tapped into it during games since I left -- and Marsh’s mature approach and pure hitting ability should help him apply it in earnest in future seasons.

What’s more, Marsh, who’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, is a big dude. It makes his athleticism all the more impressive, as he can get after it on the bases and outfield with his plus speed and overall quickness. It’s the profile of a five-tool player once the power arrives, and it gives the Angels another future impact outfielder along with Jo Adell.

Ivan Herrera, C (Cardinals No. 6): I had three different looks at Herrera this fall, and in each one the 19-year-old impressed me in a different way. In my first look, back during Week 2, Herrera, who’s the second-youngest player in this year’s league, was a blocking machine, smothering and then pouncing upon everything starter Jordan Johnson threw in the dirt in what was ultimately a suspended game (rain). In the next, the right-handed-hitting teenager showed veteran plate discipline with a tight approach, working walks in three straight trips to plate before finally torching a 107-mph double down the left field line in the ninth.

His batting practice before the Fall Stars Game, meanwhile, was among my favorites. He showed plus pull-side raw power, parking balls well over the fence with ease, and hitting them farther than most other hitters on the field that day. He over-strides with his front side at times, which causes his hips to leak and his barrel to drag, but there’s a lot to like in Herrera’s innate ability to drive through the baseball. It’s a trait that points to a future uptick in game power for a player who already understands the zone and shows feel to hit.

Josh Lowe, OF (Rays No. 11): The Rays’ first-round pick from the 2016 Draft doesn’t wow with his bat speed or physicality, but he has a very fluid left-handed stroke when he’s on time. After employing a pronounced leg kick early in his career, Lowe now utilizes more of a gliding weight transfer that he pairs with a direct bat path so as to achieve a deeper contact point. Such a swing plane both makes Lowe a good low-ball hitter -- I saw him golf a low, inside changeup from a lefty for a pull-side homer -- and allows him to use the opposite field. It also leads to swing-and-miss issues on fastballs up in the zone or in on his hands, with timing that can be disrupted with good sequencing.

At the same time, Lowe’s current swing (and the adjustments he’s made to get there) speaks to his untapped potential at the plate, and I think that his timing and the overall quality of his contact will improve as he adds strength to his ultra-athletic and projectable frame. The rest of the 21-year-old’s game is already there, as he’s spent much of the fall impressive evaluators with his speed, baserunning, outfield defense and strong arm.

Jared Oliva, OF (Pirates No. 11): As I stood around the Fall Stars Game batting cage, chatting with Jonathan Mayo, he commented that Oliva is the type of mid-round college Draft pick that the St. Louis Cardinals tend to covet. The timing was uncanny, because just the previous day I had described him as a Stephen Piscotty-type to someone else -- i.e., a player who may never get any love as a Top 100 prospect, despite the high probability of him becoming a quality big league player.  

After batting .277 with 36 extra-base hits and 36 steals over 123 Double-A games during the regular season, Oliva, 23, has been a standout from Day 1 in the Fall League, showcasing his natural hitting ability and plus speed on a daily basis. He’s physically strong, listed at 6-foot-3, 203 pounds, and has a direct, line-drive-oriented swing that generates plus exit velocities to all parts of the field. Oliva’s over-the-fence power isn’t there, yet, but he does have all of the requisite offensive components, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he developed into a 15-plus homer guy at the highest level.

Pablo Abreu, OF (Brewers No. 17): Signed by Milwaukee for $800,000 in July 2016, Abreu was pushed up to full-season ball this past season but spent most of the year on the shelf, missing time with separate shoulder injuries that limited him to just 27 games at Class A Wisconsin. Abreu ultimately batted .186 in the Midwest League, and he hasn’t fared any better in the Fall League, posting a .135 average with 20 strikeouts in 11 games for Glendale. But while the results haven’t been there in 2019 for Abreu, there’s reason to believe that the recently-turned 20-year-old outfielder will develop into an impact hitter.

Abreu’s plus bat speed and quick-twitch wrist action stand out in watching him take batting practice, and he does a good job of keeping his barrel in the zone for an extended period of time. That Abreu has a naturally lofty swing and gets good extension through the ball with a high, two-handed finish suggests that he’s going to hit for some power, especially as he adds strength to his 6-foot, 170-pound frame. The Dominican native’s current struggles are tied to his timing, as Abreu tends to land too firmly on his front side after a quick leg lift and narrow stride, which in turn creates a passive weight transfer and causes his bat to enter the zone at too steep of an angle. Those should be relatively easy fixes for Abreu, who’s very much lacking in pro experience, but possesses the athleticism and physical tools needed to make such adjustments. He’s a breakout candidate for me in 2020, provided he can stay healthy.