Who are the top under-the-radar AFL prospects?

September 20th, 2018

Memphis strafed Durham pitchers for 14 runs and 17 hits in Tuesday's Triple-A National Championship Game, but the Redbirds couldn't touch Bulls left-hander Colin Poche. He struck out three of the four batters he faced, capping a year in which he was the most dominant reliever in the Minors.

A 14th-round pick out of Dallas Baptist by the D-backs in 2016, Poche went to the Rays in May as a player to be named later in the three-team February trade that sent Steven Souza Jr. to Arizona. Between the two organizations and Double-A and Triple-A, he led all Minor Leaguers with as many as his 66 innings in ERA (0.82) and strikeout rate (15.0) per nine innings. Poche also ranked second in WHIP (0.79) and third in opponent average (.151).

Poche's fastball sits around 91-92 mph, but hitters struggle to catch up to it because it has a high spin rate, he hides it well and he gets tremendous extension in his delivery. Add in an effective slider and a penchant for pounding the strike zone, and he could be a weapon for Tampa Bay's bullpen in 2019. 

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The Arizona Fall League is my second-favorite baseball destination of the year -- the College World Series always will be No. 1 -- and the developmental circuit is loaded with its usual array of talent. Starting with the game's top prospect (Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr.) and its top pitching prospect (Astros right-hander Forrest Whitley), there will be scores of future big leaguers.

There also are several intriguing players who aren't on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list. I'll choose one from each of the six AFL clubs, and expound on them in the video at the top of this column:

Glendale: , OF, White Sox

Mesa: Bobby Dalbec, 3B, Red Sox

Peoria: Buddy Reed, OF, Padres

Salt River: Daulton Varsho, C, D-backs

Scottsdale: J.B. Bukauskas, RHP, Astros

Surprise: Khalil Lee, OF, Royals

The Reds are just trying to figure out how to get one of the best pure hitters in the Minors and one of the best all-around prospects in baseball into their 2019 lineup. Senzel's best position is third base, he's capable of playing second base and perhaps shortstop, and he possibly could handle center field.

But Cincinnati has , Scooter Gennett, and at those positions, so the easiest way to get him regular playing time next year may be on an outfield corner. has to bounce back from shoulder surgery and is having a nice season but lacks Senzel's upside. While Senzel could offer a lot more offense than Peraza at shortstop or Hamilton in center field, he'd be a downgrade defensively.

The best farm system in terms of pitching prospects belongs to the Padres. Left-handers MacKenzie Gore (No. 11), Adrian Morejon (No. 49), Logan Allen (No. 85) and Ryan Weathers (No. 99) and right-handers Chris Paddack (No. 48) and Michel Baez (No. 60) all reside on our Top 100 Prospect list. Righties Cal Quantrill and Anderson Espinoza have made it in the past, righty Luis Patino could climb aboard the next time we update it, and San Diego has depth well beyond those arms as well.

The Braves are a close second, matching the Padres with six pitchers on the Top 100: right-handers (No. 15), Kyle Wright (No. 24), Ian Anderson (No. 39) and Touki Toussaint (No. 74) plus left-handers (No. 59) and (No. 88). Lefties Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller and righty Bryse Wilson also can make a case for making the Top 100, and Atlanta has several other interesting arms behind them.

Settling on the third-best pitching system is a tough call between the Astros, Rays, Tigers and Yankees. Houston and New York have the deepest crops of mound talent among that group, but I'm going to give a very slight edge to Tampa Bay. The Rays have four Top 100 arms in right-handers (No. 23) and Shane Baz (No. 93) and left-handers Brendan McKay (No. 29) and Matt Liberatore (No. 64), as well as several other quality lefties, including 2018 first-rounder Shane McClanahan and Poche.

When you ranked the top 30 rookies based on long-term value, how come there was no mention of Giants right-hander ?

-- Tom B., Sun City West, Ariz.

In a disappointing season for the Giants, Rodriguez has been a pleasant surprise. The Twins drafted the son of Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez as an outfielder in the sixth round in 2011, moved him to the mound three years later and saw him sign with San Francisco as a Minor League free agent after last season. Since getting called to the Majors for the first time in late May, he has logged a 2.30 ERA in 109 1/3 innings.

While Rodriguez has been one of the top rookie performers this year, I left him off my long-term potential list because he's relatively old (age 26) and doesn't miss a lot of bats. He does a nice job of throwing strikes and keeping the ball down, but all of the pitchers on my long-term Top 30 are younger and have better stuff. I'll admit that I never envisioned Rodriguez having this much success, so perhaps I'm underestimating him again.