Young hitters put on display in this year's AFL
Two full decades of Arizona Fall League baseball are now in the books. And once again, in this anniversary season, the AFL showcased some of the best talent in the Minor Leagues.
While this year's edition didn't feature a Bryce Harper or Mike Trout, who along with Danny Hultzen formed the top three of MLB.com's AFL Top 25 a year ago, there were many players with tremendous futures ahead of them. Not surprisingly, most on this year's list are again hitters. Last year, it was a 21-4 breakdown, hitters to pitchers. This year, only two pitchers made the list with the new Draft rules meaning no first-rounders from the most recent Draft were sent to the Fall League.
The following list of 25 prospects was chosen not solely based on performance during the AFL, but with more of an eye toward upside. Performance was taken in to account, obviously, with some players definitely raising their stock with how they played this fall, so it doesn't fall right in line with MLB.com's Top 100 list. The list was made after several conversations with scouts who spent a considerable amount of time watching Fall League action.
1. Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins: The Marlins' No. 1 prospect hit .301/.343/.387 for Phoenix this fall and most called him the most pure hitter in the league.
2. Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds: There's no question about his game-changing speed at the top of the lineup. Scouts feel the Reds' top prospect will be just fine in his new defensive home in center. Yelich finishes one spot ahead only because he's more of a sure-fire bet to hit at the highest level.
3. Mike Zunino, C, Mariners: The 2012 first-round pick (No. 4 on the Mariners' Top 20) more than held his own during his pro debut and during the Fall League. There are those who think he'll be ready to contribute in Seattle in the very near future.
4. Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Rays: Lee continued to show the tools, especially his defense and his speed, that made him the Rays' top prospect. There is some concern about how much he'll hit, but he's ready to play shortstop in the big leagues right now.
5. Nick Castellanos, OF, Tigers: Castellanos continued to make the transition to the outfield this fall and showed glimpses with the bat that made the Tigers' No. 1 prospect the highest-rated prospect heading into the AFL.
6. Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Astros: One scout called him "a beast," even though his line in the AFL doesn't stand out. But most think the Astros' No. 1 prospect is going to hit for average and plenty of power.
7. Rymer Liriano, OF, Padres: Ranked No. 1 on the Padres' top 20, Liriano got high grades for his all-around tools, most notably his speed, power potential and arm from right field.
8. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals: Washington's No. 1 prospect, Rendon was making up for lost time due to injury this fall and finished 11th in both batting average (.338) and OPS (.930) while showing excellent defensive skills at third.
9. Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals: No. 4 on the Cardinals' Top 20, Wong is often described as a "he is who he is" type. What he is is a legitimate hitter almost ready for the big leagues.
10. Nick Franklin, 2B, Mariners: It was his second straight AFL as he continued to work on his second base play. The M's No. 3 prospect was 10th in average (.338) and ninth in OPS (.942).
11. Brian Goodwin, OF, Nationals: As toolsy as they come, the Nationals' No. 3 prospect impressed with his combination of speed and power potential.
12. Carlos Sanchez, 2B, White Sox: The more scouts saw of the White Sox' No. 7 prospect, the more they liked his ability to play up the middle defense and his speed as a potential top-of-the-order type.
13. Matt Davidson, 3B, Diamondbacks: He only appeared in 11 games, but the power potential showed up enough for scouts to like the future of the No. 4 prospect on the Diamondbacks' Top 20.
14. Javier Baez, SS, Cubs: A thumb injury cut the Cubs' top prospect time in the AFL short and he needs to refine his approach, but the teenager's raw tools really jumped out to AFL attendees.
15. Didi Gregorius, SS, Reds: The Curacao native, No. 5 on the Reds' Top 20, opened eyes with his athleticism, his defensive ability at a premium position while holding his own with the bat.
16. George Springer, OF, Astros: There's still some swing and miss to the game of the Astros' No. 3 prospect, but the power-speed combination was hard to ignore again this fall.
17. Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Angels: Cowart did not perform all that well this fall, with fatigue following his first trip to full-season ball perhaps playing a part, but scouts still are bullish on the Angels' top prospect's upside.
18. Kyle Gibson, RHP, Twins: Back from Tommy John surgery, the No. 16 prospect showed he might be the surest bet to be in a big league rotation from the AFL crop of starters.
19. Chris Owings, SS, Diamondbacks: Owings wowed with his defense and while some were still concerned about his approach, the Diamondbacks' No. 5 prospect showed enough with the bat to convince many he'll be an everyday guy at short soon.
20. Slade Heathcott, OF, Yankees: The tools have always been there for the Yankees' No. 5 prospect, but health had been an issue. He was healthy, and able to show all of those tools, in the AFL.
21. Jake Marisnick, OF, Marlins
22. Luis Sardinas, SS, Rangers
23. Joc Pederson, OF, Dodgers
24. Gary Brown, OF, Giants
25. James Paxton, LHP, Mariners