The 31st season of the Arizona Fall League is in the books, and after a torrid six-week stretch that featured some of the best that the prospect landscape has to offer, we’re taking a look back at the campaign that was. Historic seasons were aplenty, rules that could shape the future of the game were on display and there was even a Red Carpet event.
Much like how Spring Training stats can sometimes be misleading about the ensuing six months of regular-season action, production in the Fall League isn’t always a linear track to the upcoming year of development.
And hey, we won’t overreact, but there’s also no denying that these eight performances caught our collective eye.
Hit 'em like Hicks
Few hitters have been as proficient in a single Fall League campaign as the Rangers’ Liam Hicks. Equipped with an all-fields approach, the left-handed-hitting catcher compiled the third-highest batting average in league history (.449). Of his 31 hits, only five went for extra bases and none left the yard, giving the 24-year-old’s production something of a retro tinge.
The only two hitters in league history on the batting average list ahead of him both went on to enjoy stints in the big leagues after their time in the desert: Ken Harvey, .479 (2002) and Vance Wilson, .474 (1997).
Can't catch Caleb
If you watched professional baseball at any level in 2023, you know that the stolen base is back in vogue. And what better spot to put your wheels on display than the premier prospect proving ground?
The Yankees’ Caleb Durbin became just the fourth player in Fall League history to accrue at least 20 stolen bases in a campaign, and he did it in fewer games than his counterparts. Rick Holifield -- who holds the single-season SB record of 24 -- did so in 42 games. Durbin needed just 23 to steal 21 bags, giving him a rate of 0.91 steals per game, the highest of any player in the AFL who has logged 20 contests in a season.
Durbin outran some serious speedsters in his quest for history. Victor Scott II (STL No. 4) stole 94 bags during the regular season, while Nasim Nuñez (MIA No. 17) went a perfect 14-for-14 in the AFL. Even 80-grade runner Dasan Brown (TOR No. 29) posed a threat at the onset, but Durbin’s ability to reach base -- and his patented “shuffle, shuffle, go” method -- gave him a leg up.
Marsee steals show with must-see season
Jakob Marsee put together a campaign that made his inclusion on this list a veritable “take your pick” of eye-popping achievements. He swatted exactly half of his hits (18 of 36) for extra bases en route to pacing the circuit with a .707 slugging percentage, the third-highest mark in the past decade.
Taking things to the Max(well)
Equipped with a heater that routinely flashed triple digits and a slider (which Statcast registered as a cutter) that took a late, hard right turn, Zach Maxwell led all full-time Fall League relievers with 22 strikeouts. Across his nine appearances -- in which he posted a 2.19 ERA without allowing a home run -- he struck out multiple batters eight times.
After starting six games at Georgia Tech in 2022, the Reds immediately converted Maxwell to the bullpen permanently after selecting him in the sixth round, thereby unlocking the 6-foot-6, 275-pounder's power repertoire. His 16.1 K/9 also paced the circuit, taking a step up from the 14.1 strikeouts per nine that he amassed across 61 1/3 innings in the regular season.
Getting it Dunn by putting the ball in play
Drop down a bunt and beat the throw to first or crush a home run far beyond the reaches of spectators. Both will earn you a 1.000 batting average on the ball being put into play. But Oliver Dunn’s .511 BABIP during the Fall League was a testament to his consistent hard contact and propensity for squaring the baseball up -- pitches that come screaming off the bat are more likely to fall for hits, of course.
Named the Breakout Player of the Fall League campaign, the 26-year-old put a cherry on his first season in the Phillies organization after he was selected in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. With 40-man roster decisions looming, his scorching six-week stint in the desert got him on the radar of clubs beyond his own, namely the Brewers, who acquired the infielder in exchange for a pair of prospects Tuesday. He became the club's No. 23 prospect upon his acquisition.
(Bay)less is more
There’s tough-to-hit and then there’s holding opposing batters to an .045 average. Mariners righty Jarod Bayless -- whose heater only parks in the low 90s -- enjoyed a mesmerizingly efficient Fall League campaign in which just one of the 27 batters he faced picked up a hit.
The 26-year-old from Texarkana, Texas, was selected in the 33rd round of the 2019 Draft -- a stage of the proceedings that doesn’t exist anymore. Injured list stints have stymied his progress thus far in his career, but equipped with a three-quarters slot arm angle that can be immensely difficult to pick up -- especially for right-handed batters, who hit just .140 against him during the regular season -- Bayless has begun to find his level as he keeps batters off the sweet spot.
Sabato slugs like no other
When the Twins selected Aaron Sabato 27th overall in the 2020 Draft, he sported exceptional strength that gave him well-above-average raw power. While he hasn’t been able to tap into what was once 60-grade pop during his time in the organization’s Minor League ranks, he certainly was able to during the Fall League, where his seven home runs tied for the circuit lead with Kala'i Rosario (MIN No. 19).
Isolated Power (ISO) helps to measure a batter’s extra-base hit prowess. The .369 ISO that Sabato logged during his time with Glendale helped him cruise to pole position among ‘23 Fall League participants. While his 75 plate appearances were a small sample size, only three batters who appeared in affiliated ball during the regular season with the same minimum trips to the dish had a higher ISO -- and all (Jake Bauers, Christopher Morel and Luken Baker) spent time in the Majors.
Dotting the 'i' in Spiers
Carson Spiers’ ascension from Double-A reliever to big league starter in a pennant race was swift this past summer.
Spiers arrived in the Fall League equipped with lessons learned from Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson following his stint in Cincinnati. You’ve heard of hurlers seeking first-pitch strikes, but the 26-year-old attempts to reach two strikes before he's notched two balls -- that’s one way to walk just one batter in 18 frames, good for an 0.5 BB/9 rate.
The last time Spiers was so efficient? His final year at Clemson in 2020, when he didn’t allow an earned run over 15 1/3 innings (and walked just three batters) before the COVID-19 shutdown sidetracked his upward trajectory. Now he’s hoping his strong Fall League campaign can propel him toward a rotation spot with the Reds come 2024.