On October 13th, six teams filled with prospects will assemble in Arizona to continue their development under a slightly more concentrated light. It's a way for high-level prospects to get prepared for 2016 roles with major league teams, and a way for slightly less experienced players to get exposure to better arms and additional playing time. Last year's rosters featured players like Francisco Lindor, Addison Russell, Byron Buxton, Roberto Osuna, Taijuan Walker, Anthony DeSclafani, Rusney Castillo, Greg Bird, and others who have already made a major league impact, along with now cemented top prospects like Corey Seager, Tim Anderson and Trea Turner.
Who will use the AFL this year as a springboard to a successful 2016 season? Let's peruse the rosters below and find out.
Glendale Desert Dogs
Affiliated Teams: Pirates, White Sox, Astros, Phillies, Dodgers
Top Prospects: Headlined by an elite-level prospect in shortstop J.P. Crawford, the Glendale roster is going to be fun to watch this fall. Crawford is a refined player despite being just 20-years old, and he offers the potential to contribute substantially on both sides of the ball. Pushed to Double-A in 2015, he draws attention any time he takes the field. Another up the middle player with two-way potential, Pittsburgh’s Reese McGuire (Monday Morning Ten Pack) has shined defensively since high school but he needs to develop offensively after posting a modest .255/.300/.296 line in High-A this season. Don’t let the disappointing offensive performance fool you; McGuire is a very real prospect that could use the AFL as a springboard to a breakout 2016 season. McGuire’s teammate with High-A Bradenton this season, outfielder Austin Meadows (Eyewitness Account) has been a bit of a divisive prospect in recent years. Finally healthy and seeing plenty of action, Meadows has displayed the tools that made him a high draft choice, including a quality approach, natural hitting ability, power potential, and solid defense. Two Astros prospects bring more intrigue to the roster in first baseman A.J. Reed (Eyewitness Account) and outfielder Derek Fisher (Eyewitness Account). Reed has destroyed minor league pitching in 2015, consistently demonstrating the huge raw power that earned him attention entering the 2014 draft. As if his 33 home runs spread across two levels weren’t enough, Reed has managed a .346 batting average and 82 walks in 128 games this season. While his numbers are not as eye popping as Reed’s, Fisher has cemented himself as one of the Astros top prospects on the heels of an .847 OPS with 20 doubles and 21 bombs through 116 games, split across both Low- and High-A.
More Prospects Worth Watching: Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta (Notes from the Field) offers a fastball that can reach the mid-90s and three secondary offerings that need improved consistency to stick in the rotation….Another Phillies arm, left-hander Tom Windle profiles as a reliever with a low-90s fastball and quality slider….White Sox outfielder Courtney Hawkins reached Double-A this year and continues to strike out at impressive rates while only flashing the big raw power that keeps him on the periphery of the prospect radar….A second round pick in 2013, Andrew Knapp exploded this year when he reached Double-A, hitting .367 with 21 doubles and ten home runs in just 51 games….A Rule 5 pick by the White Sox last winter (in the Triple-A portion), Peter Tago (Notes from the Field) finally began to harness his impressive raw stuff out of the bullpen this year, and as a former first round pick, his emergence is worth watching. —Mark Anderson
Mesa Solar Sox
Affiliated Teams: Cubs, Angels, Marlins, Athletics, Rays
Top Prospects: Tampa Bay shortstop Daniel Robertson checked in 38th on our mid-season list on the strength of his noteworthy intelligence and feel for the game, and his steady progression up the latter seems destined by all accounts to conclude with a solid-average big league future. The A’s big prize for dealing Ben Zobrist this July, Sean Manaea (Eyewitness Report) was discussed at length for inclusion in our mid-season top 50 despite limited first-half performance. The injury history now includes back and shoulder injuries, but when he’s on the mound Manaea shows three average-or-better pitches and advanced pitchability in spite of lingering command questions. Continuing with the Oakland theme, their first rounder of a year ago, Matt Chapman (Eyewitness Report), will bring his prodigious raw power to a nice environment in which to unleash it. Chapman’s hit tool development will have the biggest say in what kind of big leaguer he becomes, but he was one of the more high probability position players to be found in the California League this season.
More Prospects Worth Watching: In Casey Gillaspie and Jake Bauers (Eyewitness Report) the Rays have two of the more notable first base prospects around, though the latter is interestingly listed among the outfielders despite no professional experience on the grass. He’s the youngest player announced on a roster so far though, so time for experimentation is certainly on his side…Chad Pinder had himself a BABIP-infused breakout campaign at AA and projects as a solid if unspectacular keystoner with minimal additional seasoning…In a shallower system than the Cubs’ Jeimer Candelario might get more attention, particularly after posting a nigh-on one-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio in an injury-abbreviated AA campaign…The club’s third rounder last year Mark Zagunis (Eyewitness Report) has demonstrated exceptional command of the zone but a limited profile otherwise…At 25, Eric Aguilera was old for the California League this year, but he posted the third-best OPS in the league amid reports of a decent enough offensive package. AFL arms should offer a nice test to see if there really is role player potential here…Brendan McCurry (Ten Pack) is not only a curiosity for his multiple arm slots, he’s also a reliever that has done nothing but dominate hitters from his days at Oklahoma State right on through AA in the second half of this season. I’m not generally one to appeal to minor league statistics, but McCurry has now put up a 1.41 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and 11.5 strikeouts-per-nine across 90 professional innings. He can pitch…It’s no accident that when you google Pierce Johnson’s name the first auto-complete that comes up is “injury.” The 24-year-old missed yet more time this year with a back injury, yet true to form pitched pretty well at AA when healthy. He can contribute to a Major League staff if he can keep himself on the bump. —Wilson Karaman
Affiliated Teams: Padres, Braves, Mariners, Orioles, Reds
Top Prospects: Despite having over 150 big league innings under his belt, Mariners left-hander James Paxton heads to the desert to make up for some lost time and try to get himself back to the point that made him a legitimate mid-rotation option. Paxton has swing and miss stuff when he’s right, and some additional innings in the AFL could set the stage for resurgence in 2016. As our own Chris Crawford highlighted this week, nobody should be giving up on M’s first base prospect DJ Peterson quite yet, despite a rough 2015 season at the upper levels of the minor leagues. Peterson remains an intriguing offensive prospect that could post solid batting averages and decent power that would allow him to play every day in the big leagues. Yet another prospect Crawford suggests still has hope, Philip Ervin has the potential for a well-rounded skill set that includes solid defense, a strong arm, plus speed, and the potential for plus power if his approach and hitting ability to continue to develop.
More Prospects Worth Watching: Braves right-handers Mauricio Cabrera and Lucas Sims (Some Projection Left) can both light up the radar gun, but neither has actually mastered the art of pitching, something they will continue to tackle in the AFL….With natural hitting ability and some athleticism, Chance Sisco (Eyewitness Account) warrants attention, but his inability to catch limits his projection and makes the developmental time spent in the AFL critical to his future….2014 first round pick Alex Blandino hit the ground running in High-A in 2015 before stumbling following a promotion to Double-A, but that hiccup doesn’t change his status as an intriguing middle infield prospect…..Finally posting the numbers expected of him as a 2012 first round pick, Travis Jankowski is back on the map as a potential top of the order hitter that has reached the big leagues….The numbers, particularly 30 home runs and 128 strikeouts, jump off the page and scream power hitting prospect, but Tyler O’Neill needs to develop his approach and find a way to project as a hitter to have a substantial Major League future….Either blessed or cursed with a legendary name, Mike Yastrzemski (Eyewitness Account) is a potential fourth outfielder on the cusp of helping in Baltimore. —Mark Anderson
Salt River Rafters
Affiliated Teams: Diamondbacks, Rockies, Mets, Blue Jays, Nationals
Top Prospects: Wilmer Difo (Eyewitness Report) is the closest thing to a top prospect on a thin Salt River roster. Things started clicking last year for the switch-hitting shortstop, and he narrowly missed our mid-season list after reaching AA. His production faltered after the promotion, however, and he remains light on upper minors seasoning. But the potential for a first-division shortstop is here.
More Prospects Worth Watching: The Diamondbacks shattered their international bonus pool back in January when they inked Yoan Lopez (Ten Pack) to a seven-figure deal, and the early returns at AA have been pedestrian. He features a solid fastball-curve combo, but the command has been rougher than Arizona may have hoped, and the journey to a Major League rotation remains long…After missing most of 2014 with an injury, Colorado backstop Tom Murphy (Ten Pack) has bounced back nicely in a high minors campaign this season. The defensive profile behind the dish is solid if unspectacular, while a long swing and questionable hit tool may or may not unravel his promising power…Speaking of power, Blue Jays first baseman Rowdy Tellez (Eyewitness Report) has it in spades and has enough of an idea about how to get to it in games that he projects as a regular down the line despite his limited defensive profile…Jordan Patterson (Ten Pack) has hit at every stop in his climb up the ladder, and while an aggressive approach limits his on-base profile there’s an awful lot of playable pop in his bat…Daniel Palka has had himself a monster campaign in the Cal League, chipping in 23 out-of-nowhere steals to compliment 28 bombs and 33 doubles. There’s a metric ton of swing-and-miss in his game thanks to an extremely deep load and bat speed that’s more average than an asset, but there’s a potential big league bat here…Gabriel Guerrero has had an ugly year in two stops at AA, as his youthful over-aggressiveness has been exposed. There’s enough in his raw profile (not to mention his bloodlines) to continue dreaming on a future regular in right field, but that future is foggier than it appeared at this time last year…Oscar Hernandez has the glove to catch in the big leagues, but the Rule 5 pick missed the majority of the season with a broken hamate bone and it remains an open question as to whether he can hit enough to stick as a backup catcher. —Wilson Karaman
Affiliated Teams: Indians, Red Sox, Giants, Twins, Tigers
Top Prospects: It’s pretty hard to argue with a dynamic outfield duo of Cleveland’s Clint Frazier (Monday Morning Ten Pack) and Bradley Zimmer (Some Projection Left) seeing consistent action in the AFL, and that’s just what fans will get if they check out Scottsdale games. Frazier remains an explosive player with gobs of raw potential, but his generally reckless game needs refinement to allow big league impact over the long haul. A dose of stiff competition in the AFL could further Frazier’s development and set the stage for his Double-A debut in 2016. Having now lapped Frazier and established himself as the superior prospect, Zimmer has catapulted himself among the top outfield prospects in all of baseball, and a national stage like the AFL could prove to be the last step in Zimmer’s coming out party. After missing time to both suspension and injury this season, Giants left-hander Adalberto Mejia should get an opportunity to log some innings and reaffirm his status as a Top 101 prospect with a chance to help the San Francisco rotation in the next year or two. The Twins second round pick in 2014, Nick Burdi (Notes from the Field) has hit some bumps in the road in Double-A as he control wavered to the point where two plus-plus pitches no longer mattered. If he can find the strike zone in the AFL, Burdi has a chance to dominate hitters with a blazing fastball and filthy slider; two things that have him poised to help in the late innings in Minnesota long term.
More Prospects Worth Watching: A right-hander short on raw stuff but with plenty of pitchability, Clayton Blackburn continues to carve up minor league hitters and should be a big league shot in 2016…Also in the world of Giants prospects, Mac Williamson is a bat first guy with a chance to find an MLB role if he can stay healthy and continue to show some in-game pop, while shortstop Christian Arroyo (Monday Morning Ten Pack) continues to show solid ability at the plate and in the field….Twins outfielder Adam Walker continues to do two things exceedingly well, hit the ball out of the park and strikeout, and fans should expect him to do the same in the AFL….After fighting illness and injury this year, Tigers right-hander Adam Ravenelle’s stuff has begun to tick back up, giving him a chance to profile as a setup reliever…. JaCoby Jones (Notes from the Field) is still getting his feet wet in the Detroit system, but the athletic shortstop (currently) has the versatility and pop to profile as a solid utility player….Red Sox infielder Tzu-Wei Lin finally put together a solid season in High-A this year, utilizing his knack for contact and plus-plus speed to reinvigorate his prospect stock. —Mark Anderson
Affiliated Teams: Royals, Brewers, Yankees, Cardinals, Rangers
Top Prospects: After cracking the top 20 of our mid-season list, Cardinals right-hander Alex Reyes (Eyewitness Report) headlines the Surprise roster this fall. Along with one of the best curveballs in the minor leagues, the big righty also boasts a big league fastball, but he tends to fall in love with the latter’s shiny velocity at the expense of consistent command. He’ll head to the desert to make up for some innings lost to a shoulder-related DL stint last month, and maintaining health along with command development figure to be the two points of order on Reyes’ agenda.
The roster is loaded with offensive potential as well, highlighted by a technically former prospect in Jurickson Profar. The shortstop will attempt to begin the long haul of rehabbing towards a Major League career with fall reps, and the eyes of Texas will be focused with intent on his surgically repaired right shoulder. The talent has never been in question for Profar, but the persistent shoulder issues and lost developmental time pose a potentially lethal one-two punch. The lineup will also feature two of the best centerfield prospects in the game, the Rangers’ Lewis Brinson (Eyewitness Report) and Milwaukee’s Brett Phillips (Eyewitness Report). Brinson features some of the most tantalizing athleticism in all of minor league baseball and has taken tangible steps this year towards improving his hit tool, which is his one and only non-plus tool. Phillips made his own strides, adding muscle and explosiveness to hone a well-rounded package.
More Prospects Worth Watching: Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez (Notes from the Field) has lost much of his prospect shine, but there’s still at least a conversation about whether he can catch and he’s near MLB ready…Acquired by the Brewers in the Carlos Gomez deal, Adrian Houser and Josh Hader (Eyewitness Report) are a pair of intriguing arms. The former’s command has jumped forward at AA since switching organizations, while the latter’s funky delivery may just be enough to get him into a big league rotation…Cardinals’ first rounder Luke Weaver (Eyewitness Report) brings collegiate polish and a plus fastball/change combo to the rotation…Bubba Starling made it to AA this year and didn’t implode, raising the possibility that he could yet develop into a big league contributor in the near future, even if the path to stardom is probably closed at this point…Ryan Rua will look to get back on track after an up-and-down season that saw big league time but significant struggles after his return from an early season ankle injury. Eric Jagielo will also ride the rehab wagon as he tries work his way back from mid-season knee surgery and prove he still has the range and lateral quickness to handle third base…His organization-mate Tyler Wade recently caught the eye of Jeff Moore (Ten Pack) as a solid future role player in the middle of the infield. —Wilson Karaman
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