SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ.–The 2016 Arizona Fall League season boasted one of the better prospect crops in quite a few years, with far more than 20 legitimate prospects dotting the rosters of the six AFL teams. What stands out with the better players this year is their youth, starting with top prospect Gleyber Torres, who at 19 is the youngest player to earn league MVP honors, and continuing with top pitcher Michael Kopech, still just 20.
To determine eligibility for the list, we used our usual standard of one plate appearance per team’s games played for hitters and one inning for every three games for pitchers.
Among those not qualifying were Minor League Player of the Year Yoan Moncada (Red Sox), who got into just six games before leaving with a thumb injury, and Yankees righthander Dillon Tate, who pitched only 9.1 innings. We also normally don’t include players who have lost rookie eligibility, eliminating Yankees first baseman/DH Greg Bird.
1. Gleyber Torres, ss/2b, Scottsdale (Yankees)
It’s not always the case that the top prospect in the Arizona Fall League is also the top performer, but that’s the case this year with Torres. The headliner of the package sent at the trade deadline from the Cubs to the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman, turned in one of the best performances in the 25-year history of the league—and he’s still only 19. He’s the youngest player ever to receive the Joe Black award for the MVP, led the league in hitting (.403) and OPS (1.158), and finished second in slugging percentage (.645). It’s a solid hit tool over power and speed, but he showed the ability to yank pitches out of the ballpark with three home runs in 62 at-bats. Torres saw time at both middle infield positions, with scouts who saw him in the AFL believing that his long-term position likely will be at second base.
2. Michael Kopech, rhp, Surprise (Red Sox)
Kopech, at 20 one of the younger prospects in the league, consistently flashed the best stuff among league hurlers, regularly touching 100 mph with his fastball. He saved one of his best performances for the big stage, throwing two perfect innings with three punchouts in the nationally-televised Fall Stars Game. He compliments his heater with a high-80s slider and a hard changeup in the low-90s. Kopech’s solid AFL performance helped put a rocky regular season behind him when he missed more than two months after a spring training altercation with a teammates resulted in a broken hand. Kopech finished his Fall League season with a 3-0, 2.01 record while striking out 26 batters in 22.1 innings.
3. Eloy Jimenez, of, Mesa (Cubs)
Two of the three best AFL prospects were both part of the Cubs’ high-priced 2013 international class, with Jimenez and Torres being the top Cubs signees that year. Already an impressive physical specimen at 19, Jimenez remains a bit raw but has a big, big upside. He made a big jump forward in 2016 with an outstanding full-season debut, and followed it with an AFL slash line of .255/.323/.491 with three home runs. The keys for Jimenez are his plus bat speed and plus raw power generated by his strong hands, needing just to add consistency in his hitting approach to take the next step forward. He projects as a starting corner outfielder, with his average arm improving enough to handle right field.
4. Cody Bellinger, 1b/of, Glendale (Dodgers)
Bellinger’s prospect stock continues to rise as his lean body gains strength, helping his swing work better. He was Glendale’s most productive hitter this fall, producing a .314/.424/.557 slash line, with three home runs in 70 at-bats with 14 walks. With above-average bat speed and plenty of leverage in his swing, Bellinger, 21, projects to eventually have plus power. The consensus among AFL scouts is that his first base defense grades as plus, or even plus-plus, with one observer calling it Gold Glove caliber. His athleticism also plays in center field, where he is an average defender with an average arm.
5. Brent Honeywell, rhp, Peoria (Rays)
Like Kopech, Honeywell used the Fall Stars game as his coming out party, throwing two perfect innings to start the game for the West team. The 21-year-old righthander struck out five of the six batters he faced while showing off one of the most diverse repertoires among AFL pitchers. He finished the AFL season with a 5.40 ERA, in part due to a rough couple of outings to start the season, but finished his five-game stint by giving up only one run in his last 10.2 innings. One key to Honeywell’s bag of tricks is a high-70s screwball that gets plenty of swings-and-misses, along with a 93-94 mph fastball that hit 98.
6. Francis Martes, rhp, Glendale (Astros)
Martes, 20, takes the same swagger to the mound and has the same body type as big league pitcher Johnny Cueto, and it shouldn’t be long before he joins his fellow countryman in the big leagues. Finishing with a fall stat line of 2-1, 3.22 and 25 strikeouts in 22.1 innings, Martes uses a blazing fastball sitting 94-96 mph, touching 98, and teams it with two quality secondary offerings. He calls his breaking ball a curveball but it looks more like a slider, with at least one observer calling it a plus-plus pitch, and the above-average hard changeup works well off his other two pitches and is used to get swings-and-misses.
7. James Kaprielian, rhp, Scottsdale (Yankees)
The Yankees’ first-round pick in 2015, Kaprielian came to the AFL to make up for time lost to an elbow flexor strain in 2016 when he only got three starts early in the regular season. The UCLA product pitched effectively in five of his seven AFL starts, finishing with a 4.33 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 27 innings. Kaprielian’s fastball sits in the mid-90s, with his best secondary pitch generally being a low-80s power curveball. AFL scouts believe that he could move quickly with good health and extra strength added this year, projecting as at least a No. 3 starter.
8. Ian Happ, 2b/of, Mesa (Cubs)
The switch-hitting Happ had pretty much a full season of productivity in the AFL championship game alone. He went 4-for-4 with two homers (one from each side of the plate), a double and single, and made a leaping catch of a hard line drive to left field while filling in at the position for a couple of injured teammates from the Mesa squad. During the rest of the AFL season Happ hit .236/.375/.403 with a pair of homers and drew 15 walks in just under 100 plate appearances. With good bat speed, a solid stroke and average power, Happ should be a good hitter from both sides of the plate. He’s no more than an adequate defender at second base and has the athleticism to handle the outfield.
9. Nick Gordon, ss, Surprise (Twins)
Still only 20 at the start of the AFL season and coming out of high Class A, Gordon was not at all intimidated by AFL pitching, as he ranked fourth in the league in batting aveage with a slash line of .348/.418/.444. The son of former big league pitcher Tom “Flash” Gordon and half-brother of Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, he made consistent hard contact throughout the AFL campaign. Gordon draws mixed opinions as to his future home on the field, but with his skills, savvy and plus arm, he just needs to become more consistent and improve his fielding techniques to stay at shortstop.
10. Anthony Alford, of, Mesa (Blue Jays)
If ranking the AFL position players just on tools alone, Alford would most definitely be at or near the top. With a collection of four plus tools—speed, power, range and arm—and supreme athleticism as well as sound hitting instincts, Alford just needs more development time to refine his approach at the plate. The former college football player missed part of the 2016 regular season to a pair of injuries and was making up for the lost time in the AFL. The 22-year old outfielder put up impressive numbers (.253/.349/.440, three homers, eight stolen bases) before going down with an injury late in the season.
11. Carson Kelly, c, Glendale (Cardinals)
While Kelly showed a good approach at the plate with gap-to-gap power, batting .286/.387/.455, it’s his defense that stood out for scouts covering the Fall League this year. In only his third season behind the plate after starting his career at the hot corner, Kelly is a solid-average defensive catcher with a plus arm, recording 1.9 second pop times. He could become a plus defender with more experience, and pitchers like throwing to him. Kelly was unquestionably the top catching prospect in the AFL this year.
12. Bradley Zimmer, of, Mesa (Indians)
Their corps of outfielders, four of whom are on this prospect list, helped the Mesa Solar Sox to the league championship, with Zimmer manning the center field position most of the time. Cleveland’s 2014 first round draft pick hit .257/.421/.514 with four home runs. He was especially impressive down the stretch, driving in the winning runs in an extra-inning thriller against Salt River that would have eliminated Mesa from the race. With his long levers, Zimmer has a long swing but it works well for him when he maintains a good approach at the plate. His extreme swing-and-miss tendencies cause concern and he’s sometimes too passive at the plate. He runs well in the outfield and covers a lot of ground, keeping him in the center of the diamond for the foreseeable future.
13. Franklin Barreto, ss/2b, Mesa (Athletics)
Barreto was certainly one of the more talented prospects to watch in the AFL, but also a bit frustrating as his league-leading seven errors often came on easy ground balls or from careless throws to first base. He didn’t put up a real impressive batting line (.261/.290/.330) but he has the potential to barrel balls with a low-maintenance swing and good bat speed. He needs to tone down his free-swinging approach, drawing only two walks all fall. Scouts don’t believe he’ll stay at shortstop, but with his good hands and range he could easily handle second base.
14. Frankie Montas, rhp, Mesa (Athletics)
Montas was pretty much untouchable for most of the Fall season, posting an ERA of 0.53 in 17 innings and not giving up a run until his final regular outing, and then added three more scoreless frames in the league championship game. His stuff was electric, with a fastball sitting 96-100 mph and touching 102, and he compliments the heater with an above-average 89-90 mph slider that is small, quick and down. Questions about the quality of his changeup and his command as well has his long-running durability issues have some observers thinking Montas would thrive as a power reliever in the back end of the bullpen, but the Athletics will keep him in the rotation for now. He’s gotten his big body into reasonably good shape and will be an interesting one to follow in spring training.
15. Tyler O’Neill, of, Peoria (Mariners)
O’Neill performed one of the more impressive feats of strength this Fall, when during the Bowman Hitting Challenge he hit a ball out of the yard at Salt River Fields from a batting tee. The rest of his Fall League season wasn’t too bad, either, with the 21-year-old outfielder hitting .292/.395/.486 with three home runs. With an upper torso like an Olympic weightlifter, the native of Canada has good bat speed and flashes “no doubt” power. O’Neill should continue to hit despite some swing-and-miss to his game. He’s a “bat first” guy, but his outfield defense grades as at least average and he has an above-average arm.
16. Greg Allen, of , Mesa (Indians)
Probably the biggest surprise of the fall season was the breakout performance of Allen, with the switch-hitting speedster batting .269/.380/.449 and playing very good outfield defense for the champion Solar Sox. Allen showed surprising pop, with his three home runs coming in a two-day span, and he tied for the league lead in stolen bases with 12. He’s a plus runner and an overachiever who will play above his tools. Generally regarded as having a ceiling of an extra outfielder, there are scouts who believe Allen has a chance to be a starting center fielder in the big leagues.
17. Isan Diaz, 2b/ss, Salt River (Brewers)
Acquired in the off-season from Arizona by the Brewers, Diaz had a strong first season as a Milwaukee farmhand in the low Class A Midwest League. He played in only half of the Salt River games during the AFL season, batting .239/.338/.373, but it was all part of the continuation of Diaz’s growth as a hitter. The 20-year-old infielder has a very good feel for the barrel and makes hard contact, although his swing gets loopy at times. His solid-average arm is enough for shortstop, but tick below-average speed makes him better suited for second base, his likely position moving forward.
18. Josh Staumont, rhp, Surprise (Royals)
Staumont was inconsistent in his AFL stint, recording a 4.50 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 24 innings. He allowed only 15 hits but also walked 16 batters. At times he was lights out, with three outings in which he pitched four scoreless innings. The strength of Staumont’s game is his plus-plus fastball, with very easy velocity getting into triple digits. A recent change to his delivery in which he brings his hands above his head in the windup is still a work-in-progress. He’s got good feel for his breaking ball that he uses to get swings-and-misses, but the key to his success is commanding it better. He doesn’t often go to his below-average changeup. Many scouts believe that long-term Staumont will be better suited to the bullpen if the command of his pitches doesn’t improve.
19. Chris Stratton, rhp, Scottsdale (Giants)
Stratton, San Francisco’s first round pick in 2012, has quietly moved through the organization after a couple of rough years to start his career. After a strong season at Triple-A Sacramento followed by his first taste of the big leagues, Stratton turned in a nice AFL season with a 3.12 ERA and a 21-5 strikeout-to-walk rate. His AFL velocity was back to where he pitched in his college days at Mississippi State, sitting 92-96 mph and averaging 94. All four pitches were solid offerings, especially his curveball. He throws strikes and competes well, with a chance to be a number four starter in the big leagues.
20. Brian Anderson, 3b, Mesa (Marlins)
AFL scouts were mixed about Anderson’s ceiling as a prospect, but there were no doubts about the impact he made in the Mesa lineup this fall. After hitting 11 regular season homers split between two levels, Anderson led the AFL with five long balls plus one more in the first inning of the championship game. His overall batting line (.273/.360/.506) was impressive and he made consistent hard contact, striking out only nine times in 77 at-bats. Anderson is at best an adequate defender at third base and also saw time at first, profiling as a utility infielder.