Arizona Fall League: Top 10 Prospects

Bill MitchellByron Buxton

PHOENIX—Baseball fans were treated to an abundant array of premier minor league prospects during the just-completed Arizona Fall League season, with 26 one-time first-round picks dotting the rosters of the six AFL teams along with several intriguing Cuban players in their first seasons stateside.

Baseball America ranked the top 10 prospects in the AFL, per the observations of evaluators and scouts.

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.

Key players who did not get enough time to play, but who would certainly have garnered strong support, include Kyle Zimmer (Peoria/Royals), Taijuan Walker (Surprise/Mariners), Raisel Iglesias (Surprise/Reds) and Robbie Ray (Glendale/Tigers), and the Yankees’ Greg Bird and Aaron Judge (Scottsdale), among others.

Click here for Bill Mitchell’s sidebar on other intriguing prospects from the AFL.

1. Byron Buxton, of, Salt River/Twins

Byron Buxton
Byron Buxton (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

The fall season was supposed to be a chance for Buxton to make up for lost time from a regular season in which he missed all but 31 games to various injuries. Instead, his run of bad luck continued when the 20-year-old outfielder left the AFL early for the second year in a row, this time after breaking his left middle finger attempting to make a diving catch. He showed significant rust during the 13 games he played in Arizona, compiling a slash line of just .263/.311/.298. Scouts observed that his plus-plus bat speed was still present, though; Buxton’s timing was off and he was getting under too many pitches, and he didn’t play enough to get in a rhythm. However, Buxton still has all of the premier tools that have made him the No. 1 prospect in the game two years running, with speed, fielding and arm all at the top of the scale. He’s got nothing to prove except staying healthy.

2. Corey Seager, ss, Glendale/Dodgers

Corey Seager
Corey Seager (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Seager struggled last year in his first exposure to the AFL, when he was still a teenager finishing his first full professional season. This year the lefthanded-hitting shortstop was coming off a very good regular season in which he hit a combined .349 at the High-A and Double-A levels, and continued that success in the AFL with a slash line of .281/.354/.472 and a league-leading 10 doubles. He’s a pure hitter with plus bat speed through the zone, but scouts saw him using a different approach in the fall compared to the regular season. Defensively, he enhances his range at shortstop through good positioning. While there are persistent questions as to his ability and likelihood of staying at his current position, there are fewer voices maintaining that he’ll have to shift to the hot corner.

3. Francisco Lindor, ss, Peoria/Indians

Francisco Lindor (Photo by Mike Janes).
Francisco Lindor (Photo by Mike Janes).

Lindor, 21, came to the Fall League rated as one of the top shortstop prospects in the minor leagues but still raised his stock with a solid (.265/.324/.429, three home runs) campaign that compelled many scouts to consider him the top prospect in the league. His defense at shortstop is “off the charts,” according to one observer, but he also exceeded expectations with his potential to hit from both sides of the plate. Lindor has excellent pitch recognition, allowing him to make consistent contact to the gaps with some over-the-fence power. He also showed above-average speed. Lindor is a plus defender at shortstop with excellent instincts. He’ll make his major league debut at some point in 2015, perhaps as early as Opening Day.

4. Addison Russell, ss, Mesa/Cubs

Addison Russell
Addison Russell (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Russell returned for this second AFL season with the Mesa Solar Sox, this time wearing the uniform of his new organization, the Cubs. The 20-year-old was making up for time lost to a hamstring injury prior to the July 4 blockbuster trade that sent him to the Cubs, and he got into 11 AFL games before shutting it down for the year. Scouts said Russell looked tired in the two-plus weeks he was in Arizona, but still flashed the tools and plus bat speed that make him one of the top prospects in baseball. Some scouts covering the AFL were questioning whether Russell will be able to stay at shortstop with observations that his movements have stiffened and slowed down. While his .196/.260/.348 batting line wasn’t great, Russell hit the ball with authority and showed good power.

5. Tyler Glasnow, rhp, Scottsdale/Pirates

Tyler Glasnow (Photo by Bill Mitchell).
Tyler Glasnow (Photo by Bill Mitchell).

Glasnow was a player that many observers most looked forward to seeing at the start of the AFL season, and he generally didn’t disappoint, ranking second in the league among qualifying pitchers in strikeouts per nine innings (9.31). Less experienced than many other AFL pitchers, Glasnow was coming off a superb season in high Class A, in which he posted a 12-5, 1.74 record with 11.3 K/9. While he struggled with command at times, particularly in his final three starts, Glasnow flashed a plus sinking fastball up to 97 mph and a big league quality curveball that projects to be a plus offering. He seldom used his changeup that’s more of a work-in-progress now but could be an average pitch in time. One scout observed that Glasnow kicked it up a notch with runners on base.

6. Mark Appel, rhp, Salt River/Astros

Mark Appel
Mark Appel (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Appel had more to prove than anyone in the AFL after a well-documented difficult first full professional season. The No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft generally pitched well in his seven starts in the desert, although command issues caused him to leave too many balls up in the zone. His strong lower half give his pitches significant power, with a fastball up to 97-98 mph and sitting in the mid-90s. Appel has plus stuff across the board, with his mid-80s slider being a swing-and-miss pitch when located, and an above-average changeup used to keep hitters off-balance. He kept runners off base, leading all AFL starting pitchers with a 0.84 WHIP. It was a good conclusion to a rough season for Appel. Scouts project him as mid-rotation starter at present if his command doesn’t improve significantly.

7. Hunter Renfroe, of, Surprise/Padres

Hunter Renfroe (Photo by Bill Mitchell).
Hunter Renfroe (Photo by Bill Mitchell).

After a slow start, Renfroe showed the best combination of both raw and useable power in the AFL, tying Scottsdale’s Greg Bird for most home runs (six) and leading the league in slugging percentage (.569 ) and extra-base hits (16). The Mississippi State product has plus bat speed but leads with his front shoulder, making him susceptible to good spin. He’ll be fine in right field, with average speed and a plus arm, and runs well enough to fill in in center. One scout pegged him as an everyday right fielder with all-star potential. Renfroe owns the kind of power that’s lacking in the San Diego lineup, so he should move through the rest of the farm system pretty quickly.

8. Archie Bradley, rhp, Salt River/Diamondbacks

Archie Bradley threw two scoreless innings (Photo by Bill MItchell).
Archie Bradley (Photo by Bill MItchell).

Like Salt River teammate Appel, Bradley had a lot to prove. The Diamondbacks’ top prospect was coming off a difficult season in which he missed two months with a flexor strain in his pitching elbow. Bradley’s AFL performance was very inconsistent as he posted a 7.13 ERA and opponents hit an unsightly .364 against him.  His fastball ranged from 93-96 mph, similar to the velocity later in the regular season. The low-80s curveball, once Bradley’s best pitch, doesn’t have the bite that it used to have.  He projects as a No. 3 starter with the potential to become more if the stuff ticks back up, but scouts also think he could become a power arm in the back end of a bullpen.

9. Jesse Winker, of, Surprise/Reds

Jesse Winker
Jesse Winker (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

The scoop on Winker, 21, remains that he’ll someday win a major league batting title. He proved that it’s within his skillset by leading the AFL in batting (.338) while ranking second in on-base percentage (.440) and slugging percentage (.559). While he’s always been highly regarded as a prospect, Winker raised his stock in the estimation of some scouts, especially showing better pop than projected, even after missing time in the regular season with a wrist injury. He’s got an easy lefthanded swing, generating power with his quick hands and strong wrists, and very good plate discipline. He profiles best in left field, being a bit slow-footed and with no more than an average arm.

See Also: AFL Fall Guys

10. Rusney Castillo, of, Surprise/Red Sox

Rusney Castillo
Rusney Castillo (Photo by Ken Babbitt)

There was no shortage of hype about Castillo, 27, a native of Cuba who in August signed with the Red Sox for $72 million. He came as advertised—loud tools, solid baseball skills and lots and lots of flair on the field. The righthanded-hitting center fielder got into 10 games with Surprise before straining a thumb muscle on a slide into second base. He swings the bat with a compact stroke and shows the ability to use the whole field. Castillo is a gap-to-gap line drive hitter with some over-the-fence pop. He’s generally an above-average runner, but scouts had a hard time getting good times on him because he didn’t always run hard. Castillo is an above-average defender in center field with a solid average arm.