AFL Top 20 Prospects

The Arizona Fall League season wrapped up in mid-November, and as usual hitters took most of the accolades. These are the league's Top 20 Prospects, as judged by scouts who watched the league this year.

1. Javier Baez, ss, Mesa Solar Sox (Cubs)

At 19, Baez was considered by many evaluators to have the highest ceiling in the league. Coming off an impressive full-season debut spent between two Class A levels, Baez batted just .211 with 14 strikeouts in 57 at-bats, but also slugged four home runs despite missing half of the season after breaking the tip of his left thumb.

Offensively, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Baez displays plus raw power thanks to elite bat speed. He hit multiple home runs over 400 feet in games and countless more in batting practice. Baez has an aggressive approach that causes him to get behind in counts, exposing his offspeed struggles, but scouts believe he will hit for a solid average in time. Defensively, Baez displays impressive athleticism, good hands and a strong arm that should allow him to stick at shortstop long-term.

2. Jonathan Singleton, 1b, Mesa Solar Sox (Astros)

Following an impressive summer at Double-A Corpus Christi when he batted .284/.396/.497 with 21 home runs, Singleton continued to impress scouts this fall with not only his elite power potential and feel for the barrel but also his advanced approach. He is a confident hitter with excellent pitch recognition, unafraid to work deep into counts, drawing a league-high 17 walks but also going down with 24 strikeouts. He can get too patient at times, but doesn't panic when he's behind in counts.

The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Singleton has arguably the greatest offensive potential in the AFL with some believing he could hit for both average and power in the big leagues now.

3. Christian Yelich, of, Phoenix Desert Dogs (Marlins)

After topping the high Class A Florida State League in slugging percentage (.519) and finishing third in batting (.330), Yelich fared well against advanced pitching in the AFL, batting .301/.343/.387. A first-round selection in 2010, Yelich shows a quick lefthanded stroke with excellent line-drive ability and wiry strength. One evaluator ranked his hit tool second to only Tigers prospect Nick Castellanos in the AFL.

In addition, the 6-foot-4, 189-pound Yelich displays above-average raw power that scouts believe he will be able to tap into as he fills out and learns to create more leverage in his swing. Defensively, Yelich projects to be an average center fielder, where his slightly above-average speed plays up due to a quick first step.

4. Kyle Gibson, rhp, Peoria Javelinas (Twins)

Gibson, a 2009 first-round selection, returned from Tommy John surgery in July and was sent to the AFL to continue building his workload and to give the Twins a chance to evaluate him heading into the 2013 season.

Prior to his injury in 2011, the 6-foot-6, 210-pounder looked poised for a midseason promotion, and he is quickly returning to form. Gibson went 3-2, 5.40 with 28 strikeouts and eight walks over 23 innings for the Javelinas. He shows solid command of a 92-94 mph fastball with movement, a changeup and a put-away slider. All three offerings project as above-average or better. Assuming he stays healthy, Gibson, 25, could begin the 2013 season in Minnesota's rotation.

5. George Springer, of, Mesa Solar Sox (Astros)

Coming off a successful full-season debut at jigh Class A Lancaster, Springer, the 11th overall selection in the 2011 draft, struggled against advanced AFL pitching for much of the season before breaking out over the final two weeks, finishing with .286/.412/.600 numbers and 11 extra-base hits.

Even before his outburst, Springer impressed scouts with his athleticism, five-tool ability and ceiling that compares to perhaps only that of Baez, his Mesa teammate. Offensively, the 23-year-old Springer displays plus bat speed and elite power potential. Scouts continue to raise concerns over his high strikeout totals (20 strikeouts in 70 at-bats in AFL; 156 strikeouts in 506 at-bats this summer), noting a poor two-strike approach, pitch recognition struggles and his tendency to collapse his backside for power. Defensively, Springer profiles in center field or right field, showing excellent range and an above-average arm.

6. Slade Heathcott, of, Scottsdale Scorpions (Yankees)

A 2009 first-round selection, Heathcott displays impressive raw ability but has struggled to stay healthy. After his second shoulder surgery in the spring, the 22-year-old outfielder returned to High Class A Tampa, where he batted .307 with 17 stolen bases over 60 games. He continued to excel in the Fall League, finishing the season second in on-base percentage (.494) and slugging percentage (.612) and fourth in batting (.388).

At the plate, Heathcott displays an aggressive approach and smooth lefthanded swing with above-average raw power. His plus speed makes him an extra-base hit machine, although he is still improving his stolen base ability. He can play anywhere in the outfield, showing excellent range and a plus arm, but needs to continue refining his routes, first step and the accuracy of this throws. Heathcott's intensity made him one of the most exciting players to watch this fall, and it showed itself in his laying out for flyballs, frequently taking the extra base and once even bulldozing the catcher. One evaluator considered him the league's top prospect.

7. Mike Zunino, c, Peoria Javelinas (Mariners)

Zunino was the third overall selection in June and one of two 2012 draft picks to play in the AFL (along with Rays third baseman Richie Shaffer). The 21-year-old catcher impressed in his pro debut, finishing the season at Double-A Jackson, and batted .288/.337/.463 for the Javelinas.

Offensively, Zunino displays excellent barrel ability and above-average power to all fields. Scouts project him to bat .260 with 20 home runs as a major leaguer, something just three catchers did in 2012. Behind the dish, Zunino struggled early but showed improvements in his receiving and blocking abilities over the course of the season. He is an effective communicator and projects to be an average defender. According to one evaluator, Zunino could very well break camp with the Mariners next spring.

8. Nick Castellanos, of, Mesa Solar Sox (Tigers)

Widely considered one of the best pure hitters in the minor leagues, Castellanos struggled this fall, batting .242 with a league-high 31 strikeouts over 99 at-bats. Still, the 20-year-old outfielder continued to garner praise from evaluators for his offensive potential. Scouts cited his natural barrel feel, bat control and ability to stay inside the ball. In addition, while he shows more doubles power at the moment, some scouts believe that the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Castellanos has the potential for above-average power output.

9. Rymer Liriano, of, Peoria Javelinas (Padres)

Building upon an impressive season split between high Class A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio, Liriano was one of the top hitters in the AFL this fall, finishing with a .319/.376/.505 line and ranking among the top five in both batting and slugging percentage all season.

While the 21-year-old outfielder displays an impressive, prototypical right fielder tool kit to back the numbers—good bat speed, power potential, speed, plus arm—there are still scouts who question his overall makeup and ability to reach his potential.

10. Billy Hamilton, of, Peoria Javelinas (Reds)

Fresh off breaking the minor league stolen base record (155) this summer, Hamilton continued his electric play this fall, showcasing his ability to change games from the top of the order. While the 6-foot-1, 160-pounder batted .234/.306/.328, the way he did it impressed scouts, showing an improved approach, proving capable from both sides of the plate and utilizing his speed on drag bunts—when he was consistently timed below 3.5 seconds to first base.

Equally notable, however, were the improvements that the 22-year-old speedster made defensively. Sent to the AFL to work on his transition from shortstop to center field, Hamilton showed significant progress with his jumps, routes and wall awareness. With more reps, he projects to be an above-average center fielder with a solid-average arm.

11. Anthony Rendon, 3b, Salt River Rafters (Nationals)

Rendon, the sixth overall selection in 2011, has struggled to remain on the field over his short professional career, missing last season with a shoulder injury and much of the 2012 campaign due to an ankle fracture. Considered the top pure hitter in his draft class, a fully healthy Rendon finally tapped into his offensive potential this fall, batting .338/.436/.494 with 10 doubles, second in the AFL. Scouts were impressed by his patient approach, strength and contact ability to all fields but also pointed out a handful of mental lapses simply caused by lack of playing time the past two seasons. Defensively, Rendon displays smooth actions and good arm strength at third base, where he projects to be an above-average defender.

12. Kaleb Cowart, 3b, Scottsdale Scorpions (Angels)

Coming off a solid first full-season of pro ball, Cowart struggled in his first bout with advanced pitching, batting just .200 with 16 strikeouts over 60 at bats. Regardless, the 20-year-old third baseman showed enough for scouts to think he has above-average potential on both sides of the ball. At the plate, Cowart is a capable switch-hitter with power potential from both sides of the plate and an advanced approach for his age. Defensively, he displays good arm strength, excellent footwork and smooth actions, showcasing the ability to attack groundballs like a shortstop.

13. Brian Goodwin, of, Salt River Rafters (Nationals)

Following a strong summer in which he earned a midseason promotion from low Class A Hagerstown to Double-A Harrisburg, Goodwin continued to excel this fall, finishing with a .238 batting average but with 11 extra-base hits (three of them homers), fifth in the AFL. A supplemental first round selection in 2011, Goodwin has an impressive power-speed profile, displaying surprising lefthanded power potential and plus speed in both center field and on the base paths. In the AFL Rising Stars Game, Goodwin led all offensive performers going 2-for-5, with a double and home run.

14. Didi Gregorius, ss, Peoria Javelinas (Reds)

After rating as the Best Defensive Shortstop in the Southern League this summer, Gregorius easily would have taken home the award this fall, showcasing his plus arm strength, plus range and smooth actions. Similar to the line he posted this season between Double-A Pensacola and Triple-A Louisville, Gregorius batted .284/.333/.392, showing a short lefthanded stroke with good line-drive ability. Stuck behind Zack Cozart on the organizational depth chart, Gregorius is one player who evaluators believed improved his trade value most.

15. Nick Franklin, ss/2b, Peoria Javelinas (Mariners)

Coming off a solid season between Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma, the switch-hitting Franklin was a steady performer this fall for the AFL champion Javelinas, batting .338/.422/.519 with 22 RBI, second in the league. Offensively, the 2009 first rounder shows excellent line-drive ability and above-average power potential. Scouts express concerns over his ability to hit from the right side, where he has the tendency to drift forward and gets out front on pitches. Defensively, Franklin profiles best at second base with average hands and an average arm, but scouts agree his bat should carry him to Seattle in the immediate future.

16. Jarred Cosart, rhp, Mesa Solar Sox (Astros)

Acquired from the Phillies along with Jonathan Singleton in 2011, Cosart continued to display impressive stuff but unimpressive results, going 0-3, 6.50 this fall with a 15 strikeouts and nine walks over 18 innings (six starts). Coming off a good season. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Cosart shows elite arm speed, sitting 94-96 mph with his fastball, touching 99 mph. He mixes in a plus low-80s curveball with late, sharp break and an average changeup with good arm speed. While the stuff impresses, scouts continue to raise concerns over his control issues and inability to miss bats, with some projecting that a move to the bullpen may be necessary in the future.

17. Matt Davidson, 3b, Salt River Rafters (Diamondbacks)

Forced out for three weeks of the fall season with concussion symptoms after taking a ground ball off the top of his head, the 21-year-old Davidson impressed scouts that saw him with his two-way offensive potential. The 2009 supplemental first-round pick has excellent power potential, displaying a smooth swing with good bat speed and strength. The swing and miss continues to be a concern, as he struck out in 18 of his 40 at bats, but he shows decent pitch recognition and zone knowledge, prompting scouts to believe it will improve. He projects to be a slightly below-average defender at third base, where his bat should allow him to stick as an everyday regular.

18. Chase Anderson, rhp, Salt River Rafters (Diamondbacks)

After a strong summer at Double-A Mobile that included two productive Southern League playoff starts, the oft-injured Anderson was sent to the AFL to give the Diamondbacks an extended opportunity to evaluate him before the 40-man roster deadline this November. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound righthander would end up being one of the AFL's top performers, going 3-1, 3.47 with 26 strikeouts and nine walks over 23 innings (six starts).

This fall, Anderson sat 90-92 mph with his fastball, mixing in a plus changeup at 80-82 that one evaluator called the best secondary offering in the league. The development of his breaking balls was been notable as well, with many scouts believing Anderson has back of the rotation potential with four average or better offerings.

19. Jonathan Schoop, 3b/ss, Mesa Solar Sox (Orioles)

Schoop, 21, followed up a modest season at Double-A Bowie with a strong AFL performance batting .270/.446/.429 in an impressive Solar Sox lineup. While his hit tool is still a bit raw, Schoop makes impressive loud contact and displays above-average power potential with plus bat speed and excellent strength in his hands and forearms. While he will likely have to move off shortstop, Schoop projects to be an adequate defender at third base, showing good instincts and arm strength.

20. Johnny Hellweg, rhp, Phoenix Desert Dogs (Brewers)

A key piece in the Zack Greinke trade this summer, Hellweg was one of the AFL's top relievers. While the Brewers plan to move him back to the rotation in 2013, the 6-foot-9 Hellweg was electric in relief. His fastball sits 95-97, touching 100 mph, with sinking action and his mid-80s slider projects above-average with good tilt and bite. Control continues to be a concern, as he walked seven over 13 innings this fall, and many scouts project Hellweg will reach the major leagues as a reliever.