2019 Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Superlatives
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Saturday night’s Fall Stars Game was a crisp affair filled with top-end talent in the batter’s box and on the mound. The East came away with a 4-2 win on the strength of a two-run homer from MVP Royce Lewis and a tie-breaking double from Josh Lowe.
Unsurprisingly for a game with such loaded rosters, there were plenty of prospects who stood out from a scouting perspective. Here are a few who opened our eyes.
BEST FASTBALL — Shane Baz, RHP, Rays: The third piece in the trade that sent Chris Archer to Pittsburgh in the summer of 2018, Baz sat in the upper 90s in his outing and touched 100 mph to finish a strikeout of Yankees prospect Brandon Wagner. None of his nine fastballs were below 98 mph. Running a close second was West starting pitcher Daniel Lynch (Royals), who muscled his fastball up to 99 mph to earn a strikeout of A’s prospect and AFL home run leader Greg Deichmann.
BEST BREAKING PITCH — Shane Baz, RHP, Rays: When he wasn’t lighting up the radar gun with his fastball, Baz was showing off a wicked low-90s slider that drew two swings and misses out of the times he threw the pitch. The slider showed hard, sweeping action in on lefthanders and reached as high as 92 mph. The fastball-slider combination proved an impossible combination for hitters, who didn’t get the ball out of the infield in Baz’s inning.
LOUDEST CONTACT (IN GAME) — Tyler Stephenson, C, Reds: Of the three homers hit in the game, Stephenson’s was by far the loudest. Facing Angels righthander Isaac Mattson, Stephenson drove a 93 mph fastball into the second level of cacti in dead center at Salt River Fields. The ball left Stephenson’s bat at 104 mph and easily went better than 410 feet. Stephenson socked six home runs this season with Double-A Chattanooga, but his power potential was on full display on Saturday night in the desert.
LOUDEST CONTACT (IN BATTING PRACTICE) — Julio Rodriguez, OF, Mariners: It’s hard to believe Rodriguez is still just 18 years old. The Mariners’ prodigy effortlessly clanged balls off the wall in dead center field during his batting practice session and projects for easy plus power in the big leagues. After 12 home runs in just 84 games during the regular season, to go with an outstanding .929 OPS between low Class A West Virginia and high Class A Modesto, Rodriguez has all the earmarks of a budding star.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAY — Vidal Brujan, 2B, Rays: In the regular season, Brujan might have been yanked from the game for sauntering to first on a bloop single that could easily have been a double if he’d utilized his elite speed upon contact. He was left in, however, which allowed him to show off his range and arm strength.
Right after Stephenson homered, Mattson coaxed a high-hopping grounder up the middle. Brujan ranged to his right, fielded the ball on the shortstop side of second base, then threw off-balance to get Mason McCoy at first base. There are questions about whether Brujan will remain on the infield, but those exist because his top-end speed might be better utilized in center field and not because he lacks the chops to stay in the dirt.
MOST INTRIGUING POSITION PLAYER — Josh Lowe, OF, Rays: Lowe has steadily raised his prospect profile since the beginning of the second half of the regular season. At Double-A Montgomery, the 21-year-old brother of Tampa Bay first baseman Nate Lowe hit .288/.375/.468 with seven homers and 32 RBIs. The outburst bested his first-half OPS by 120 points and began to hint at his considerable tools turning into skills.
In the Fall Stars game, Lowe kept his hands inside a 92 mph fastball on the inner half of the plate and at the bottom of the zone and turned it into a line-drive double into the left-field corner that plated Kyle Isbel (Royals) with the go-ahead run. A pitch later, Lowe showed off the speed that helped him swipe 30 bases in the regular season by easily taking third base.
SECOND-MOST INTRIGUING POSITION PLAYER — Kyle Isbel, OF, Royals: Isbel’s regular season was muted by a hamate injury that sapped his power and held him to just 52 games with high Class A Wilmington. In the third inning, however, the 22-year-old UNLV product got a hanging changeup from Tigers righthander Anthony Castro and blasted it onto the berm in right field. The Royals are high on Isbel, who shows an interesting blend of speed, defense and power that could fit toward the top of a lineup.
MOST INTRIGUING PITCHER — Aaron Fletcher, LHP, Mariners: Acquired from the Nationals in the deal that sent Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias to Washington, Fletcher began the year at low Class A and finished in Double-A, racking up 84 strikeouts in 78.1 innings in the process. On Saturday, he combined a 92-94 mph two-seam fastball and a tight-spinning slider in the low 80s and got whiffs of the two lefties—Lowe and Angels prospect Brandon Marsh—that he faced.
MOST EFFICIENT OUTING — Jackson Rees, RHP, Blue Jays: Rees entered the game with two outs in the top of the eighth and faced Rodriguez. He threw one pitch, a 94 mph fastball, and got Rodriguez to ground out to second base. Rees was replaced in the top of the ninth by Indians righty Argenis Angulo.