Arizona Fall League Hot Sheet (Nov. 6)
This edition of the Arizona Fall League Hot Sheet takes into account what AFL players did from Oct. 30- Nov. 5.
Contributing: J.J. Cooper, Ben Badler, Kyle Glaser and Josh Norris.
1. Kelvin Gutierrez, 3B, Nationals Team: Mesa Age: 23 Why he's here: .600/.692/1.100, (6-for-10), 5 R, 1 3B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 3 BB, 1 SO.
The Scoop: Like many of the players in the AFL, Gutierrez is making up time lost to injury. He missed nearly half the season with a nagging hamstring tweak, and his last Carolina League game came on June 9. Injuries bit Gutierrez in the Fall League, too. He missed more than two weeks after being spiked on a play at third base, but has come back with a vengeance, showing the offensive production to profile at third base since his return. (JN)
2. Taylor Sparks, 3B, Reds Team: Scottsdale Age: 24 Why He's Here: .455/.500/1.000 (5-for-11), 3 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 0 BB, 2 SO, 1 SB.
The Scoop: Sparks' prospect star has fallen quite a bit since the Reds drafted him 58th overall in 2014, with his well below-average feel to hit overshadowing and largely canceling out his other above-average tools. A broken wrist suffered on a hit-by-pitch in late April limited him to 57 games this season, but he has come out looking like a new player in the Fall League. Sparks' latest big week has brought his slash line up to .340/.393/.580 in the AFL, including a two-home run game on Nov. 1. He still is having some trouble controlling the strike zone though, with 19 strikeouts against just two walks in 13 games. (KG)
3. Nicky Lopez, 2B, Royals Team: Surprise Age: 22 Why he's here: .462/.533/.846, (6-for-13), 1 R, 1 2B, 2 3B, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 2 SO.
The Scoop: After a strong season at high Class A Wilmington, Lopez is looking to add a little more thump to his game. He hit just two home runs all season, so he’ll spend this offseason focusing on gaining more strength in anticipation of his first season played exclusively at the upper levels. He’s showing contact and plate discipline skills in the Fall League, with just nine strikeouts in 57 at-bats with the Saguaros. This comes after a season with just 52 punchouts in 517 at-bats across two levels. (JN)
4. Will Smith, C, Dodgers Team: Glendale Age: 22 Why He’s Here: .444/.545/.889 (4-for-9), 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 BB, 3 SO.
The Scoop: Smith had an All-Star first half in the California League and got promoted to Double-A Tulsa, but a hit-by-pitch broke a bone in his hand in his first game with the Drillers and knocked him out for the rest of the season. Smith has reemerged in the Fall League and looked like he never missed a beat, hitting .378/.431/.578 as Glendale’s starting catcher. An above-average-to-plus defender with a plus arm, Smith only has to prove he can hit to profile as an everyday regular, and he is doing that so far in the AFL. (KG)
5. Victor Robles, OF, Nationals Team: Mesa Age: 20 Why he's here: .333/.545/.833, (2-for-6), 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 3 BB, 1 SO, 0 SB.
The Scoop: Robles arrived late to the Fall League due to his inclusion on the Nationals’ postseason roster, but he’s already making an impact. Washington’s top prospect homered in his second game and added another longball in his second week in the AFL. He also was named the MVP of this year’s Fall Stars Game after he led a late rally for a win. He was already known as one of baseball's best prospects and is only bolstering that reputation with his AFL performance. (JN)
6. Lourdes Gurriel, SS, Blue Jays Team: Peoria Age: 24 Why He’s Here: .400/.400/.667 (6-for-15), 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBIs, 0 BB, 3 SO
The Scoop: Just being on the field in the AFL is important for Gurriel, who signed out of Cuba after the 2016 season and played just 64 games this year with injuries to his thumb and hamstring. That lost time is especially critical for Gurriel on the defensive side to show that he can stick at shortstop, with third base a potential landing spot as well. Gurriel has yet to draw a walk in 16 AFL games, but overall he’s still hitting .295/.306/.541 with three home runs. (BB)
7. Andrew Knizner, C, Cardinals Team: Surprise Age: 22 Why He’s Here: .400/.500/.800 (4-for-10), 3 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 2 SO.
The Scoop: The two best hitters on the Saguaros have been a pair of former infielders who converted to catching. Josh Morgan, the Rangers’ infielder turned catcher, is hitting .444/.545/.778 while Knizner, a third baseman who moved to catcher for his sophomore season at North Carolina State, is hitting .353/.400/.569. Knizner’s speedy ascent has been one of the best surprises of the Cardinals’ 2017 season. He has proven a better hitter than his pre-draft scouting report and he’s improving as a catcher too. (JJ)
8. Austin Riley, 3B, Braves Team: Peoria Age: 20 Why He’s Here: .294/.333/.647 (5-for-17), 2 R, 3 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 0 BB, 4 SO
The Scoop: Riley has some of the biggest power of anyone in the AFL, and it’s shown in his brief playing time there with four home runs in 11 games. For a player with a power over pure hit profile, Riley has moved surprisingly quickly through Atlanta’s system by reaching Double-A as a 20-year-old. Given how well he hit once he got there—a .315/.389/.511 slash line in 48 games—and with how quickly the Braves have pushed their prospects, a 2018 MLB debut is a possibility. (BB)
9. Tyler Beede, RHP, Giants Team: Scottsdale Age: 24 Why He’s Here: 0-0, 0.00, 4 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 SO.
The Scoop: Beede’s first Arizona Fall League start was one to forget. He gave up four hits, walked three and gave up five earned runs in just two innings. His second start was much better, with four innings of tow-hit ball and, most importantly, no walks. Beede’s stuff has been fine, but his control has been shaky, which is somewhat understandable as he’s working his way back from a groin injury that wiped out the final two months of his season. (JJ)
10. Keegan Akin, LHP, Orioles Team: Salt River Rafters Age: 22. Why He’s Here: 0-0, 0.00, 3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 SO.
The Scoop: Akin had a rough start to the 2017 season and spent most of the year trying to claw back from it. Pitching out of the bullpen in the AFL, Akin has shown why some scouts think relief could be his long-term role. Akin’s fastball and breaking ball both are plus offerings out of the pen, as he’s shown in the AFL. Lefties are hitting only .063 against him and he’’s struck out seven of the 17 lefties he’s faced. (JJ)
Braves View Austin Riley As Vital To Future
Riley won rookie of the month honors in May but struggled to produce consistently afterward.