Image credit: Ricky Tiedemann (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The Arizona Fall League has long been celebrated for its annual bounty of talented prospects. The dirty, dark secret is 90% of those prospects are on the position side. Year after year, the Arizona Fall League pitching is maligned, and yet, year after year, there’s plenty of breakouts from the league’s pitching corps.
Last season Mason Miller, Emmett Sheehan, Tink Hence and Bryan Woo were all standout performers during the 2022 AFL season. Entering the fall, only Hence was ranked as a Top 100 prospect. Leading up to the season, we covered the outlier fastball traits of all four. The pitch level data allows us to go deeper than just the production from the previous season or conversations with scouts and front office executives can.
In this article, we’ll take an objective look at some of the pitchers in this year’s AFL crop with outlier traits.
Zach Maxwell, RHP Surprise (Reds) 98 mph
Andrew Baker, RHP Glendale (Phillies) 98 mph
Jordan Leasure, RHP Glendale (White Sox) 98 mph
Cole Paplham, RHP Peoria (Padres) 97 mph
Andrew Moore, RHP Surprise (Reds) 97 mph
Edwin Nunez, RHP Scottsdale (Cardinals) 97 mph
Jackson Jobe, RHP Salt River (Tigers) 97 mph
Jake Pilarski, RHP Glendale (Dodgers) 97 mph
Anthony Hoopii-Tuionetoa, RHP Surprise (Rangers) 96 mph
Ricky Tiedemann, LHP Surprise (Blue Jays) 96 mph
This group is headed off by Zach Maxwell, who might be the owner of the best fastball heading into the AFL season. Maxwell averaged 98 mph this season with heavy ride and life. Maxwell is not only the velocity leader heading into Fall League, but he’s also among the leaders in induced vertical break on his fastball. Andrew Moore is not far behind system-mate and Surprise teammate Maxwell with a strong combination of velocity and movement. The highest rated pitching prospects in the AFL appear on this list in Tigers righthander Jackson Jobe and Blue Jays lefthander Ricky Tiedemann. Both Jobe and Tiedemann will look to make up for lost innings in the Fall League and will be the two premium names on the pitching side.
Induced Vertical Break Outliers
Peyton Alford, LHP Peoria (Mariners)
Erik Sabrowski, LHP Peoria (Guardians)
Christopher Troye, RHP Glendale (Red Sox)
Ronan Kopp, LHP Glendale (Dodgers)
Zach Maxwell, RHP Surprise (Reds)
Bryce Hubbart, LHP Surprise (Reds)
Carlos Tavera, RHP Mesa (Orioles)
Justin Yeager, RHP Surprise (Brewers)
Chris Kachmar, RHP Mesa (Cubs)
Miguel Ullola, RHP Scottsdale (Astros)
All the players listed above averaged between 19 and 20 inches of induced vertical break. The league leader in vertical break average is Peyton Alford, a softer rising lefthander that navigates lineups with excellent movement. Christopher Troye, Ronan Kopp, Zach Maxwell and Miguel Ulloa all combine excellent ride with above-average to plus velocity. This group is likely to generate lots of swings and misses during the AFL season.
Flat Vertical Approach Angle
Wyatt Olds, RHP Glendale (Red Sox)
Eric Torres, LHP Scottsdale (Angels)
Conor Larkin, RHP Surprise (Blue Jays)
Cooper Hjerpe, LHP Scottsdale (Cardinals)
Ross Carver, RHP Peoria (Guardians)
Breidy Encarnacion, RHP Peoria (Marlins)
Carson Spiers, RHP Surprise (Reds)
Jaden Hill, RHP Salt River (Rockies)
Andrew Moore, RHP Surprise (Reds)
Jordan Leasure, RHP Glendale (White Sox)
In 2022, vertical approach angle outliers in Tink Hence, Emmet Sheehan and Bryan Woo all enjoyed star turns in the Fall League. This was in large part due to their excellent fastballs with outlier flat vertical approach angles. This characteristic on a fastball creates a difficult plane for hitters to get a clean barrel on, and often leads to more strikeouts when the pitch is elevated in the zone. Andrew Moore and Jordan Leasure have the best combination of velocity and flat vertical approach angle, as many of the pitchers in this group lack their power.
Swing and Miss Breaking Balls
Royber Salinas, RHP Mesa (Athletics) Curveball 66.7% Whiff
Zach McCambley, RHP Peoria (Marlins) Slider 63.8% Whiff
Andrew Baker, RHP Glendale (Phillies) Slider 60.9% Whiff
Ronan Kopp, LHP Glendale (Dodgers) Slider 59.4% Whiff
Royber Salinas, RHP Mesa (Athletics) Slider 59.3% Whiff
Eric Cerantola, RHP Surprise (Royals) Slider 57.5% Whiff
Jake Eder, LHP Glendale (White Sox) Slider 56.9% Whiff
Haden Erbe, RHP Peoria (Rays) Slider 56.3% Whiff
Marques Johnson, RHP Scottsdale (Giants) Curveball 55.6% Whiff
Justin King, LHP Surprise (Brewers) Slider 54.7% Whiff
Jayvien Sandridge, LHP Surprise (Reds) Curveball 53.9% Whiff
Cole Paplham, RHP Peoria (Padres) Slider 53.7%
This group is listed in order of the breaking balls with the highest whiff rates among pitches that were thrown 100 times or more. The list features two sweeper style breaking balls in Zach McCambley’s slider and Jake Eder’s slider. Eder’s slider averages over 16 inches of horizontal break, while Eder’s is closer to 12 inches. There’s three curveballs on the list in Royber Salinas, Marques Johnson and Jayvien Sandridge. All three curveballs have an average velocity of 80 mph or above with -7 or more inches of induced vertical break. The remaining sliders are all cutter like sliders that range in velocity from 84-87 mph on average.
Best Pitches by xStuff+
Justin Slaten, RHP, Rangers – Cutter 140
Conor Larkin, RHP, Blue Jays – Slider 137
Alessandro Ercolani, RHP, Pirates – Cutter 135
Jackson Jobe, RHP, Tigers – Slider 134
Jackson Jobe, RHP, Tigers – Cutter 134
Cole Paplham, RHP, Padres – Slider 131
Jack Sinclair, RHP, Nationals – Slider 131
Carson Spiers, RHP, Reds – Slider 130
Ricky Tiedemann, LHP, Blue Jays – Slider 130
Jack Weisenberger, RHP, Athletics – Slider 129
Our own Dylan White created a Stuff+-style metric using advanced pitch movement data and applied it to every pitch in the minor leagues with a minimum of 10 pitches. This metric is similar to other Stuff+ metrics, but is not as precise as the publicly available major league equivalents.
*xStuff+ is a proprietary stuff metric to Baseball America