Five Prospects Who Could Pop In The Arizona Fall League
The Arizona Fall League is nearly ready to return. The 2020 version was canceled due to the pandemic, but it’s back in full for 2021. All six traditional parks—Salt River, Peoria, Scottsdale, Mesa, Surprise and Glendale—will host games starting Oct. 13 and concluding on Nov. 20 with the championship game. The league’s annual Fall Stars Game will take place a week earlier, on Nov. 13, at Salt River.
The league usually hosts some of the game’s best prospects on the cusp of the big leagues as well as players teams want more time to evaluate before the offseason’s 40-man roster deadline in advance of the winter’s Rule 5 draft.
The league also usually serves as a launching pad for players who were more anonymous heading into the fall. The Rays’ Josh Lowe was part of that group in 2019, when the tooled-up outfielder stayed healthy enough to post a .937 OPS with a pair of home runs. The Nationals’ Luis Garcia belongs in that boat, too, after 21 hits as one of the league’s youngest players in 2019.
Here are a few players whose stock could get big boosts in this year’s AFL.
1. Cole Waites, RHP, Giants
Waites is a 23-year-old reliever who spent his season at Low-A. Normally, that’s not a winning recipe. In this case, there might be an exception. The West Alabama alum missed time after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. In a small sample, Waites showed off a truly devastating fastball. The pitch sat in the upper 90s and regularly hit 100 while getting swings and misses by the bucketful. He needs to show more in the way of a secondary pitch, but his present stuff alone helped him whiff 31 in 13.1 innings. For those counting, that’s 31 of 40 outs via the strikeout.
2. Curtis Mead, 3B, Rays
In his first games outside of the Rookie levels, Mead could not have been much more impressive. He was one of just 10 minor leaguers 20 or younger with 25 or more doubles, 15 or more homers and 10 or more stolen bases. He accomplished that while spending time—and winning championships with—Low-A, High-A and Triple-A. Normally, that kind of season will make a player famous. When you’re in a system as stocked as the Rays’ however, it’s easy to get buried. A strong AFL campaign could make Mead a household name.
3. Owen White, RHP, Rangers
White’s career has been waylaid time and again by injury. First, he was rested in his draft year of 2018. He blew out his elbow in 2019 and had Tommy John surgery. Then came the pandemic, which wiped out the minor league season. So when he took the mound on May 4, just shy of three years after being drafted, he was making his official professional debut. He broke his hand after that game, however, and was out until a rehab appearance in July.
When he got back to full speed he showed electric stuff and finished the year with 18.2 marvelous innings over three starts. He allowed just 11 hits and two walks over that span while whiffing 33. He added even more of a flourish in his playoff start in the Low-A East, when he opened the game with seven no-hit innings as part of a masterpiece that helped get his team to a decisive fifth game. Low-A hitters know all about White. A strong AFL campaign could open a lot more eyes.
4. Juan Yepez, IF, Cardinals
Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but the Cardinals have a guy who just hits and hits and hits. In 2021, Yepez was that guy. He mashed at both Double-A and Triple-A, finishing the year with a combined line of .286/.383/.586 with 29 doubles and 27 home runs. He especially loves hitting fastballs, though some evaluators noted that he could be enticed to swing through spin. Though he has no true position, he was passable at any spot he played, and he saw time at both corner infield and corner outfield positions. He’ll have to keep hitting to profile at any of those spots, but 2021 was a good start toward that end.
5. Ryan Kreidler, SS, Tigers
It’s extraordinarily easy to get overshadowed in the upper levels of Detroit’s system, where Top five prospects Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson spent all season torturing pitchers. That duo wasn’t alone. Kreidler, whom the Tigers selected out of UCLA in the fourth round of the 2020 draft, swatted 23 doubles and 22 homers between Double-A and Triple-A, good for fifth in the organization. Perhaps more promising than the power was the way Kreidler’s plate discipline improved after he jumped to Toledo. With Erie, he whiffed at a 30.7% clip compared to a walk rate of 8.2%. In 41 games at Triple-A, the strikeout rate dropped to 24.1% while his walk rate nearly doubled, to 15.2%.