Mervis’ Bat, Winn’s Arm Stand Out At Fall Stars Game

Image credit: Matt Mervis (Bill Mitchell)

MESA, Ariz. — With the actual World Series in the rear-view, the Arizona Fall League took center stage on Sunday. The league’s annual Fall Stars Game had a tweaked format this season, pitting prospects from the American League against their counterparts from the National League, mimicking the big league All-Star Game and the Futures Game. 

The NL won the game, 9-3, but the real stories revolved around the prospects featured throughout. Cubs prospect Matt Mervis—who leads the AFL with six home runs—went 1-for-3 with a two-run home run in a game played at Sloan Park, the spring training home of his parent club.  

Mervis wasn’t the only prospect who starred on Sunday. Jackson Merrill (Padres) was the lone player to collect multiple hits, while Mervis, Jordan Walker (Cardinals) and Andy Pages (Dodgers) drove in two runs apiece. 

Here are Baseball America’s picks for the game’s standouts in a variety of categories. 

Best Fastball: Christian Chamberlain, LHP, Royals — While there were a handful of candidates for this category, Chamberlain impressed in his inning by striking out the side against the top of the National League lineup. Chamberlain threw seven fastballs and generated three whiffs, including a swinging strike three to punch out the Rockies’ Zac Veen to start the inning. He got Jackson Merrill to bite on the first pitch of the at-bat, a 93 mph four-seamer. The pitch sat 93-94 mph and was difficult for hitters to get on plane with due to its above-average movement and velocity, which was amplified by Chamberlain’s low release point. When Chamberlain is working in the zone there are few pitchers tougher to barrel in the AFL. 

Best Breaking Ball: Bailey Horn, LHP, Cubs — This was a two-man battle between Horn and the Astros’ Matt Ruppenthal. Horn’s slider was up to 85 mph with heavy sweep and slight ride. It averages 2,500-2,600 rpms of raw spin in the mid 80s and grades out as an elite 139 per Stuff+ models. Horn worked a scoreless ninth, finishing with a strikeout of Athletics prospect Lawrence Butler

Best Changeup: Justin Martinez, RHP, D-Backs — The winner of the best changeup was clear after Martinez came on for the third inning for the National League. After sitting 97-99 mph with his two-seamer, Martinez snapped off eight changeups, generating four whiffs. Martinez started the inning with a strikeout of the Rays’ Ronny Simon. He opened the at-bat with a 96 mph fastball for strike one, then followed it with consecutive changeups. Simon swung through both. Martinez then struck out Edouard Julien on four pitches, including two ugly whiffs from the discerning Twins’ prospect. Martinez’s splitter is a true plus pitch and can be thrown effectively to hitters of either hand multiple times in a row.

Best Hitter: Jackson Merrill, SS, Padres — It’s reasonable to argue that Merrill possesses the best hit tool in the AFL, a case he reinforced in the Fall Stars Game. On the first pitch of his first at-bat, Merrill took a slider from AL starter Noah Denoyer (Orioles) and shot it to right for a single. In his third at-bat, Merrill blooped a ball into no man’s land beyond shortstop, where it fell for his second hit of the game. 

Best Power: Matt Mervis, 1B, Cubs — In the fifth inning Mervis electrified the home crowd at Sloan Park by taking an Antonio Menendez slider to center field for a two-run home run. The homer capped off a six-run inning that gave the NL an insurmountable lead. Mervis has used the Fall League season to put an exclamation point on his breakout 2022 season by hitting a league-best six home runs through the season’s first five weeks.

Best Throw: Masyn Winn, SS, Cardinals — In what is likely the least shocking superlative on the list, Winn once again wowed the crowd with a eye-popping throw unleashed from deep in the hole. With no outs in the top of the ninth, Winn bobbled a ball off the bat of Nick Yorke but recovered and uncorked a throw on a line to beat the Red Sox infielder by half a step. Winn won this award during the Futures Game when he unleashed a throw at 100.5 mph from shortstop. While there’s no reading on today’s throw, there’s no doubting Winn’s elite arm strength. 

Best Defensive Play: Heston Kjerstad, OF, Orioles — As was the case in 2021, the teams kept playing despite the NL leading after the top of the final frame. This time, though, the AL had run out of pitchers, so it had to utilize the relievers still waiting in the NL’s bullpen. This quirk set up a fun matchup between Cardinals prospects Tink Hence and Jordan Walker in what proved to be the game’s final at-bat. On the first pitch, Walker laced a ball the opposite way that had a decent shot of clanging off the wall. That is, until Heston Kjerstad’s glove got in the way. In a game with few standout defensive plays outside of Winn’s throw, Kjerstad’s extra base-saving catch reigned supreme. 

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