Prospects With The Best Tools At The Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Fall League held its annual Fall Stars Game on Saturday, pitting the best prospects from the West Division teams (Glendale, Peoria, Surprise) against the East Division teams (Scottsdale, Mesa, Salt River) at picturesque Salt River Fields. The East topped the West, 6-5, on the strength of a big day from MVP JJ Bleday (Marlins), who hit a long two-run homer and an RBI single as part of a 2-for-3 day. His only out came on a fantastic catch in left field from Elijah Dunham (Yankees).
As we do with the Futures Game, Baseball America will recap the game by listing the superlative plays and players in a variety of categories which stood out throughout the game.
Best Fastball: Bobby Miller, RHP, Dodgers — Miller’s time in the AFL has been rough, but he showed his stuff on Saturday. He brought his fastball up to 99 mph (that particular pitch, though, was slammed into center field on a line by Blue Jays stud prospect Gabriel Moreno) His heater sat between 97-99 throughout his one inning, and he got three swings and misses overall (one apiece on his fastball, slider and changeup). If you’re looking for impressive heaters aside from velocity, look for Orioles reliever Nick Vespi’s hard cutter, which garnered a swing and miss, or East starter Caleb Kilian’s array of four-seamers, sinkers and cutters, which got four swings and misses in two innings.
Best Breaking Ball: Damon Jones, LHP, Phillies — Jones has shown one of the most impressive breaking balls all fall league in a slider with high spin and hard sweeping action. Beyond his appearance in the Fall Stars Game, Jones has shown the ability to lengthen and shorten the pitch’s break to get either called strikes or swings and misses. On Saturday, he faced two hitters and struck out one—Jose Tena (Guardians)—to wave meekly at the slider. The five sliders Jones threw in the Fall Stars Game averaged a spin rate of between 2,700 and 2,800 rpms. Jones certainly needs to tighten his command and control (nine walks in 37 batters faced) but he’s certainly got the stuff to dominate in short bursts. In a league that has been dominated by hitting all season long, Jones’ breaking ball has helped him whiff 12 in 9.1 innings.
Best Changeup: Devin Sweet, RHP, Mariners — It should be noted here that Sweet’s name will not officially appear in the box score for this game. After the game officially went final, the teams opted to play an extra half-inning to get the last two pitchers—Sweet and Yankees righty Zach Greene—in the game. Sweet used his two-hitter appearance to dismantle A’s prospect Logan Davidson on a series of three consecutive changeups in the high 70s. Davidson swung and missed at two of three. Sweet heavily emphasizes his changeup normally, and has whiffed 10 in 7.1 innings this fall.
Best Hitter: Gabriel Moreno, C, Blue Jays — This award could go to Moreno for the entirety of his season or just the Fall Stars Game. He had just two plate appearances, and the out he made was more impressive than the infield hit he notched in his first trip. Facing Dodgers fireballer Bobby Miller, Moreno got a 99 mph heater and turned it around as if it were 10 mph slower. The result was a frozen rope into center field at 108 mph—the hardest-hit ball of the day—that was corralled by Dodgers outfield prospect James Outman, who lived up to his surname by making a diving snare for the second out of the inning. Moreno has proved all fall that he can get the fat part of his bat to any pitch type in any sector of the strike zone. Saturday night was no different.
Best Power: JJ Bleday, OF, Marlins — Bleday has had a renaissance in the Fall League. The Vanderbilt alum and 2019 fourth overall pick has changed his hitting mechanics and done a better job getting to fastballs at the top of the zone. The result has been five weeks of looking more like the type of hitter he was in college. On Saturday, when he won the game’s MVP award, Bleday went 2-for-3 with a long home run just to the right of dead center field. The home run came on a 93 mph fastball from West starter Coleman Crow (Angels), left the bat at 103 mph and traveled 410 feet. Through five weeks, Bleday is hitting .329/.447/.600 with eight doubles, five home runs and nearly as many walks (17) as strikeouts (18).
Best Throw: Patrick Bailey, C, Giants — The Giants made Bailey their first-round pick in 2020 in large part on the strength of his defense, which he honed over three years at North Carolina State and two seasons with the Collegiate National Team. He had a rough 2021 season because of injuries and underperformance, but on Saturday showed the strength of his arm and sharpness of his mechanics with a dart to second base to try to get Pirates prospect Ji-Hwan Bae stealing. Bae was safe, but Bailey’s throw got to second in 1.89 seconds, which was pretty darn impressive.
Best Defensive Play(s): James Outman and Elijah Dunham, OF, Dodgers and Yankees — Bobby Miller spun a 1-2-3 inning in relief of starter Coleman Crow, but his outing could have looked a lot different were it not for the stellar play of the outfield behind him. Leading off the inning, Marlins prospect JJ Bleday lofted a fly ball to shallow left field that Dunham—an NDFA out of Indiana in 2021—scrambled to get under and scoop just before the ball hit the turf. A batter later, Blue Jays prospect Gabriel Moreno turned Miller’s 99 mph heater into a laser to center field. Outman showed quick reactions and got to the spot he needed before laying out for the grab for the second out. Miller finished the inning by getting Red Sox prospect Triston Casas to ground to second. Miller successfully cut through the meat of Mesa’s order, but needed a lot of help from his friends.