Image credit: Tink Hence (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)
The Arizona Fall League is notorious for strong positional talent and underwhelming pitching talent. Staffs are often comprised of relievers, pitchers working their way back off of injury or pitchers looking to make up innings. It’s not typically a star-studded group bursting at the seams with future rotation stalwarts.
While there are exceptions every season, the AFL is a great place to catch some under-the-radar high-octane arms. This season alone there are 16 pitchers that averaged 95-plus mph during the 2022 season spread across the six Fall League rosters. If you move the threshold down to a 94 mph average, 30 pitchers on Fall League rosters qualify. That doesn’t include the Rangers’ Kumar Rocker, who’s slated to start for Surprise early this week.
The good stuff in the AFL is not exclusive to fastballs. There’s a variety of good breaking balls, with velocity, movement and spin thrown by AFL pitchers. There are over 20 pitchers that threw their slider at 85 mph or harder on average in 2022 on a Fall League roster, as well as over 30 breaking balls with an average raw spin rate of 2,600 rpm or above thrown by AFL pitchers.
Needless to say there’s no lack of stuff. Below are a baker’s dozen of pitchers in the AFL sure to catch the eye of spectators.
Tink Hence, RHP, Cardinals—Salt River
The highest rated pitcher in the Fall League, Hence was one of the stars of the minor league season. Limited to typically three to four innings per start during the season with Palm Beach, Hence showcased some of the most eye-popping stuff in the lower minors. His four-seam fastball sits 95-96 mph from a low release height that makes it difficult for hitters to get their barrel on plane against the pitch. Hence mixes a trio of secondaries off of his fastball, throwing a slider, curveball and changeup.
Mason Miller, RHP, Athletics—Mesa
While his work was limited in 2022, I’m not sure any pitcher in the Fall League can match the pure power of Miller. Armed with a two-pitch arsenal, Miller’s four-seam fastball sits in the upper 90s with plus spin rates. He pairs that with a high-80s slider with high spin rates and heavy horizontal break. Miller’s innings for Mesa have definite must-watch potential.
Emmet Sheehan, RHP, Dodgers—Glendale
A 2021 draftee out of Boston College, Sheehan possesses unique characteristics on his fastball. The righthander’s four-seam fastball sits 94-96 mph with ride and late run from a low release point. His combination of power, movement and unique release traits drive success off of his primary pitch. Sheehan mixes a slider, curveball and changeup off of his fastball. He’s a pitching prospect with starter traits and enough stuff to work as a reliever.
Jorge Mercedes, RHP, Marlins—Mesa
After an injury-riddled start to his professional career, Mercedes made his debut this season, rising three levels to Double-A. Armed with a high-octane pitch mix, Mercedes throws one of the best four-seam fastballs in the AFL. His fastball sits 96-97 mph with high spin rates, heavy ride and a flat angle on the pitch’s plane of approach to the plate. He pairs his four-seam with a low-80s curveball with slurvy shape.
Logan Henderson, RHP, Brewers—Glendale
The second youngest pitcher on a Fall League roster behind Hence, Henderson was taken out of McLennan (Texas) JC in the fourth round of the 2021 draft. While Henderson doesn’t throw particularly hard, averaging 91-93 mph, his fastball posseses heavy ride and release traits that make it difficult for hitters to pick up. He pairs his four-seam fastball with a curveball and a changeup that generated whiffs during his work in 2022.
Bryan Woo, RHP, Mariners—Peoria
A standout starter in the Mariners system this season, Woo was a sixth-rounder out of Cal Poly in 2021 and impressed in 2022 with a strong three-pitch mix. His fastball is the standout of his arsenal, sitting 94-95 mph with a flat angle as the pitch approaches the plate. A good mover on the mound with a prototypical pitcher’s build, Woo has the ability to hold his fastball velocity deep into his appearances.
Christian Chamberlain, LHP, Royals—Surprise
No pitcher in the Fall League is as unique from a release and movement standpoint as Chamberlain. Unfortunately, Chamberlain’s stuff has not translated to results. His four-seam fastball sits 94-95 mph with ride from a unique release slot and height. He pairs his fastball with a curveball with heavy depth and a changeup. If Chamberlain can command his stuff well enough to limit runs for the first time as a professional, it will go a long way toward building momentum for next season.
Sandy Gaston, RHP, Rays—Mesa
Once a highly touted international signee, Gaston has flashed loud stuff but has struggled to command his powerful arsenal. Gaston sits 95-97 mph on his fastball with heavy ride and a tough angle and pairs it with a slider that gets heavy horizontal break. His ability to generate plus movement at 82-84 mph allows his slider to generate heavy whiffs. Gaston has the ability to light up the radar gun and snap off jaw-dropping sliders.
Carson Whisenhunt, LHP, Giants—Scottsdale
Whisenhunt missed all of the 2022 collegiate season with a PED suspension. He resurfaced in the Cape Cod League, making five starts for Chatham prior to the draft. He was selected in the second round by the Giants and made four appearances after the draft split between the Arizona Complex League and Low-A San Jose. Whisenhunt will sit 91-94 mph from the left side with heavy ride on his fastball, but it’s his knee-buckling changeup that will make Whisenhunt a must-watch.
Connor Van Scoyoc, RHP, Angels—Mesa
A 6-foot-6 righthander, Van Scoyoc made 22 starts for Low-A Inland Empire in 2022, striking out 130 batters over 120 innings. His fastball sits 91-93 mph with heavy cut from a high slot, but it’s his curveball that makes him worthy of note. His two-plane hammer sits 77-80 mph with, on average, 3,000 rpm of spin, an elite number, and heavy horizontal break and depth. While Van Scoyoc won’t light up the radar gun, he’s likely to snap off some knee-buckling benders.
Zac Leigh, RHP, Cubs—Mesa
A 2021 16th-round pick out of Texas State, Leigh has a powerful arsenal with serious movement. His four-seam fastball sits 94-95 mph with high spin and riding cut from a flat plane. As if a fastball of that quality wasn’t enough, he pairs his heater with a high-spin slider with raw spin rates in the 2900-3000 rpm range and over a foot and a half of horizontal break. It’s a fearsome two-pitch mix that terrorized batters out of the bullpen this season.
Blair Calvo, RHP, Rockies—Salt River
Not only does Calvo have two different fastball variations that sit 94-96 mph, he tosses one of the hardest breaking balls in the Fall League. Calvo throws one of the hardest sweepers in baseball at 87-88 mph with nearly a foot of horizontal break and raw spin rates in the elite 2,800-2,900 rpm range. A reliever for Double-A Hartford this season, Calvo should provide high-powered innings for the Rafters.
Franklin Sanchez, RHP, Mets—Peoria
One of the younger pitchers on a Fall League roster, Sanchez is a raw but tantalizing talent. His four-seam fastball sits 95-97 mph, touching triple-digits. He pairs it with a slider that sits 89-92 mph with a cutter-like shape. Sanchez is as talented as any pitcher in the Fall League this season, but he’s often inconsistent with his mechanics, which leads to struggles with his command and fastball shape. If the talented righthander can take a step forward this fall, he could be a name with major helium entering the winter.