Systems We'd Most Like To See In Expanded Arizona, Florida Fall League
Under normal circumstances, we’d be nearing the month mark of the minor league season. Some of the best talents in the game—Luis Robert, specifically—might have already graduated from the world of prospects. Perhaps we also would have begun to see the 2020 versions of Tarik Skubal and Joe Ryan begin to show themselves to the world as well.
These are not normal circumstances.
The major and minor league seasons have been delayed by the outbreak of coronavirus, so we’re left to ponder what baseball might look like once the curve is thoroughly flattened. With that in mind, JJ Cooper came up with the idea of a souped-up, expanded version of the Arizona Fall League (as well as a corresponding Florida Fall League) that pits one system’s prospects against others.
Today, we’ve tried to identify the systems that are balanced enough to be competitive under this format. Some systems are hitter-heavy. Others are pitcher-heavy. Still others, like the ones below, are balanced enough to field a decently competitive team.
If this idea comes to pass (yes, please), these are the systems we believe would have the best chances of putting together excellent records.
Given that the Rays are our top-ranked organization, it should come as no surprise that they could field a fantastic group of players for the hypothetical Florida Fall League. Wander Franco and Xavier Edwards would be appointment-viewing up the middle, and the starting rotation of Honeywell, Baz, Ryan, Goss and Johnson would be among the most imposing in the minor leagues. Playing Brujan in center is a little more of a stretch, but it was something we wouldn’t have been surprised to see to increase his versatility if there was a full MiLB season.
As is the case with many organizations, finding a first baseman wasn’t particularly easy. First basemen oftentimes come from players who moved over from other positions rather than players who came up at the position. We went with Guenther, the Rays’ seventh-rounder last year out of Texas Christian, who posted an .853 OPS in the Appalachian League.
The starting pitching here is absolutely elite. Gore and Patiño make up an incredible one-two punch at the top, and Morejon, Baez and Weathers will provide plenty of highlights as well. Seeing if Abrams can repeat his magical debut in a different setting will be an intriguing storyline as well, and Campusano will have a chance to further cement himself as one of the game’s best catching prospects.
Just like the Rays, finding a true first baseman was difficult. We went with Suarez, the team’s 38th-round selection in 2018 who hit for average but little power in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2019. Overall, the position player side of the system lacks the same kind of star power as some of the other systems out there.
Whenever you start with Kelenic and Rodriguez, you’re going to have a good time. If this idea were to come to fruition, the Mariners would be a must-see group. Beyond the twin towers at the top, the Mariners also bring shortstop prodigy Noelvi Marte and a host of interesting arms, led by Logan Gilbert and George Kirby, to the table.
With Evan White off limits because of his big league contract, first base is especially thin. Marmolejos is the only other player listed on the team’s depth chart. Other than that, there aren’t many holes here.
After trading away Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna (and more), and drafting in the top half of the first round every year since 2011, your system should look pretty good. Mission accomplished. Diaz, Chisholm and Devers were all acquired via trade, as was Sanchez.
It is really difficult to find a weakness among this group. None of the players on the hypothetical roster ranks outside of the first 20 of the team’s Top 30 Prospects. Moreover, it excludes several worthy prospects, like outfielders Kameron Misner, Jerar Encarnacion and Peyton Burdick, and pitching prospects Jorge Guzman and Jordan Holloway.
C — Joey Morgan
1B — Reynaldo Rivera
2B — Willi Castro
SS — Sergio Alcantara
3B — Isaac Paredes
OF — Riley Greene
OF — Parker Meadows
OF — Daz Cameron
P — Casey Mize
P — Matt Manning
P — Tarik Skubal
P — Alex Faedo
P — Beau Burrows
Abandon hope, all ye who enter the batter’s box. Even if you avoid Manning and Mize by praying for cloudy skies, you still have to deal with Skubal, Faedo and Burrows. If this pipe dream became reality, it would be easy to imagine an interleague championship game that pitted the Royals’ pitching staff against the Tigers’.
SP—Jasseel De La Cruz
The outfield duo of Pache and Waters is neck and neck with Seattle’s Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez as the best in the minor leagues. Pache and Waters offer more proximity to the big leagues, certainly, but their relative upsides make for a fun discussion. Beyond the outfield, this lineup would provide a chance to see what guys like Bryce Ball and Shea Langeliers could do in their first full seasons as pros (and with much more rest than expected this offseason). We excluded Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright from the mix because we expect them to figure into the big league team’s plans enough to possibly graduate from the world of prospects.
The Braves’ infield isn’t particularly deep. None of the four players on this projection is a Top 10 Prospect, and one, Alexander, didn’t make the team’s Top 30, either. The starting pitching group is not as eye-popping as it could be with the inclusion of Wright or Wilson, but it’s still plenty good.
This is one of the more balanced systems in the minors. It boasts plenty of prospect power from the position players, with Lewis, Kirillloff, Larnach and Jeffers forming a potentially nasty foursome in the lineup. They’re backed up by a strong rotation with righties Balazovic and Duran who can overpower hitters.
Cavaco was overmatched in his pro debut, so putting him through the potential gauntlet of a prospects-only league could prove particularly challenging.
C — M.J. Melendez
1B — Nick Pratto
2B — Jeison Guzman
SS — Bobby Witt Jr.
3B — Brady McConnell
OF — Kyle Isbel
OF — Khalil Lee
OF — Erick Pena
P — Daniel Lynch
P — Jackson Kowar
P — Brady Singer
P — Kris Bubic
P — Austin Cox
The Royals made a concerted effort to go after high-end college pitching, and it’s worked. Lynch, Kowar, Singer, Bubic and Cox would have the potential to bum-rush the AFL in this format and should open a stream of arm talent to Kansas City in short order.
Pratto and Melendez scuffled badly at high Class A Wilmington and are in need of a serious bounceback, while Peña would be getting his first extended pro experience against a melange of pitching with varying degrees of experience.
The Giants’ system is sneaky good. It features high-end prospects at upper levels (Bart, Ramos, Hjelle) and bottom (Luciano, Bishop, Canario) and a good mix of ceiling and floor as well. In an AFL/FFL format, this group might be undone by its youth, but it’s excellent in terms of pure prospect talent.
The starting rotation doesn’t compare to the elite teams on this list, but it does have five pitchers who could make starts in the big leagues.
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This is one of the more drool-worthy systems in the minors. Carroll, Robinson and Thomas alone would provide endless excitement. Perdomo and Varsho are excellent prospects, too, and the team could go much deeper than the starting five listed here, which excludes excellent arms like Tommy Henry, Drey Jameson, Matt Tabor, Josh Green and Jon Duplantier.
It’s really hard to see a potential weakness here from a prospect perspective. The team’s youth might get exposed somewhat in a setting like this, but Arizona has an extremely strong farm system.
SP—Simeon Woods Richardson
Toronto’s potential pitching staff is excellent. Each of the team’s potential starting five can be found in the top half of the system’s Top 30 Prospects, and Woods Richardson checks in at No. 61 on the Top 100. The group would get even better with the addition of potential ace Nate Pearson, but he’s more likely to be in the big leagues. The return of Jordan Groshans and the growth of Alejandro Kirk should provide plenty of fascination as well.
The position group on the whole is a little thin. Groshans, Martinez and Kirk are intriguing, but the roster drops off pretty quickly from there.