Image credit: Harry Ford (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
With the Arizona Fall League nearly here, Baseball America is taking a look at the rosters to see which players might scorch the desert over the course of the six-week season. The obvious candidates can be found among the nine members of the Top 100 who dot this year’s rosters.
Another way to unearth talent is by looking at the youngest players assigned to the league. Last year, that group included three players who made their big league debuts in 2023: Yankees outfielder Jasson Dominguez, Cardinals outfielder Jordan Walker, D-backs shortstop Jordan Lawlar.
This year’s youngest Fall Leaguers are led by a Pirates righthander from Europe and also feature a Rangers lefthander who pitched in this year’s World Baseball Classic and a Rays infielder who is one of the game’s brightest prospects.
1. Alessandro Ercolani, RHP, Pirates
The youngest player in the AFL this season will be Ercolani, a righthander from San Marino, a small, landlocked country in the middle of Italy. The 19-year-old Ercolani missed the final month of the season on the injured list but struck out 66 hitters in 65 innings with Low-A Bradenton before landing on the shelf. Ercolani works primarily with a 93-95 mph fastball, a low-80s slider and a mid-80s cutter. He will drop in the occasional curveball and changeup as well.
2. Hendry Mendez, OF, Brewers
Mendez was part of an uber young group of Milwaukee prospects in Low-A last season, when he showed a strong command of the strike zone for someone so young. He was limited by leg injuries to just 66 games, mostly at High-A Wisconsin, where he put up modest numbers but still retained his plate discipline and bat-to-ball ability.
3. Mitchell Bratt, LHP, Rangers
Bratt got on the big stage early when he was part of Canada’s squad in the World Baseball Classic. He was on the injured list from mid July until Sept. 1 with a lat injury. When healthy, he shows an intriguing fastball in the low 90s that heads a four-pitch complement. There’s projection that needs to happen, but scouts like Bratt’s feel to pitch and move his arsenal around the zone.
4. Carson Williams, SS, Rays
Williams is not only one of the youngest prospects in the AFL, he’s one of the best. The young shortstop is one of the best infield defenders in the minors and he has plenty of power in his bat as well, albeit with some swing and miss to his game. Tampa Bay’s system has plenty of talent, and Williams is near the top thanks to his potential to impact the game on both sides of the ball.
5. Adrian Placencia, 2B/SS, Angels
The 20-year-old switch-hitter signed with Los Angeles in 2019 and then had his pro debut delayed by the pandemic. He has not hit particularly well at any stop in his career but made it to the upper levels this season for the first time. The Angels believe the root of his problems lies in an overanxious approach that leads to him getting himself out on pitchers’ pitches. He’s a solid defender up the middle who got most of his time at second base.
6. Jeremy Rivas, SS, Cardinals
St. Louis signed Rivas in 2019 out of Venezuela but had to wait until 2021 to see his official pro debut after the pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season. The 20-year-old Rivas has not shown much punch at the plate—his OPS this season was just .570—but he does a decent job of making contact.
7. Harry Ford, C, Mariners
Ford was among the most patient hitters in the minor leagues this season, drawing 103 walks, third in the minors behind only Jett Williams and Justyn-Henry Malloy. The athletic catching prospect has had an inconsistent year, with scouts both internally and externally noting that polish needed to be applied to his receiving, blocking and approach at the plate. He’ll work on all those aspects in the AFL, where he’ll likely have one of the higher floors among the league’s younger prospects.
8. Cam Cauley, SS, Rangers
Cauley will flash loud tools over the course of a season, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to make them come out consistently. He’s spent this season working on adjusting his bat path to keep the barrel in the zone longer while also focusing on making better swing decisions overall. He’s also become more consistent while making the routine plays as well as the highlight-reel plays at shortstop. Cauley is a twitchy athlete with makeup the Rangers believe will help him get to his high ceiling.
9. Hao-Yu Lee, 2B, Tigers
Lee was dealt to the Tigers as the return that sent Michael Lorenzen to the Phillies. The 20-year-old missed roughly a month with a knee injury suffered when he collided with a teammate while still a part of the Phillies’ organization. He has the potential to be an offensive-minded second baseman with more hittability than power and fringe defense up the middle.
10. James Triantos, 2B, Cubs
Triantos tore his meniscus in spring training and didn’t debut until May 9 with High-A. He was noticeably leaner this season, especially in his lower half, and had an excellent season. He makes a ton of contact but doesn’t show much in the way of power, though evaluators believe he might tick up in that department as he gets a better handle on the pitches he can drive rather than simply making contact. The 2021 second-rounder could wind up as a second baseman who provides most of his value at the plate.