The 12 Youngest Players On 2021 Arizona Fall League Rosters
After a year off because of the pandemic, the Arizona Fall League is back in full swing for 2021. Each big league team will send a handful of its prospects to the desert for an extra six weeks of games.
In recent years, the league has featured some of the game’s best young prospects. In 2019, 18-year-old Julio Rodriguez and 19-year-old Jarred Kelenic took center stage. A year earlier, a 19-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr. showed off his precocious talent. In 2018, Braves superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. ran roughshod over the competition.
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And a decade ago, the league paired two of the greatest current players, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, together in the same outfield for the Scottsdale Scorpions.
This year’s group is no exception, with 13 members of Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects, including top Tigers prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, Padres shortstop C.J. Abrams and Blue Jays catcher Gabriel Moreno, who rank No. 4, No. 5, No. 6 and No. 8, respectively.
The AFL also features a host of very young prospects who could push their way onto the list or reinforce their standing with a strong showing over the course of the fall. Here, now, is a list of the 12 youngest players in the league this year.
Marco Luciano, SS, Giants
The Giants’ unquestioned top prospect, Luciano annihilated baseballs for the early portion of the Low-A West before moving to High-A Eugene. Though he helped the Emeralds win a championship, Luciano struggled with his approach upon arriving in the league. Even so, his prodigious raw power and immense hand speed should help provide an offensive show that will tantalize onlookers in Arizona. He might outgrow shortstop one day, but his power would fit at third base or either outfield corner.
Jolon Zhao, RHP, Brewers
Signed for $50,000 in 2018, Zhao has pitched sparingly in his pro career. He split time between the Rookie-level Arizona and Pioneer leagues in 2018, then missed the next two seasons because of injuries and the pandemic before re-emerging this season in the Arizona Complex League. He was not activated this year until Aug. 24, then struck out 13 in 8.1 innings. He’s a Tommy John survivor who’s come back with a feel for spin for his high-70s curveball 78-79. He backs it with a low-90s fastball and a mid-80s changeup.
Ezequiel Tovar, SS, Rockies
Tovar was part of a talented trio of shortstops who spent the majority of the year in the Low-A West before moving up to the High-A West, where the pitching was much more advanced. He still stuck out at his new level and made enough of an impression to earn a spot among the league’s Top 10 prospects. He has a strong chance to stick at shortstop, and his bat might give him some value at the plate as well.
Leonardo Jimenez, 2B, Blue Jays
In a short sample, Jimenez proved extraordinarily adept at getting on base. The 20-year-old produced a staggering .523 on-base percentage over 262 plate appearances at Low-A Dunedin. His walk-to-strikeout rate of 1.50 was the best of any minor league with 250 or more PAs. In the Fall League, he’ll test his plate discipline against what should be an advanced slate of arms from a variety of levels and pedigrees.
Jose Rodriguez, SS, White Sox
The White Sox system was down this year, but Rodriguez’s season was among the most encouraging. The 20-year-old produced at both levels of Class A and even earned a four-game promotion to Double-A at season’s end. His 72 strikeouts were the 12th fewest among all minor leaguers with 450 or more plate appearances. He shows flashes of brilliance on defense but needs much more consistency to have a better shot of sticking at shortstop.
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Jose Tena, SS, Indians
The Indians’ best prospects all tend to skew young, and Tena is no exception. His 16 home runs were tied for ninth in the High-A Central, where he opened the year as the third-youngest player (and third-youngest on his own team). The longball total also tied him for the team lead with outfielder George Valera, who was promoted to Double-A Akron late in the season. Tena was one of just 10 minor leaguers 20 or younger with 25 or more doubles, 15 or more homers and 10 or more stolen bases.
Wilmer Flores, RHP, Tigers
Flores signed with the Tigers in 2020 and was excellent in his professional debut, which he split between the Rookie-level Florida Complex League and Low-A Dunedin. Between the levels he struck out 90 in 66 innings while allowing 62 hits and 24 walks. His strikeout total was 11th best in Detroit’s system. His mid-90s fastball peaked around 97, and he backed the pitch primarily with a high-80s cutter and a low-80s curveball. He got a 16.7% swinging-strike rate.
Coleman Crow, RHP, Angels
Crow was the Angels’ 28th-round pick in 2019 out of high school in Zebulon, Ga. He did not pitch in his draft year, then missed out on development time in 2020 when the minor league season was canceled because of the pandemic. In his pro debut, at Low-A Inland Empire, Crow whiffed 62 in 62.1 innings but walked 29 as well. He pitches with a full four-pitch complement, including a low-90s FB and a pair of breaking balls with extremely high spin rates and a split-fingered fastball that functions as a changeup.
Curtis Mead, 3B, Rays
Mead came over from the Phillies in a small deal that sent lefty Cristopher Sanchez to Philadelphia and has spent all of 2021 looking like a coup for the Rays’ scouting and analytics departments. Quite simply, the man mashed this year. The 20-year-old, who hadn’t played a game of full-season ball before the year, finished with a slash line of .321/.378/.533 with 38 doubles and 15 homers. He was one of just six players 20 years old or younger with 450 or more plate appearances to produce an OPS of better than .900. His 38 doubles were the most in the minor leagues. Oh, and because he was part of the wildly successful Rays system, Mead earned three championship rings for his contributions at Low-A, High-A and Triple-A.
Luis Curvelo, RHP, Mariners
Curvelo is a ball of clay waiting to be molded. He’s already got a mid-90s fastball which has touched 97, a velo increase attributed to the addition of 30 pounds of good weight over the past couple of seasons. He’s coming to the AFL to work on the shape of his slider as well as a new grip on his changeup. He finished the year with 80 strikeouts in 55.1 innings at Low-A Modesto.
CJ Abrams, SS, Padres
At the beginning of the year, Baseball America placed on the cover of its minor league preview issue three 20-year-old potential prodigies: The Royals’ Bobby Witt Jr., the Tigers’ Riley Greene and Abrams. Witt had a season for the ages, Greene’s year wasn’t far behind, and Abrams looked to be off to a similar start before a nasty leg injury cut short his season. He opened the year as the youngest player in the Double-A Central (just slightly younger than Witt) and had shown hittability and speed before the injury. In the AFL, he’ll simply look to make up for lost time while also demonstrating that his injury hasn’t cost him any of his signature burst on the basepaths.
Riley Greene, OF, Tigers
Looking back, it’s hard to believe this was Greene’s first official full season as a pro. After reaching Low-A in his draft year, then spending time at the Tigers’ alternate training site in 2020, the Florida high school product annihilated the upper levels. Combined between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo, Greene posted a .901 OPS which included 57 extra-base hits. His 147 hits and 257 total bases ranked fourth and sixth in the minors, respectively. Quite simply, the Tigers could have a potential superstar on their hands.