While the 2012 postseason has been captivating, more of my attention will be dedicated to the Arizona Fall League over the next month. With games beginning on Tuesday, the league is rich with many of the top prospects in game, many of which recently placed in Prospect Pipeline’s End-of-Season Top 50 Prospects.
Having to pick from an endless crop of players, I though that I’d identify 10 specific players who I believe can raise their already very high ceiling with a strong fall.
Playing in full-season action for the first time, Baez enjoyed a tremendous start at Low-A Peoria, where he batted .333/.383/.596 with 27 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases in 57 games. His performance warranted a promotion to High-A Dayton, where success wasn’t immediate.
The 19-year-old’s plate discipline was challenged for the first time as a professional, as he finished the season batting .188/.244/.400 with eight extra-base hits and 21/5 K/BB in 23 games.
Baez will benefit from the additional time, as he began his season late—the Cubs held him in extended spring training for the first quarter of the season.
Even though he finished at Double-A, Rendon played in only 43 games this season after fracturing his ankle in the second game of year. The injury was his third major ankle injury in as many years.
The right-handed hitter will head to the AFL to make up for lost time this season. Despite his lack of experience, Rendon still ranks as one of the best pure hitters in the minor leagues. Already on the 40-man roster, a strong performance this fall could make him a candidate for a roster spot next spring.
After stealing 155 bases and posting a .410 on-base percentage this past season, Hamilton is headed to the AFL to gain experience at a new position: center field. It was only a matter of time until the Reds shifted the fastest man in baseball off shortstop, where his defense was average at best. Center field is a logical fit given his superhuman speed and below-average arm strength and, if he adapts quickly, could have him in the major leagues next season.
Castellanos was one of the top hitters in the minor leagues this season, highlighted by a .405 batting average in 55 at High-A Lakeland. The 20-year-old was promoted to Double-A, where, although he performed well as a younger player in an advanced league, he had his plate discipline challenged (76/14 K/BB).
I’m curious to see whether he plays more third base or right field this fall; if he plays more right field, then he could be a part of the Tigers’ 2013 outlook.
The recipient of a seven-year, $42 million contract in June, Puig proved to be more advanced than expected, spending 14 games at High-A Rancho Cucamonga to finish the year. Between two levels—he began his stateside debut playing for the Dodgers’ rookie-level affiliate in the Arizona League—Puig batted .354/.442/.634 with 10 home runs, eight stolen bases, 15 RBI and 15/12 K/BB in 23 games.
The AFL will offer the first real look at Puig, who will be playing among other top prospects in a constant environment.
Perhaps the prospect I’m most excited to follow, Zunino will enter the AFL after a historic ascent through the minor leagues this season. The No. 3 overall selection this past June, the Florida alumnus batted .360/447/689 with 13 home runs, 43 RBI and 33/23 K/BB in 44 games—15 of which at Double-A after the Mariners bumped him three levels.
There’s no reason to think the 21-year-old won’t continue to rake, which would appropriately conclude his outstanding professional debut.
One of the most improved prospects in the minor leagues this season, a strong fall performance could accelerate his estimated arrival in Anaheim. The switch hitter batted. 276/.358/.452 with 54 extra-base hits, 103 RBI and 111/67 K/BB in 135 games between Low-A and High-A.
His defense vastly improved as well, as he’s always possessed a mid-90s arm that made him a highly regarded pitching prospect out of high school.
After posting a 147/52 K/BB at High-A in 2011, the Diamondbacks handed Davidson an aggressive promotion to Double-A this past season. The 21-year-old responded favorably, demonstrating an improved plate discipline and approach and batting .261/.367/.469 with 23 home runs and 126/69 K/BB. He still has room to improve and could be in store for a huge Arizona Fall League campaign.
While Marisnick had a down year, at least statistically, it’s important to remember that he played at two entirely new levels in High-A and Double-A. The 21-year-old batted .249/.321/.399 with 47 extra-base his and 24 stolen bases. His plate discipline suffered as the result of advanced competition (100/37 K/BB), so it’ll be interesting to observe this approach and progress this fall.
Another highly promising shortstop in the Rangers organization, Sardinas is a 19-year-old switch-hitting shortstop like the heralded Jurickson Profar. He makes hard, consistent contact with advanced plate discipline given his age, as well as the defensive tools to remain at shortstop.
A strong AFL can only increase his trade value headed into the offseason.