Nick Castellanos (Tigers)
Through the first week of the Arizona Fall League, a month-long season reserved for each organization’s highly regarded prospects, there has already been a host of impressive performances.
Many of the Prospect Pipeline’s Top 50 prospects have enjoyed a hot start, such as 1B Jonathan Singleton (Astros), OF George Springer (Astros), OF/3B Nick Castellanos (Tigers) and SS Javier Baez (Cubs).
Over the next month, I’ll be providing weekly Arizona Fall League Updates for both hitters and pitchers as we track the progress and development of these elite prospects.
So, even though no player has logged more than five games thus far, here is a look at some of the hottest hitters through the first week of the AFL.
AFL Stats: .308/.357/.615, 2 3B, 4/1 K/BB (3 G)
After a historic professional debut that featured a successful bump from Class-A Short Season to Double-A and a 1.137 OPS in 44 games, Zunino is poised for a potentially monster fall campaign.
In Saturday’s game, Zunino, 21, was 3-for-5 with two triples—yes, a catcher with a two triples in a game. At this point, no one is questioning his bat. However, his blocking skills are in need of refinement.
AFL Stats: .300/.500/.400, 3 RBI, 1/4 K/BB (4 G)
In his age-20 season, Schoop posted a .710 OPS with 103/50 K/BB in 124 games for Double-A Bowie. He was challenged for most of the season as a younger player in an advanced league, but his improved second half makes me optimistic.
Over his first four AFL games, the right-handed hitter—who actually turns 21 tomorrow—has collected three hits and posted an impressive 1/4 K/BB. He’ll likely begin the 2013 season at Double-A once again, but a strong fall performance gives him the potential to move quickly.
AFL Stats: .389/.389/.833, 4 XBH (2 HR), 6 RBI, 4/0 K/BB (4 G)
The 24-year-old launched 23 home runs in his Double-A debut this year and has carried the power over into the AFL. The left-handed hitter has four extra-base hits in his first four games. A 13th-round draft pick by the Red Sox in 2009, McGuiness has always possessed above-average plate discipline, but needs to make more contact moving forward.
AFL Stats: .400/.438/.467, 3 SB, 3/1 K/BB (4 G)
Liriano, 21, received a midseason promotion to Double-A after posting an .803 OPS with 22 stolen bases in 74 games for High-A Lake Elsinore. He maintained consistent plate discipline following the promotion, though he was clearly challenged overall.
Given the state of the Padres outfield, Liriano isn’t far from reaching the major leagues. An impressive fall campaign will only accelerate his arrival.
AFL Stats: .294/.294/.765, 4 XBH (2 HR), 7 RBI, 6/0 K/BB (4 G)
Emerging as one of the top shortstop prospects in the minors this past season, Baez possesses tremendous bat speed, raw power and a highly aggressive approach. While his ability to attack the baseball is part of what makes him such a special and promising hitter, he drew only 14 walks in 80 games between Low- and High-A this past season.
Even though he’s posted a 6/0 K/BB in his first four games of the fall season, four of the 19-year-old’s five hits have been for extra-bases (two home runs).
AFL Stats: .400/.500/.700, HR, 5 RBI, 5/1 K/BB (3 G)
The Diamondbacks’ supplemental-first-round draft pick in 2009, Davidson was aggressively promoted to Double-A prior to the 2012 season after posting a 147/52 K/BB in 2011 at High-A.
However, the 6’2”, 225-pound corner infielder responded favorably with an .836 OPS (23 HR) and 126/69 K/BB in 135 games. The right-handed hitter continues to improve at the plate and has two multi-hit games in his first three AFL contests.
AFL Stats: .556/.545/.667, 4 RBI, SB (2 G)
The 22-year-old has enjoyed a strong first two games this fall after an underrated full-season debut (.728 OPS, 40 SB) for High-A Lynchburg. The 6’3”, 205-pound shortstop collected five hits and four RBI in his first two games.
AFL Stats: .444/.643/1.111, 3 XBH, 2/4 K/BB (4 G)
After a monster season at High-A Lancaster (.955 OPS, 50 XBH, 28 SB in the hitter-friendly California League), the 23-year-old struggled following a late-season promotion to Double-A. The 2011 first-rounder is a highly athletic and toolsy outfielder who should stick in center field. However, Springer’s plate discipline and approach (158/64 K/BB this past season) leaves something to be desired.
AFL Stats: .350/.435/.800, 7 R, 4 XBH (2 HR), 5/3 K/BB (5 G)
The top first base prospect in the minors, Singleton’s power continues to emerge in a big way. Coming off a breakout, age-20 season at Double-A, the left-handed hitter leads the AFL in total bases (16) after the first week courtesy of four extra-base hits (two home runs). He seems poised for a big fall, but needs to improve his production and consistency against left-handed pitching.
AFL Stats: .444/.500/.722, 3 XBH, 2 SB, 5/2 K/B (4 G)
One of the more impressive players in the first week of the AFL, Castellanos collected eight hits in the first four games as he continues to prove he’s one of the best young hitters in the game. His biggest challenge—not just this fall, but next season as well—will be improving his plate discipline, an area that was problematic for the 20-year-old following a bump to Double-A.