Byron Buxton hit his first AFL home run on Monday.
If you love prospects, then it doesn’t get any better than the Arizona Fall League.
With six teams comprised of baseball’s top prospects from all 30 organizations, the AFL provides an opportunity to witness the future of the game on one field.
After looking at the hottest and coldest hitters at every minor league level during the regular season, we’ve decided to continue the series into the fall so as to cover the happenings of the AFL.
So, here’s the first installment of the hottest and coldest hitters in this year's the Arizona Fall League.
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
2013 AFL Stats: 5-for-19, 2 XBH (HR), 4 RBI, 5 K (4 G)
It’s a big deal any time time the sport’s No. 1 prospect participates in the AFL. When it’s a 19-year-old coming off the type of full-season debut that Byron Buxton turned in, it’s a huge deal.
Playing in 125 games this past season between Low-A Cedar Rapids and High-A Fort Myers, Buxton batted .334/.424/.520 with 109 runs scored, 49 extra-base hits (19 doubles, 18 triples and 12 home runs), 77 RBI, 55 stolen bases and a 105/.76 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Yeah—the youngster really filled out the stat sheet.
Despite the pressures of being the main attraction in this year’s AFL, Buxton hasn’t disappointed with a hit in all four games. On Monday, he picked up his first fall home run, for which colleague Adam Wells was in attendance. Here’s what he had to say:
And Byron Buxton goes yard around 400 feet to LF. So easy and loose. He might have a future in this game.— Adam Wells (@adamwells1985) October 15, 2013
Mitch Haniger, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
2013 AFL Stats: 10-for-20, 4 XBH (HR), 7 RBI, 4/2 K/BB (5 G)
I thought the Brewers landed a potential steal in Haniger when they popped him with the No. 38 overall pick in the 2012 draft, mostly due to the belief that he had untapped power potential. Though he had a solid season, posting a .779 OPS with 52 extra-base hits in 129 games between Low- and High-A, the 22-year-old jumped the yard only 11 times, which isn’t exactly what one hopes for from a first-round college draft pick.
Suffice it to say, it’s nice to see Haniger showing more power in the early going of the AFL, with a .500 batting average and four extra-base hits (including a grand slam) in his first five games. As a result of his torrid start, Haniger was named the AFL's Co-Player of the Week. His prospect stock stands to rise if he can keep it up.
Stephen Piscotty, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
2013 AFL Stats: 7-for-19, 2B, 3 SB, 6/1 K/BB (5 G)
Piscotty was one of the Cardinals’ first-round picks in 2012 and, based on his first full season in the minors, could turn out to be yet another victory for the organization’s scouting and player development.
While there were questions about the 22-year-old’s offensive ceiling after going through Stanford—a program that’s notorious for making their hitters conform to a specific, contact-oriented offensive philosophy—Piscotty showed consistent pop this past season by batting .295/.355/.464 with 40 extra-base hits (15 home runs) and a 46/37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 112 games between High- and Double-A.
After going 1-for-11 in his first three AFL games, Piscotty has clearly found his stroke at the plate with six hits in his last eight at-bats.
Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres
2013 AFL Stats: 5-for-12, 2 2B, 2 RBI, K (3 G)
Widely regarded as the top defensive catcher in the minor leagues, Hedges posted a .723 OPS with 30 extra-base hits in 86 games between High- and Double-A, but batted only .224 at the latter stop.
After missing time early in the spring with shoulder soreness, Hedges will fill out his season in the AFL. In his first three games, the 21-year-old has impressed on both sides of the ball. According to colleague Adam Wells, Hedges cut down Micah Johnson—the 2013 minor league steals leader—attempting to steal. At the plate, he’s collected a hit in all three games, including doubles in back-to-back contests.
Apparently Micah Johnson doesn't know Austin Hedges, because he got gunned out trying to steal 3rd.— Adam Wells (@adamwells1985) October 15, 2013
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
2013 AFL Stats: 8-for-18, 3 XBH (2 HR), 8 RBI, 2/1 K/BB (4 G)
Bryant, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 draft, played at three levels during his professional debut, including an impressive stint at High-A Daytona in which he posted a 1.106 OPS with five home runs in 16 games.
So far, the 21-year-old slugger’s start to the AFL is right in line with his tremendous finish to the minor league season. Bryant amassed two home runs and eight RBI in Mesa’s first four games, earning him Co-Player of the Week honors along with Haniger.
Taylor Lindsey, 2B, Los Angeles Angels
2013 AFL Stats: 6-for-18, 2 XBH (HR), 6 RBI, 4/1 K (4 G)
Thanks in part to struggles of teammate Kaleb Cowart, there’s a realistic chance that Lindsey will open the 2014 season as the Angels’ top prospect. The 21-year-old impressed with his left-handed bat this season at Double-A, posting career highs in both home runs (17) and walks (48) while playing in 134 games for the second consecutive year.
Like many of the other players on this list, Lindsey has collected at least one hit in all four games to open the AFL, as well as six RBI.
Albert Almora, OF, Chicago Cubs
2013 AFL Stats: 8-for-14, 6 R, 5 XBH (HR), 8 RBI (3 G)
Almora’s full-season debut was delayed after he suffered a broken hamate bone in his hand during spring training that required surgery and kept him sidelined until May 23. Upon his return, though, the 19-year-old served as one of the Midwest League’s top hitters, batting .329/.376/.466 with 24 extra-base hits and a 30/17 strikeout-to-walk rate in 61 games. However, the outfielder’s impressive season came to an abrupt end on August 7 when he was placed on the disabled list with a groin injury.
Almora has been the hitting star in the early going of the AFL, highlighted by a 4-for-5 performance with a home run and three RBI in his first game with Mesa. In general, five of his eight hits through the first three games have been for extra bases, as he’s been driving the ball with authority to all fields.
C.J. Cron, 1B, Los Angeles Angels
2013 AFL Stats: 6-for-18, 5 R, 3 XBH (HR), 4 RBI, 5/3 K/BB (4 G)
After clubbing 27 home runs during his full-season debut at High-A in 2012, Cron took a step back this past season at Double-A. Playing in 134 games, the 23-year-old held his own with a .274 bating average, but saw his home run total drop to 14 while striking out a career-high 83 times. As a first-base-only prospect, let alone a right-handed one, Cron’s bat (more specifically his power) will determine if he reaches the major leagues.
Coming off the disappointing regular season, Cron has been on fire to open the AFL, collecting at least one hit in all four games. And just for good measure, and because he obviously knew I’d be knocking his power, he hit a booming opposite-field home run on Tuesday afternoon.
Its an Angels day, as CJ Cron just BLASTED a HR to RF off the scoreboard About 30 feet past 340 sign.— Adam Wells (@adamwells1985) October 15, 2013
Alen Hanson, SS-2B, Pittsburgh Pirates
2013 AFL Stats: 4-for-18, 3B, 3 SB, 8/1 K/BB (4 G)
Hanson was one of the must-see prospects on everyone’s list this year after he posted a .909 OPS with 62 extra-base hits (16 home runs) and 35 stolen bases during his full-season debut in 2012. But after the switch hitter amassed only nine home runs during the 2013 season, most of Hanson’s strongest backers seemed to dial back the enthusiasm.
Perhaps it was a bit harsh; the 20-year-old still enjoyed a solid overall campaign, posting a .755 OPS with 48 extra-base hits and 30 stolen bases in 127 games between High- and Double-A.
After striking out 96 times during the regular season, Hanson has struggled to control the strike zone in the AFL with eight strikeouts in his first 19 plate appearances.
Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles
2013 AFL Stats: 1-for-17, 4/2 K/BB (4 G)
Though Schoop’s age-21 season was hampered by a stress fracture in his back that resulted in roughly two months on the disabled list, it turned out to be a memorable year for the second baseman. Despite batting .256/.301/.396 in 70 Triple-A games, Schoop’s place on the Orioles’ 40-man roster earned him a September call-up.
Appearing in five games once the club was eliminated from playoff race, he was 4-for-14 with five runs scored in his limited playing time, including a home run in his first big league game.
This fall, however, Schoop hasn’t hit much of anything with one hit in 19 plate appearances. But considering that he’s spent the last several years as a younger player at advanced levels, it shouldn’t be long until he adjusts to the league.
Kyle Parker, 1B, Colorado Rockies
2013 AFL Stats: 2-for-16, HR, 3 RBI, 5 K (4 G)
Prior to the start of the AFL, the Rockies announced that Parker would be shifted from the outfield to first base. Naturally, the move prompted speculation that the organization views him as a potential successor for Todd Helton. And considering that the 24-year-old posted an .836 OPS with 23 home runs in 123 games at Double-A Tulsa during the regular season, it’s difficult to argue that his bat doesn’t fit the mold of a first baseman. Plus, he’s never been regarded as a strong defensive corner outfielder.
After hitting a three-run home run in his first AFL game, Parker’s bat has cooled off, as he’s collected only one hit in his last 13 at-bats.
Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago Cubs
2013 AFL Stats: 5-for-26, 3 2B, 4 RBI, 6 K (5 G)
There was serious excitement about Soler heading into his first full stateside season and, amazingly, the 21-year-old Cuban outfielder surpassed expectations. Opening the season in the pitcher-friendly High-A Florida State League, Soler posted an .810 OPS with 22 extra-base hits and a 38/21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 55 games. Unfortunately, his season ended prematurely in late June when a foul ball off his left leg resulted in a stress fracture in his tibia.
While Soler’s collected exactly one hit all five AFL games, he’s struggled to find his rhythm at the plate. I guess that should be expected from a guy that hasn’t played in a meaningful game in nearly three-and-a-half-months.
Colin Moran, 3B, Miami Marlins
2013 AFL Stats: 3-for-16, 4 RBI, 2/3 K/BB (4 G)
Selected with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Moran had a good-but-not-great professional debut this past summer. Assigned directly to Low-A Greensboro after signing, the 21-year-old batted .299/.354/.442 with 13 extra-base hits in 42 games. While his average and on-base percentage was where they should have been, the third baseman’s lack of power was a bit surprising.
The story this fall has been the same with Moran, who’s mustered only three hits in his first 19 plate appearances.