A's top prospect Addison Russell is heating up at the plate.
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.
This year’s crop of talent is especially deep, including 21 players that ranked among our end-of-season top 100 prospects.
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 offer insight the happenings of the AFL.
So, here’s the second installment of the hottest and coldest hitters in this year's the Arizona Fall League.
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
2013 AFL Stats: .429/.385/.964, 10 R, 7 XBH (4 HR), 12 RBI, 2 SB, 7/4 K/BB (7 G)
Bryant has been the main attraction of the Arizona Fall League this year, thanks in part to his prodigious power that’s already resulted in four home runs through his first seven games.
Making stops at three levels after signing with the Cubs, Bryant, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 draft, was one of the top hitters in the minor leagues over the final month of the season at High-A Daytona, batting .333/.387/.719 with five home runs and 14 RBI in 16 games.
And now, the 21-year-old third baseman has picked up this fall where he left off at Daytona. I just hope he has something left in the tank for when I get out there later this month.
Here’s what my colleague Adam Wells, who is on location taking in the AFL, had to say about Bryant (via e-mail):
Bryant's ability to hit and hit for power is incredible. He had a game last week where he hit two home runs, one to straightaway left field and another that was a rocket to right center, almost like he was toying with the pitchers. He also had another ball in that game that went over the fence but was somehow called a double. He generates tremendous power and leverage primarily through his upper body because he starts with such a wide base and takes no stride forward. But because his upper half is so strong, the rotation and extension through the ball are so quick, the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft can crush anything. That is true plus-plus power and a better overall hit tool than I expected.
Tommy La Stella, 2B, Atlanta Braves
2013 AFL Stats: .429/.625/.619, 4 2B, 7 RBI, 0/11 K/BB (7 G)
Tommy La Stella may not offer much in terms of a clean, long-term projection at second base, but make no doubt about it, the 24-year-old knows what he’s doing at the plate. In 241 games over three minor league seasons, La Stella has batted .327/.412/.496 with 57 doubles, 20 home runs and more walks (111) than strikeouts (88). This past season, the left-handed hitter posted a .936 OPS with 29 extra-base hits in 88 games between High-A Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi.
In the AFL, La Stella has recorded at least one hit and walk in all seven games, and he’s yet to strike out through 32 plate appearances.
Jorge Alfaro, C, Texas Rangers
2013 AFL Stats: .423/.414/.538, 8 R, 2 XBH, 6 RBI, 5/1 K/BB (7 G)
One of the more young and intriguing talents participating in this year’s AFL, Alfaro enters the fall fresh off a breakout campaign in which he batted .265/.346/.463 with 24 doubles, 18 home runs and 122 strikeouts in 113 games across three levels. (He played 104 games at Low-A Hickory.)
After a rough start in his first taste of the AFL, the 20-year-old catcher has been on fire as of late. Over his last four games, Alfaro is 9-for-16 with seven runs scored and four RBI. He collected multiple hits in all four contests.
Albert Almora, OF, Chicago Cubs
2013 AFL Stats: .417/.440/.792, 6 R, 6 XBH (4 2B), 8 RBI, 2/1 K/BB (5 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 was 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.
However, after opening the AFL with eight hits (five extra-base hits), six runs and eight RBI in his first three games, Almora has cooled off—at least by his standards. Over his last two games, the outfielder is 2-for-10 and has not scored or plated a run.
Mitch Haniger, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
2013 AFL Stats: .378/.467/.622, 8 R, 5 XBH (2 HR), 12 RBI, 8/7 K/BB (10 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-A and High-A, the 22-year-old jumped the yard only 11 times.
The 22-year-old has been one of the hottest hitters in the early going of the AFL, as he leads the league in hits (14) and is tied with Kris Bryant for the league lead in RBI (14).
Stephen Piscotty, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
2013 AFL Stats: .364/.421/.545, 4 XBH, 5 SB, 7/4 K/BB (9 G)
Drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft out of Stanford, there was concern as to whether Piscotty’s bat would translate favorably as a professional. Well, he certainly answered those questions by batting .295/.355/.464 with 40 extra-base hits (15 home runs), 11 stolen bases and 46/37 K/BB in 112 games between High-A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield.
This fall, Piscotty has continued to swing a hot bat, collecting multiple hits in four of nine games. Over his last six contests, the 22-year-old outfielder is 11-for-22 with three extra-base hits and three stolen bases.
Addison Russell, SS, Oakland Athletics
2013 AFL Stats: .250/.364/.429, 3 XBH (HR), 3 SB, 3/5 K/BB (7 G)
Although Russell’s AFL numbers aren’t in line with some of the other big names on this list, it appears as though he may be turning the corner. On Monday, the 19-year-old shortstop was 2-for-5 with a home run, his first of the season. He’s just now rediscovering his stroke at the plate, but the fact that he’s amassed more walks (five) than strikeouts (three) is impressive.
I reached out to Wells for his thoughts on Russell (via e-mail):
Russell is a superstar waiting to happen and could realistically end up in Oakland before the end of the 2014 season. He's got such an advanced approach at the plate, recognizing and tracking pitches as well as a player four years older than him, not to mention the incredible leverage and bat speed he generates. There is a lot more thump in the bat than I anticipated, which is saying something because I always figured he could hit 20 home runs at his peak. Now, seeing how strong and mature the hit tool is, it wouldn't surprise me to see him turn into a 25-30 homer guy.
Ryan Rua, 3B-2B, Texas Rangers
2013 AFL Stats: .125/.222/.125, 5 R, 9/2 K/BB (6 G)
Selected in the 17th round of the 2011 draft, Rua enjoyed an unexpected breakout campaign this past season, posting an .872 OPS with 32 home runs, 91 RBI and 115 strikeouts in 127 games between Low-A Hickory and Double-A Frisco. So far, the 23-year-old has been overmatched in the AFL—as he was after making the jump from Low- to Double-A—with nine strikeouts in 26 plate appearances.
Stefen Romero, OF, Seattle Mariners
2013 AFL Stats: .138/.219/.138, 4 R, 10/2 K/BB (8 G)
Drafted in the 12th round of the 2010 draft out of Oregon State, Romero quickly raked his way through the Mariners’ impressive system, highlighted by a .991 OPS with 64 extra-base hits and 101 RBI in 116 games between High-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson in 2012.
Therefore, it was surprising when the 25-year-old posted only a .779 OPS with 11 home runs this past season in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. In terms of his performance in the AFL, Romero has collected only three hits over his last six contests while striking out 10 times.
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
2013 AFL Stats: .227/.280/.409, 4 R, 2 XBH (HR), 6/2 K/BB (5 G)
It kills me in include Buxton on the “coldest” list, especially considering he’s a 19-year-old in an advanced league and coming off a full-season debut. Suffice it to say that the game’s No. 1 prospect may be fatigued at this point. The toolsy outfielder hasn’t played in a game since October 16, so hopefully the additional rest will do him some good in the upcoming week.
Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago Cubs
2013 AFL Stats: .229/.229/.314, 5 R, 3 2B, 5 RBI, 9 K (7 G)
Soler is one of the top prospects in this year’s AFL regardless of what his numbers suggest; the 21-year-old suffered a season-ending leg injury (stress fracture to tibia) when he fouled a ball off his left shin in late June, so it was inevitable that he’d show some signs of rust. Though Soler has recorded at least one hit in each of his seven AFL contests, the right-handed hitter has also fanned nine times without coaxing a walk.
Kyle Parker, 1B, Colorado Rockies
2013 AFL Stats: .152/.176/.303, 2 XBH (HR), 12/1 K/BB (8 G)
After posting an .836 OPS with 23 home runs this past season at Double-A Tulsa, Parker was shifted from the outfield to first base for the fall season. The 24-year-old homered in his first AFL game but, since then, he’s struck out multiple times in four of seven games.