Top MLB Prospects Making Waves in the 2016 Arizona Fall League
The Arizona Fall League gives some of baseball's top prospects chances to further hone their skills against some of the best talent minor league baseball has to offer.
We've highlighted the standout performers from among that group of top prospects, which is primarily made up of position players, as most elite pitching prospects generally hit inning caps during their seasons.
From New York Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres to Boston Red Sox right-hander Michael Kopech, here's a look at the top MLB prospects who are making waves in the 2016 Arizona Fall League.
CF Anthony Alford (No. 3 Blue Jays Prospect, No. 86 MLB Prospect)
An elite athlete who played football at Southern Mississippi, Anthony Alford has come a long way since first turning his full attention to the baseball diamond in 2014.
"Alford has the physical frame and the agility, speed, reflexes and baseball acumen to be successful at the major league level. He looks like he can play either sport, but he is totally dedicated to moving forward in professional baseball," wrote Bernie Pleskoff of Today's Knuckleball.
The outfielder shot up prospect rankings with a breakout season in 2015, posting a .298/.398/.421 line that included 36 extra-base hits and 27 stolen bases while splitting the season between Single-A and High-A.
However, he took a step back this season upon returning to High-A Dunedin, hitting .236/.344/.378, and his strikeout rate spiked from 22.4 to 29.2 percent.
The 22-year-old won't see Toronto until 2018 at the earliest, but a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League has his stock once again trending in the right direction.
CF Harrison Bader (No. 3 Cardinals Prospect, No. 82 MLB Prospect)
It's been a smooth transition from standout collegiate outfielder at the University of Florida to budding star in the St. Louis Cardinals organization for Harrison Bader.
A third-round pick in 2015 after he posted a .959 OPS with 17 home runs and 66 RBI during his junior season, Bader hit .311/.368/.523 over 258 plate appearances after signing.
He was aggressively promoted to Double-A to kick off the 2016 season, and he continued to impress with his offensive game, posting a .786 OPS with 19 doubles, 19 home runs and 58 RBI to earn a second-half promotion to Triple-A.
"He’s obviously having a lot of success at the plate. He’s doing well defensively. He’s an interesting player in the sense that he oozes confidence," wrote Derrick Goold for Baseball America in June.
With Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss both set to depart in free agency, Bader could join Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk in the Cardinals outfield early in the 2017 season.
RHP Michael Kopech (No. 5 Red Sox Prospect, No. 67 MLB Prospect)
Few pitchers in the minor league ranks have a fastball that compares to that of Boston Red Sox right-hander Michael Kopech, and he has legitimate front-line potential if the other pieces fall into place.
Here's what Pleskoff had to say after scouting him in the AFL:
Kopech is dominating hitters in this year’s edition of the Arizona Fall League, where he is using a very effective combination of his blazing fastball and a very solid 87 mile-per-hour slider to keep hitters off balance. He has also mixed in a changeup that arrives at the plate at 84 miles per hour. In essence, if he so desired, he can easily go from 97 to 87 miles per hour from pitch to pitch.
The 20-year-old has just 134.2 professional innings under his belt since being taken No. 33 overall in the 2014 draft, as the Red Sox have brought him along slowly to this point.
He continued his emergence as one of the game's top pitching prospects this past season when he posted a 2.08 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 86 strikeouts in 56.1 innings while reaching the High-A level.
The training wheels could start to come off next season, with an eye on Kopech potentially debuting at some point in 2018.
CF Tyler O'Neill (No. 2 Mariners Prospect, No. 59 MLB Prospect)
Outfielder Tyler O'Neill has emerged as the most productive prospect in an otherwise thin Seattle Mariners farm system.
Therron Brockish of Baseball America wrote the following in a recent scouting report:
O'Neill has all the tools to be a solid-average outfielder at the major league level with the ability to hit in the .260-.280 range with doubles and home-run power. At just 21 years old, he still has some learning to do. If there’s an area where he could struggle, it’s at the plate where higher-level pitchers will be able to expose some of the free-swinging and holes in his swing. His success in the AFL should be somewhat of a gauge of his readiness to move forward.
His power potential was on full display in 2015, when he posted an .874 OPS with 21 doubles and 32 home runs in a full season with High-A Bakersfield.
He then took another step forward this past season, logging an .882 OPS with 26 doubles, 24 home runs and 102 RBI in Double-A, and his on-base percentage climbed from .316 to .374, thanks to his walk rate jumping from 6.5 to 10.8 percent.
O'Neill impressed in the AFL last year as well, going 10-for-30 with three doubles and three home runs.
SS Nick Gordon (No. 2 Twins Prospect, No. 47 MLB Prospect)
The son of former MLB closer Tom Gordon, shortstop Nick Gordon was selected with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2014 draft out of high school.
The 21-year-old has moved slowly but surely through the Twins system since being drafted, posting a career-best .721 OPS with 23 doubles, six triples, three home runs and 19 stolen bases with High-A Fort Myers this past season.
Here's the scouting report from MLB.com's Prospect Watch:
He should hit for average, with a line-drive approach from the left side of the plate, and there should be a little extra-base pop as he adds strength. While he's just an average runner, he's an excellent baserunner who has showed some base-stealing ability. That speed gives him just average range, but he has terrific instincts, good hands and a very strong arm, leaving no question he can stay at shortstop long-term.
The shortstop position is a hole at the MLB level for the Twins right now, and all signs point to Gordon eventually being the long-term answer at the position. Expect him to arrive at some point in 2018.
1B/OF Cody Bellinger (No. 1 Dodgers Prospect, No. 31 MLB Prospect)
Cody Bellinger is the new No. 1 prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers system now that shortstop Corey Seager and left-hander Julio Urias have both exhausted their rookie statuses.
The 21-year-old exploded onto the prospect scene in 2015 when he posted an .873 OPS with 33 doubles, 30 home runs and 103 RBI in a full season with High-A Rancho Cucamonga.
He took another step forward this past season, hitting .271/.365/.507 with 17 doubles, 26 home runs and 71 RBI while making significant strides in both his strikeout rate (27.6 to 19.8 percent) and walk rate (9.6 to 12.7 percent).
"Baseball is a game of adjustments. What I did in Rancho, I worked into what I did at Tulsa. I switched up my hands a bit to keep creating a consistent path,” Bellinger told MiLB.com's The Show Before the Show podcast. “Naturally, as I get older, the weight is coming on, and the balls are carrying a little bit further than they used to."
Incumbent first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is signed through the 2018 season, but Bellinger will likely force his way into the MLB picture before that time comes.
With that in mind, he played 34 games in the outfield this past season in an effort to add some versatility.
CF Bradley Zimmer (No. 1 Indians Prospect, No. 25 MLB Prospect)
Bradley Zimmer has been on the fast track to the majors since being taken with the No. 21 overall pick in the 2014 draft out of the University of San Francisco.
With a .372 on-base percentage and 11.6 percent walk rate to this point in his pro career, it's clear he brings an advanced approach to the plate.
While his on-base skills may be his best attribute, he has a chance to develop into a well-rounded MLB starter with gap power, over-the-fence potential, good speed and the defensive skills to stick in center field.
Rajai Davis and Coco Crisp are both headed for free agency, and the health of Michael Brantley is still up in the air, potentially positioning Zimmer for a starting spot in the Cleveland outfield alongside Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall.
"Come spring training, I want to win a job," Zimmer told Bobby DeMuro of Today's Knuckleball. "I am going to go in there with a mindset that a spot is open, and I’m going to take it. I’ll build off what I’m doing here, go into spring training, and hopefully win a job in the big leagues."
RF Eloy Jimenez (No. 2 Cubs Prospect, No. 23 MLB Prospect)
The biggest expenditure from a busy international signing period for the Chicago Cubs in 2013, Eloy Jimenez was signed for a $2.8 million bonus as the No. 1 free agent in his class, according to MLB.com.
His pro career started off relatively slowly, as he tallied just 414 plate appearances in his first two seasons in the organization before turning in a breakout season in 2016.
Playing for Single-A South Bend as a 19-year-old, he hit .329/.369/.532 with 40 doubles, 14 home runs and 81 RBI and turned heads in the MLB All-Star Futures Game.
Cubs vice president of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod gushed about Jimenez when the MiLB season wrapped up, per Sam Dykstra of MiLB.com:
Just the frame. You could see it already, how tall he was, the length to his arms. He just had one of those big, physical body types, but there was also a lot of strength in the swing. And beyond the body, he had a good idea at the plate. He wasn't just trying to lift balls out and hit bombs to left field over and over. There was a presence to the approach that you don't see from kids that age.
Few prospects in the game today have as much upside as Jimenez, and he could give the Cubs yet another impact homegrown bat.
SS Gleyber Torres (No. 2 Yankees Prospect, No. 17 MLB Prospect)
The prized acquisition in the July trade that sent Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs, shortstop Gleyber Torres should rival Clint Frazier and Jorge Mateo for top prospect honors in the New York Yankees farm system.
The 19-year-old broke out in a big way in 2015, hitting .287/.346/.376 with 32 extra-base hits and 22 stolen bases as one of the youngest players in full-season ball.
That was followed by a nice uptick in his power production this past season, when he posted a .775 OPS with 29 doubles, five triples and 11 home runs over 547 at-bats in High-A.
"He's going to be a superstar," fellow Yankees prospect and AFL teammate Tyler Wade told Randy Miller of NJ.com.
The current middle infield of Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius was plenty productive for the Yankees in 2016, but the future tandem of Mateo and Torres gives Yankees fans plenty of reason for excitement.