This year's Arizona Fall League rosters contain a lot of the top talent in minor league baseball. The fall league isn’t always a platform for promotion straight to the big leagues like Triple-A.
Instead, the AFL is a place for prospects to showcase their skills against some of the top talent and bolster their chance at spring training significance. For many, it is an opportunity to play stronger competition than they may have faced throughout the year.
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The Structure of the AFL
The structure of the AFL is by far the most appealing aspect of the league. Every organization sends six of their top prospects to the Arizona Fall League, 180 players in all. The organizations can opt to send a single Class A player to the AFL where the rest of their selections must consist of Double-A and Triple-A players. These players are placed onto teams via a position draft that is held in August. This selection process ensures that the best of the best will play each other, and the eyes of every franchise are eager to scout these games.
For some players, the AFL offers more significance. Those like Austin Voth may have had a dominant year and deserved a chance at the next level, but limiting factors denied him the opportunity. Players like Voth can log extra innings of higher tier play as an opportunity to bolster their organizational standing.
The AFL is a spectacle to watch. This series is an attempt to rank the organized teams and their talent pool to allow for quicker analysis and enjoyment of the games this summer.
In this article, we will break down the highest rated team, the Glendale Desert Dogs.
- Glendale Desert Dogs
- Mesa Solar Sox
- Surprise Saguaros
- Peoria Javelinas
- Salt River Rafters
- Scottsdale Scorpions
Glendale Desert Dogs
The Glendale Desert Dogs have an immense and balanced amount of talent on their roster. They currently have fourteen players inside my top 350 and nearly their entire roster falls within my top 500 prospects.
What sticks out as the key advantage for the Desert Dogs is the available depth within their rotation. The Desert Dogs are the only team in the league that I see a big league future out of every starting pitcher. Austin Voth and Matt Cooper don’t have the nasty pitches Francis Martes can generate, but they still can get more than their share of batters out.
Other teams have more depth in regarding batting, but the Desert Dogs have more than enough talent in the field to score runs. The roster consists of a power hitting lineup that should make watching these games that much more exciting.
Five Players To Watch
2B – Willie Calhoun – Los Angeles Dodgers
Willie Calhoun is one of the most electric players in the minor leagues. At the age of 21, he has hit 27 home runs in Double-A and only struck out 18 more times than he walked. In no way is Calhoun the ideal prospect as there are major flaws in his approach.
Nonetheless, Calhoun has been able to thrive with alarming bat speed and a beautiful swing. As he matures, he will be one of the most dynamic batting prospects in all of baseball. Calhoun currently sits as my 29th overall prospect.
SP – Francis Martes – Houston Astros
The Houston Astros acquired Francis Martes in the 2014 trade that sent Jarred Cosart, Kiki Hernandez, and Austin Wates to the Marlins in exchange for Colin Moran, Jake Marisnick, Martes, and the draft rights to Daz Cameron.
Since joining the Astros, Martes has improved. He has a fastball that he can locate in the mid 90’s and a very dangerous curveball. Martes uses his pacing to offset batters in combination with his nasty stuff. When you watch Martes pitch, he has a certain swagger to him, and his dominant results only escalate that vibe.
Martes looks like he could have a shot at getting into the big league rotation at some point in 2017. A dominate AFL and spring training may even force the Astros to start him early in the year. He has ace caliber stuff but likely will reside as a a mid-rotation guy. Martes is good enough to rank as my 31st out of the top 250 prospects.
Harrison Bader has struggled in Triple-A this season, yet he is talented enough to rank as my 49th overall prospect. I am higher than most on Bader. He is hitting only .231 with three home runs in 147 at-bats in the PCL after hitting .294 and 14 home runs in Double-A in 2016.
Bader is a talented all-around athlete. He is above average in all five categories with the potential for his hit tool to rank the highest. He can stick in center for most organizations, but I see the Cardinals utilizing his defensive capabilities in a corner spot long term as they prioritize defense over offense. Bader has the most to prove, in my eyes, of any AFL player. His struggles in Triple-A are alarming for someone who profiles out to be someone who handles adjustment incredibly well.
1B - Cody Bellinger – Los Angeles Dodgers
Cody Bellinger is coming off a monster year hitting .266 with 23 home runs. He racked up 93 strikeouts and 49 walks over the course of his 395 at bats putting his K% at 23.5% and his K/BB at 1.89. Both of those numbers need to see improvement. Bellinger looks like he has monster potential and could be an All-Star at the next level. He currently sits as my 56th overall prospect.
Though there are many fundamental differences between the two, Bellinger’s year at Double-A ended nearly identical to that of Anthony Rizzo at the same level. Rizzo hit .263 with 20 home runs, 100 strikeouts, and 45 walks in his 414 at bats during his 2010 Double-A season.
SP – David Paulino – Houston Astros
Similar to Martes, the Astros acquired David Paulino in a trade for a pitcher that is no longer relevant in professional baseball. He came over as the unknown player in the trade for Jose Veras along with Danry Vasquez. Paulino has taken unusual steps forward since coming to the Astros and looks like a lock to make a big league rotation sooner rather than later.
Paulino is a monster of a man at a towering 6’7” 215 pounds. He utilizes every ounce of his frame to create a smooth delivery able to hit the high 90s. One of my favorite things about Paulino is his low stress motion and how he utilizes his long legs to generate momentum with a high release point. When you watch the film, his delivery is incredibly effortless for the velocity it produces.
Paulino controls three pitches that I think are major league caliber with the changeup being a much-improved offering. Many scouts are still riding the below average grade on the pitch, but when I watch it, I don’t see any reason it would be an ineffective pitch at the next level. He doesn’t scream ace, but he looks like a more than capable MLB starter long term.
Nine More to Watch
Alex Verdugo – OF –, Los Angeles Dodgers
Zack Collins – C – Chicago White Sox
Paul DeJong – 3B – Saint Louis Cardinals
Austin Voth – SP – Washington Nationals
Ramon Laureano – SP – Houston Astros
Matt Cooper - SP – Chicago White Sox
Trey Michalczewski – 3B – Chicago White Sox
Carson Kelly – C – Saint Louis Cardinals
Andrew Stevenson – OF – Washington Nationals
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