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Arizona Fall League Preview - Prospects to Watch

As October baseball begins, fantasy fanatics shift their attention to the next season, which means diving into prospects and performances. Luckily for fantasy players, the Arizona Fall League (AFL) offers the perfect chance to check-out top prospects, and how they look against other high profile players. While many of these names are a year or two away from re-draft leagues, for dynasty owners, these players are must watch for 2020 production.

The AFL typically showcases two of the top prospects from each organization, and this year is no different. And yet, to be helpful for fantasy owners, this column will look past some of the top players. This means that Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette Jr., Peter Alonso, and others will not make the team. Players of this caliber will already be on fantasy radars, and instead, the focus is on players who might work their way into contention with a strong performance this fall. 

For owners already itching for minor league baseball, the AFL is back to fill that void. Keep an eye on the following players, and get ready early for dynasty league baseball. A good AFL might mean that a prospect is that much closer to the Majors than expected, or might mean that he could be dealt in a trade this offseason. Whatever the case, any excuse to watch prospects seems to be a good idea.

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Players to Watch

C - Jake Rogers (C, DET)

The former third-round pick who was dealt to Detroit in the Justin Verlander deal, Rogers has an excellent case to make as the top prospect in the Tiger’s farm system. What might limit his fantasy upside is the bat. So far in his career, Rogers has been named as one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, but the offensive side of his game still has questions. That is why he makes this list. If he can show some pop with the bat versus top competition, then he will shoot up fantasy boards, but if not, might fall into that backup fantasy role that limits his playing time and ultimate fantasy worth. Case in point, in 2017, at High-A, Rogers slashed .265/.357/.457, but in 2018, at Double-A, that line dropped to .219/.305/.412. He did add to the homer numbers with 17 in 2018, after only 12 in 2017, so there is power upside in the bat. If Rogers can hit he will be a catcher with a high floor for playing time, but if not, could be the next coming of Roberto Perez.

1B - Brent Rooker (1B, MIN)

Could Rooker be the heir to Joe Mauer at first for the Twins? While he might not have that ceiling, the production is there to be a solid player at the spot. In all fairness, he is more likely the next Logan Morrison as opposed to a Hall of Famer, but still a fantasy option to watch. In 130 games at Double-A this year he slashed .254/.333/.465 with 22 homers and 79 RBI. Both are elite numbers for the level and bodes well due to a spike in power from 2017 numbers. The key to watch is the K rate, as in 2018 he posted a 26.4 K%, which limits that contact upside even at first. While the short sample at the AFL might be misleading, this will offer a good window into his approach versus top talent. If he can keep the batting line near .250, drop the rest of the limiting factors, and keep the power, this is a sneaky fantasy pick with a good park context to add value to the bat.

2B - Keston Huira (2B, MIL)

Perhaps the highest ranked of the prospects on this list, Huira is a top player who might be owned in most leagues already. Playing at second keeps his value high, as there is no one pushing him for the spot, and most others second basemen will be moving from short. This is not a negative but instead means that Huira will be a year ahead in the development pipeline and owners can cash in earlier. This year, Huira started at High-A but ended at Double-A where he posted a slash of .272/.339/.416 with six homers and 11 steals. While most sites only give him a 55 FV, the overall production makes him one of the top fantasy options up the middle, and perhaps, even on prospect lists. The ceiling is there for a .280 hitter with 15 homers and 25 steals, at least early in his career. This would give owners Dustin Pedroia with more speed, and that might be a top-five player at the position when all is said and done. The AFL is vital to see if he is ready for the Brewers where there area few bodies in the way. A strong fall performance and he might push Jonathan Schoop off the team, but if he is a bit underwhelming, then stash for another year and wait for the Rookie of the Year in 2020.

3B - Michael Chavis (3B, BOS)

The 2018 AFL will be a redemption tour for Chavis, who is back from his suspension that kept him out for the most of the year. After entering the 2018 season as one of the top prospects in the Boston organization, Chavis should still have a good outlook, and the next few months will determine just how excited owners should be. The good news is that in his 41 games after suspension, Chavis looked to be back on pace, with eight homers and 24 RBI over those games. The batting line across two levels was .282 which also bodes well. The AFL is designed for players like Chavis, or players that miss time and need to get their reps in to stay on the right developmental track. Case in point, his K rate was close to eight points higher in his return, and a spell in the AFL might help see if this will be the new norm going forward. While not one to insinuate anything, Chavis has questions to answer about the raw skills post suspension, and the AFL will make him one of the keys to watch. If he does perform, his stock is low and offers decent value for owners looking to add prospects.  

SS - Nico Hoerner (SS, CHC)

A 2018 first round pick, Hoerner is the quickest player to move from draft to the AFL and shows how close he might be to competing with the Cubs. The issue is that he is blocked at the position, as there is no reason to move Javier Baez to accommodate the youngster, so this is more of a scouting option for a potential trade chip. Hoerner perhaps needs to move to be a fantasy option, but also could force his way into a Joe Maddon-style fantasy spot. Regarding the performance so far, Hoerner has only played in 14 games, even as he has played at three different levels. In that time he is hitting above .300 with two homers and six steals, so there is production even in a limited time. His best asset looks to be speed, as Fangraphs lists his FV with this tool at 70, but also seems to have an above average hit tool. Hoerner has the most to gain this fall and could be a key piece in a deal this offseason. Owners should take notice and grab this potential young stud in case he stays or goes.

OF - Luis Robert (OF, CWS)

While Robert does not look to the next Mike Trout, as some had projected, he has looked like a competent ballplayer so far in his career. The AFL is another crucial step for the player who has been driven by hype more than performance, but still, even with some struggles is firmly in the top 20 on most prospect lists. This year Robert played at both Single-A and High-A with a declining season overall, dropping his batting average from .289 to .244 over those stops. And yet, this is not a prospect who needs to hit .300 to be a top player, and instead, owners should look to his power and speed for a better idea of what he will offer. In 45 games he did not hit a homer this year, which is worrying, but the 12 steals do add incredible value for what looks to be a power hitter long term. The other thing to keep in mind is that catchers in the minors are still learning the craft as well, so steal numbers are typically inflated by those match-ups. The other good news this season was 21 runs and 11 RBI which show the overall approach works in the team context. For owners who own Robert, use the AFL to gauge if this is a sell-high or a stash long-term. The hype will always be there, and without some power, this might be the last chance to move on from the player with a top return.

OF - Buddy Reed (OF, SD)

The former 2016 second round pick started off the 2018 season as one of the top breakout players but then struggled following a promotion to Double-A. After hitting .324 at High-A over 79 games, he only managed to hit .179 in 43 games at Double-A. The good news is that the speed was still there, with 18 steals over those 42 games. Compare this to the 33 steals a level below, and clearly, Reed is one of the next fantasy speed options to watch. What made him unique was 12 homers at High-A, meaning that unlike Billy Hamilton, this looked to be a speed option that did not mean owners were selling out for speed alone. After his promotion, the power dropped to only one homer, and the K line added close to nine points as well. Reed needs to have a good AFL to stay on fantasy lists, as the skills are there, and with an increase in competition, it will be interesting to see if he can make those adjustments.

OF - Cristian Pache (OF, ATL)

Long known as one of the top defensive prospects in the minors, Pache has begun to hit a bit more keeping him firmly on fantasy watch lists. Like Reed, he struggled after a move to Double-A, but the drop-off was not as concerning. In 93 games at High-A he hit .285 with eight homers and seven steals, and then after the move up the ladder, hit .260 with one homer and no steals in 27 games. The concerning piece was adding close to eight points onto the K rate, but also this is not unusual for a prospect getting the promotion. He did walk a bit more at Double-A, but even this was only a point jump. Overall, Pache is showing that he can offer something with the bat to keep him in the relevant conversations, and at worst, his glove will keep him on the field. This is another player that might be on his way out of town, as while this is only speculation, if a top starter enters the market, perhaps Madison Bumgarner, this could be a key piece in a package. Ender Inciarte also blocks him, so there will need to be some movement for him to gain a starting role. The key here is can he hit at the AFL, and if so, no matter where he plays, this is a prospect that owners want.

P - Jesus Castillo (P, LAA)

After starting his career with the Diamondbacks and Cubs, Castillo looks to be firmly set in the future plans with the Angels. For a team in desperate need of pitching, this is a high-upside prospect with a lot on the line this fall. At Double-A this year, Castillo showed some good signs, but also that he has much to work on to make this all come together. The good news is that he looks like a future starter with 20 of his 21 appearances coming in the starter role. And yet, he only struck out 5.49 per nine, while walking 2.84 per nine. The control seemed to be there after improvements from close to four walks per nine back in 2014, but the stuff is not enough to carry him alone. The ERA is also a bit worrying with a 4.94 line so far, but the FIP sits a 4.17, so there is some potential there as well. Castillo is on this list due to the proximity to the majors, and a team that needs starters. If he can push those K numbers up a bit, he has SP4 upside, but if not, this could be a good option out the pen. A strong AFL might make Castillo a last-round dart throw and, if not, offers an interesting mix of skills and situation.

P - Grant Holmes (SP, OAK)

After suffering a rotator cuff injury in March, making the roster in the AFL is a good sign for Holmes concerning the return from that time away. Not only will there be an incentive to push him to make up for lost innings, but this will also be a pivotal time to see what long terms effects there might be from that time away. When healthy, Holmes has the upside to be a big piece for the Athletics, and a good AFL will keep that in the minds of owners. In 2017 for example, Holmes made a total of 24 starts and posted a record of 11 and 12. The downside was the 4.49 ERA and 3.70 BB/9. The good news was a jump in the strikeout rate to 9.10 K/9 from 2016’s 7.53 K/9. The walks stayed much the same at 3.7 BB/9, which again is not great but also within the outcomes for a starter in the minors. Holmes has a lot to prove, and if he can keep the ball in the yard, which was another positive in 2017, then he should be back on prospect lists. Oakland can always use the pitching, and if he is healthy from the surgery, could be in line for an appearance as early as next year in Oakland.

P - Luis Patino (SP/RP, SD)

Perhaps the highest upside of any of the pitchers on this list, Patino was not expected to be with the Padres until 2022, but this roster spot might say otherwise. To date, Patino has flashed the stuff with 10.58 K/9 in 2018 and has dropped the walks to 2.59 per nine. Add to that a 0.11 HR/9 rate, and this is a pitcher with the performances to back up the skills so far. In 17 starts he was able to post a record of six and three and kept the ERA intact with a 2.16 line. What is unusual in the line was a middling 43.5 GB%, but again, he does not give up homers. This means that Petco Park will be the ideal landing spot, and if he can keep the length up, should be an SP2/3 when he makes it. If there is one player to keep an eye on for dynasty owners, it is Patino, as he is perhaps the most available due to the age, but could be an impact player sooner rather than later.

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