It's just a few weeks away. The minor league playoffs are over, the last few big named prospects have gotten their long awaited call and Tim Tebow has stolen all the headlines from instructs. I don't know about you, but I'm ready for the Arizona Fall League.
In case you missed them, we have already previewed:
SALT RIVER RAFTERS
Who they are: The Rafters are made up of the prospects from the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers. They will be managed by Colorado Rockies Development Supervisor Tony Diaz, who used to manage their Grand Junction squad. Interesting note as well is former big leaguer Gil Heredia will serve as pitching coach, the same role he holds with the Diamondbacks Triple-A Reno Aces.
The biggest star of the team has already been lost, after Ozzie Albies fractured his elbow in the Southern League playoffs. The Braves had hoped he would put the finishing touches on his transition to second base and join Dansby Swanson for Opening Day, but those plans will be put on hold to see how his recovery process progresses.
That may leave Christin Stewart as the best prospect on the Rafters. The Detroit Tigers big swinging outfielder blasted 30 home runs over two combined levels this season, reaching Double-A just a year after being the Tigers first round selection out of Tennessee. The 6-foot left handed slugger does strikeout quite a bit (131 times in 542 plate appearances) but shows the ability to draw a walk, doing so 16 percent of the time and posting a .386 on base percentage. He should have a fast track to the bigs if his bat continues to play next season.
There isn’t a pitching prospect that stands out on this roster as elite, and that may make it a long (short) season in the AFL for the Rafters.
WHO TO WATCH
Despite appearing as if their middle infield future was solved with Swanson and Albies, the Braves made the trade for the Texas Rangers big hitting infielder. Travis Demeritte had a big first full season in 2014, leading the SAL in home runs (while finishing second in strikeouts) but many wondered if he was a result of his 2015 80-game PED suspension. He put those doubts to rest with a 28 home run, 29 double 2016 campaign. While his strikeout rate remains obscene, he is learning to draw a walk at a career high 17 percent this season.
Milwaukee sends a trio of prospects to the AFL that are certainly intriguing. Brett Phillips — the former Astros Minor League Player of the Year and one of the big pieces in last season’s Carlos Gomez deal— blended speed, power and pretty solid defense in the outfield into yet another good season. It was somewhat of a "down year" for Phillips, as he only hit 16 doubles while batting .229, but that left handed swing seems to still be there. He strikes out a ton (what prospect doesn’t in today’s game?) but he too can draw a walk, 13 percent of the time in ’16 to be exact.
I thought Jacob Nottingham was a steal for Khris Davis, but 2016 made it appear as if I thought wrong. Davis went on to become a 40 home run beast by the bay, and Nottingham struggled mightily as Lucroy’s heir apparent. It will be interesting if he becomes an all around catching prospect after a season that saw him slash a career low .234/.295/..347.
20 year old Isan Diaz has some pop for a young short stop, doesn’t he? He broke out in a big way this season, mashing 20 home runs and 34 doubles for the Brewers Low-A affiliate, his first season in full-season ball. You’ll notice a trend. Diaz, too, strikes out a ton, but he also walks at a nice rate as well, posting a 148-to-72 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 587 plate appearances.
Ryan McMahon is interesting. Playing for the Yard Goats (I refuse to call them Hartford), he seemed to have taken a step back this season after two consecutive great seasons, first in the Sally and then in the California League. After amassing 36 home runs and 89 doubles in his first two seasons, he struggled in his AA debut behind a .242/.325/.399 slash line with a career low 12 home runs and 27 doubles. Also alarming was that his strikeout rate rose over 30 percent for the first time in his career while his walk rate remained right around his career norm. After committing 71 errors at third base the past two seasons, he saw some time at first base this year. There are definitely question marks surrounding McMahon, but he doesn't seem to have lost any of the exciting talent he had last year. Maybe he can find his way in the desert again.
JaCoby Jones got some big hits in his big league debut and will continue to get some at bats and work after a calendar year that saw a trade and suspension. With little left to prove in the minors, this is simply extra work for Jones who will likely jump between Triple-A and Detroit to start next season.
As with the previous previews, if there is a prospect you think is intriguing, let’s start up the discussion below.