Arizona Fall League Preview: Salt River Rafters
Can you feel the excitement in the air? The beginning of the Arizona Fall League is just a couple days away and it’s shaping up to be one heck of a season. With so many top prospects going, you can’t help but get excited about what the next month and a half are going to bring. This Salt River squad is coming off a sub-.500 season in 2017 and figures to finish in the middle of the pack again. There are certainly some bright spots on this team, though, headlined by two exciting shortstops and one of the most underrated catchers in dynasty leagues.
All of our Arizona Fall League Team Previews
|Surprise Saguaros||Peoria Javelinas||Glendale Desert Dogs|
|Mesa Solar Sox||Scottsdale Scorpions||Salt River Rafters|
Arizona Fall League – Salt River Rafters
MLB Team Affiliations: Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Miami Marlins, Minnesota Twins, Washington Nationals.
Tres Barrera (WSH), Renae Martinez (ARI), Dom Miroglio (ARI), Daulton Varsho (ARI).
Apparently, the Diamondbacks want to get every catcher in their farm system extra work in the Arizona Fall League. I kid. But they did send three backstops on a long and grueling 20 mile trip from Phoenix up to Scottsdale. Included in that trio is Daulton Varsho, one of the top offensive catching prospects in the minors and a personal favorite of yours truly.
Every time I rank Varsho, I move him a little higher. This man can flat out rake. In 133 career games, Varsho has a .301/.367/.497/.865 slash line with 29 doubles, 19 homers, 26 steals in 31 attempts, 84 RBI, and 84 runs. Yes, you read that stolen base total correctly, stop rubbing your eyes. That speed is no fluke either. Varsho is an athletic backstop with above-average wheels. Maintaining that type of speed might become difficult later on in his career, but for now, he’s a 15 to 20-plus stolen base threat in the Majors.
That speed would play just fine in the outfield if he’s forced to out from behind the plate due to his subpar throwing arm. But, of course, catcher is where Varsho will have the most value and that’s where we want him to stay. His bat speed, clean swing, and raw power should lead to both a solid batting average and moderate power totals. He’s one of the best dynasty catchers out there with the beauty of a lower price tag than guys like Joey Bart, Francisco Mejia, and others.
The other three catchers on this roster are all projected to be Major League backups. Dom Miroglio is an above-average defensive backstop that can hit for average. Tres Berrera also can hold his own defensively and has above-average power from the right side of the plate. However, due to his aggressive approach, a strong batting average likely isn’t in his future.
Man, I love me some Carter Kieboom. I won’t go too in depth here as I just wrote a live scouting report on him two months ago, but the man just flat out rakes day in and day out. His swing is rock solid. Good load, weight shift, and timing with a moderate leg kick followed by a clean, slight uppercut swing that generates plenty of loft and hard contact. Kieboom is a walking .280/30-homer threat with the defensive skills to stay at shortstop longterm.
Kieboom isn’t the only notable shortstop on this Salt River roster or one I’ve written about recently. Jasrado “Smooth Jazz” Chisholm was one of my infield prospects on the rise last month and it’s easy to see why when you look at his 2018 season. The 20-year-old Bahama native finished with 25 home runs, 17 steals, and a .272 average. He might only be 165 pounds or so, but Chisholm packs a punch with a left-handed swing that generates hard contact and loft. There’s plenty of swing and miss to his game, as evident by his 29.1% career strikeout rate, but he’s still quite raw as a prospect. It will be interesting to see how he fares against advanced pitching in the Arizona Fall League.
Okay, so, it’s obvious that I’m rather high on the offensive upside of Kieboom and Chisholm. Well, not so much with Pavin Smith. He’s got an advanced approach at the plate and solid contact skills, but outside of that, crickets. There’s more power upside in that bat, but unless he changes his line-drive approach, don’t expect more than 15-20 home runs annually. Smith is an advanced bat, though, and should move through the Arizona system quickly.
The rest of this infield projects as backups at the highest level, with the exception of Tyler Nevin. The 21-year-old corner infielder has the bat to make him a Major League starter, but lacks speed and isn’t a great defender.
I was really hoping that the Twins give us another month and a half of Alex Kirilloff in the Arizona Fall League, but instead, they put him on their instructional league roster and sent another promising offensive prospect in Brent Rooker. Power has always been Rooker’s calling card. His power output dropped drastically this season, but there’s really no reason to worry. Rooker possesses plus raw power and a swing that generates plenty of loft. More power will certainly come. It’s the batting average and strikeouts that we need to worry about.
Speaking of strikeouts. Monte Harrison has always been prone to strikeouts, but he took that to a whole new level this season. In 136 games, Harrison struck out 215 times for a 36.9% strikeout rate. Yikes. On the bright side, he did finish one homer short of his second straight 20/20 season. But that power/speed mix isn’t going to matter when he’s hitting .210 in the Majors with a ridiculous strikeout rate. Needless to say, Harrison’s hit tool needs a lot of work, starting in the Arizona Fall League. The below swing happened far too often this season.
— Nolan Bratt (@BrewersFarm) May 6, 2018
Luke Raley and Sam Hilliard have respectable offensive profiles, but are both 24 and have yet to make it past Double-A. Raley’s most noteworthy tool is his above-average raw power while Hilliard is more into contact and speed. Daniel Johnson is basically a less projectable Monte Harrison with decent power and speed, but a hit tool that needs some work. In my live looks at him for Double-A Harrisburg, Johnson struggled against off-speed pitches which is easily exploited at the higher levels. For Brian Miller, think Juan Pierre with less speed. He makes solid contact and can steal bases at a high clip, but has absolutely no power.
Adam Bray (MIN), Ben Braymer (WSH), Ryan Castellani (COL), Jon Duplantier (ARI), Tommy Eveld (MIA), Kevin Ginkel (ARI), Taylor Guilbeau (WSH), Mitch Horacek (COL), Griffin Jax (MIN), Kyle Keller (MIA), Justin Lawrence (COL), Hector Lujan (MIN), Tyler Mark (ARI), Jordan Mills (WSH), Luis Reyes (WSH), Devin Smeltzer (MIN), Chad Smith (MIA), Bo Takahashi (ARI), Jesus Tinoco (COL), Jordan Yamamoto (MIA).
This isn’t the most exciting pitching staff around, but there are two arms I will be focusing on during the Arizona Fall League. First is the big name, Jon Duplantier. And with that big name comes big injury concerns. Duplantier has been battling arm issues since his collegiate days which doesn’t bode well for his future in the rotation. The stuff is there and has never been questioned. Duplantier throws a low to mid-90’s heater with armside run, two breaking balls that have both flashed plus potential, and an adequate changeup. After battling arm fatigue this season that limited him to 14 starts, the Diamondbacks will look to build his arm strength back up in hopes of a more durable 2019 campaign.
The other arm here that intrigues me is Jordan Yamamoto. Vastly underrated is a good way to describe the Hawaiian starter. I can see why he is though. Yamamoto doesn’t throw hard (89-92 mph) and lacks plus off-speed pitches, though, does throw a solid curveball that has some good depth to it. The reason why Yamamoto has been successful so far is his plus command and ability to mix pitches well and keep hitters off balance. He finished the 2018 season with a 1.83 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 1.8 BB/9, and 11.1 K/9 across 13 starts, including three at Double-A. With a strong Arizona Fall League showing and a good start to 2019, we could see Yamamoto in Miami by the end of the 2019 season.
Want a third to keep an eye on? Fine. How about Jesus Tinoco. I saw Tinoco when his Hartford Wolfpack came to Maine and was impressed. He finished the night allowing just one run on four hits while walking none and striking out seven. That turned out to be one of his best performances in a so-so 2018 season. Tinoco attacks hitters with a plus fastball and two decent breaking pitches, but like many young hurlers, lacks a changeup and control.
Eric Cross is the lead MLB writer and prospect analyst here on FantraxHQ. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). For more from Eric, check out his author page and follow him on Twitter @EricCross04.