Arizona Fall League Preview: Surprise Saguaros
Just like owners in dynasty leagues, a prospect’s work is never done. The minor league season might be over, but it damn sure isn’t time for relaxation and playing golf. Fall and winter leagues are a great resource for continued prospect development and none more prominent than the Arizona Fall League. Prospects big and small head to Arizona each fall and this year’s crop is as star-studded as ever. If you thought last year’s Ronald Acuña led group was great, just wait until the 2018 AFL season gets underway.
With six teams in the league and countless intriguing prospects, I’ll be breaking it down team by team. And what better place to start than with the team rostering the best prospect currently in the minor 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 – Surprise
MLB Team Affiliations: Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays.
Jeremy Martinez (STL), Josh Morgan (TEX), Arden Pabst (PIT), Meibrys Viloria (KC), Bo Bichette (TOR), Will Craig (PIT), Tommy Edman (STL), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (TOR), Charles Leblanc (TEX), Yanio Perez (TEX), Cole Tucker (PIT), Andy Young (TEX).
The Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette show continues out in the desert. That’s great news for us but bad news for the pitchers in the Arizona Fall League. The star-studded duo that locked down the left side of the infield in Double-A New Hampshire for a large chunk of 2018 will now be taking their talents to Surprise, Arizona. Isn’t this where all the stars take their talents? We all know Vladdy is too good for the minors and the Arizona Fall League should be no different.
The alpha dog of prospects finished the 2018 season slashing .381/.437/.636/1.073 with 29 doubles, 20 home runs, 78 RBI, 67 runs, and almost as many walks (37) as strikeouts (38). A knee injury that limited him to 95 games and 357 at-bats was the only reprieve that minor league pitchers got from the phenom. Guerrero should be with Toronto right now and probably should’ve been even before his knee injury. However, service time has kept him down with Triple-A Buffalo and will likely keep him there until Toronto gains another year of control on him early next season.
While Guerrero kept getting stronger as the season wore on, Bichette slowed down in the power department, hitting only three home runs from July 1st on. The batting average was there at the end of the season (.286), but the 11 home runs were a step back from the 14 he hit in 91 fewer at-bats last season. To offset the power drop, Bichette added some speed this season, swiping 32 bases in 43 attempts. He’s not a burner by any means but has above-average speed and the smarts on the bases to steal 25-plus bags annually in the Majors. One area I would love to see Bichette work on this fall is regaining some of that power stroke.
Outside of the Toronto duo, a prospect to watch in this infield is Pittsburgh’s, Cole Tucker. A shortstop prospect, Tucker has plus speed and solid bat-to-ball skills, but has little to no power upside. He profiles as a Major League starting caliber shortstop, but it remains to be seen if he can develop his on-base skills enough to hit first or second in a batting order. There’s also a middle infield logjam in the Pittsburgh system so something will have to give.
Surprised to see Cavan Biggio’s name listed in the outfield? The second-generation star made 123 starts this season for New Hampshire with only two of those coming in the outfield. However, with the log-jam Toronto has in the infield, it makes a lot of sense to give Biggio some time in the outfield to see if a transition can be made. Toronto has promising infield prospects coming out of the ying yang in addition to guys like Devon Travis, Aledmys Diaz, and Lourdes Gurriel at the Major League level. All three of which are under contract through at least the 2020 season.
Biggio’s offensive profile fits in the Majors, there’s no doubt about it. In addition to joining the 20/20 club, Biggio displayed strong on-base skills this season, finishing with 100 walks and a .388 OBP. But his offensive skills are not what I’m going to be keeping an eye on during the Arizona Fall League. Rather how he looks in the outfield. If Biggio displays adequate or better defense during his time with Surprise, a full-time transition will likely be in the cards for 2019.
Outside of Biggio, the other two big names in this outfield are Khalil Lee and Julio Pablo Martinez.
Lee’s counting stats took a step back this season, but overall, he made plenty of progress in his development. The type of progress that made him a better and more well-rounded prospect. Lee improved his walk rate from 12.2% to 14.1% while cutting his strikeout rate from 32.1% to 24.6%. On top of that, Lee was much more efficient at stealing bases. He only getting caught on five of 21 attempts after converting only 52.6% of his 38 attempts last season.
An international signing out of Cuba in March, Martinez had a solid first season in the United States. In 256 combined at-bats between the Dominican Summer League and the low Class-A Northwest League, Martinez slashed .266/.378/.457/.835 with 25 extra-base hits and 13 steals in 22 attempts. His hit tool and speed are his most noteworthy tools with both grading as above-average to plus. The power lags behind, but Martinez makes consistent hard contact and should grow into 15-20 homer pop.
All the tools are there for Martinez to become at least a solid Major League starting outfield with All-Star upside. The added time in the Arizona Fall League is great for his development.
With the above three patrolling this outfield, it causes a fairly talented outfield prospect like Bryan Reynolds to be overshadowed. Reynolds doesn’t possess the upside of the aforementioned trio, but has average to above-average tools across the board that should help him develop into a solid big league regular.
Dario Agrazal (PIT), Joe Barlow (TEX), Scott Blewett (KC), Tyler Davis (TEX), Matt Eckelman (PIT), Demarcus Evans (TEX), Grant Gavin (KC), Conner Greene (STL), Geoff Hartlieb (PIT), Arnaldo Hernandez (KC), Zach Jackson (TOR), Connor Jones (STL), Evan Kruczynski (STL), Will Latcham (STL), Jackson McClelland (TOR), Shawn Morimando (TOR), Nate Pearson (TOR), Walker Sheller R-R (KC), Blake Weiman (PIT).
The one constant for these five Major League teams is that their farm systems aren’t filled with a ton of top-shelf pitching talent. Sure, there are some solid pitching prospects, but not a ton of depth. The cream of this crop by a mile and a half is Nate Pearson. Due to various injuries, the big right-hander has pitched only 21.2 innings since being drafted 28th overall in the 2017 June Amateur Draft. Needless to say, this time in the Arizona Fall League is needed in a big way.
Overall, the upside here is that of a No. 2 starter capable of posing low ratios and high strikeout numbers. But with the high upside comes the high risk. Pearson had a screw inserted in his pitching elbow in high school and was limited to 1.2 innings this year due to a back injury and fractured forearm suffered off a line drive. Someone put this guy in a bubble. This time in the Arizona Fall League will give him the reps he needs after a lost 2018 season.
The additional reps are huge. I can’t stress that enough. Pearson features a plus fastball in the mid to upper 90’s and a slider that has flashed, but his change-up and command need work. Call me Captain Obvious, but 1.2 innings isn’t enough time to work on much of anything. This stint will help him build his arm strength back up and refine his secondary offerings.
Others of note on this staff are Connor Greene and Scott Blewett. Greene throws hard but has major control issues. If he can work on getting that control in check, a 2019 call-up to the St. Louis bullpen could be in the cards. A big 6’6 right-hander, Blewitt has three average to above-average offerings that he controls fairly well. He profiles as an innings-eating back-end rotation arm.
Eric Cross is the lead MLB writer and prospect analyst here on FantraxHQ. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. For more from Eric, check out his author page and follow him on Twitter @EricCross04.