Welcome Back, Arizona Fall League

ALSO: DON'T GIVE 2021 AWARDS TO HARPER OR WHEELER

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Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

Over the last seven seasons, Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman — hero of the four-game NLDS win over Milwaukee — leads both leagues with a .346 batting average with runners in scoring position . . .

Teammate Eddie Rosario had a lifetime .349 average with the bases loaded before he delivered a two-out, two-RBI single to tie NLDS Game 4 . . .

On defense alone, San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford (nine errors in 1,165 2/3 innings) would be a better MVP choice than San Diego wunderkind Fernando Tatis Jr. (21 errors in 842 1/3 innings at short), especially since Crawford hit .344 after July 1 . . .

Juan Soto’s Washington team finished last but his .465 on-base percentage led the majors, his .313 average ranked third, and he had 29 homers and 111 runs scored . . .

Two AL playoff teams, the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays, ranked 1-2 in runs scored but a third, the Chicago White Sox, allowed the fewest runs . . .

The trade-em-all Cubs finished under .500 (71-91) for the first time since 2014, while the copycat Nationals had 90+ losses for the first time since 2010.

Leading Off

The Arizona Fall League Returns!

By Benjamin Chase

For those of us who love prospects, play dynasty baseball, or simply have the addiction to never getting enough baseball, Wednesday was a glorious day. The Arizona Fall League opened its 2021 season.

The pandemic had canceled the AFL in 2020 for the first time since its inception in 1992 and left a notable hole in the season for those who love minor-league baseball and player development.

Changes Go, Changes Stay

During the 2019 AFL season, there were some notable adjustments that placed the timeline of the season within the end of the Major League Baseball regular season, from mid-September to late October. That timeline has returned to the previous mid-October to late-November timeline, allowing the AFL the ability to be the last professional baseball played in the calendar year.

Many of the other changes made for the 2019 season will remain. Players on the 40-man roster for a team will be allowed to participate and players from all levels of the minor leagues will be allowed to participate. That has skewed the 2021 rosters significantly older than previous years, with some MLB rehab included along with players who have already spent significant time at Triple-A.

Overview on 2021 Rosters

Before breaking down each roster, it’s fun to see all the big names coming to the Fall League this year. It would be great to see more available streaming coverage of the AFL presented by MLB. Heck, I’m one who would gladly fork out a few dollars on top of my yearly MiLB.tv and MLB.tv subscriptions to be able to access the two months of AFL games!

Let’s examine each team in Arizona, starting with the top prospect on each team, according to MLB Pipeline and also highlighting at least one intriguing player from each organization to follow during the AFL season.

Glendale Desert Dogs

Top Prospect: Nolan Gorman, 3B/2B, St. Louis Cardinals. Gorman is currently ranked as the 24th best prospect by MLB Pipeline. The Cardinals drafted Gorman as an elite power-hitting third baseman, and they’ve worked him toward second base with the Nolan Arenado anchoring third at the big league level. Gorman could use the AFL to propel him to the front of the line for a 2022 job.

Angels: Jeremiah Jackson, IF; Robinson Pina, RHP

Astros: Korey Lee, C; Pedro Leon, IF/OF

Cardinals: Zack Thompson, LHP

Dodgers: Kody Hoese, 3B; Landon Knack, RHP; Bobby Miller, RHP 

White Sox: Yoelqui Cespedes, OF

Mesa Solar Sox

Top Prospect: Gabriel Moreno, C, Toronto Blue Jays. MLB Pipeline’s 32nd-ranked prospect was on his way to climbing even higher on national lists early this season before a thumb fracture cost him two months. He’ll hope to show the hot hitting of his year was not just a quick start and is what the Jays can expect in the future.

Athletics: Austin Beck, OF; Logan Davidson, IF

Blue Jays: Spencer Horwitz, 1B

Cubs: Caleb Kilian, RHP; Nelson Velazquez, OF

Marlins: JJ Bleday, OF; Evan Fitterer, RHP; Kameron Misner, OF

Orioles: Yusniel Diaz, OF; Kyle Stowers, OF

Peoria Javelinas

Top Prospect: CJ Abrams, SS, San Diego Padres. The Padres pushed Abrams to Double-A at just 20 years old this year and he was showing very well in the early going before injury cost him the rest of the regular season in early July. He’ll be looking to get an extended run to get his batting eye re-focused heading into 2022 along with answering some questions on his future defensive position.

Braves: Indigo Diaz, RHP; Shea Langeliers, C

Mariners: Zach DeLoach, OF; Juan Then, RHP

Padres: MacKenzie Gore, LHP

Phillies: Hans Crouse, RHP; Erik Miller, LHP; Bryson Stott, SS

Pirates: Michael Burrows, RHP; Roansy Contreras, RHP; Nick Gonzales, 2B

Salt River Rafters

Top Prospect: Spencer Torkelson, 1B/3B, Detroit Tigers. The top pick in the 2020 draft was to be one of two top-10 prospects that the Tigers sent to Arizona before Riley Greene suffered a concussion in an outfield collision late in the season that could cost him his AFL time. Torkelson started slowly but jumped three levels and bombed 30 home runs in his pro debut, showing that he’s ready for a likely Tiger debut in 2022.

Brewers: Mario Feliciano, C; Joe Gray, Jr., OF

Diamondbacks: Slade Cecconi, RHP

Mets: Brett Baty, 3B/OF

Rockies: Michael Toglia, 1B; Ezequiel Tovar, SS

Tigers: Ryan Kreidler, SS

Scottsdale Scorpions

Top prospect: Marco Luciano, SS, San Francisco Giants. Coming into the season, there was a legit argument that the guy to take over the top prospect mantle from Wander Franco once he graduated to the majors would be Luciano. Luciano showed incredible power this season in Low-A, but he struggled to produce the same power and had notable strikeout concerns in his first look at High-A at 19. The goal for Luciano through the AFL will be to get him more exposure to high-end arms with the intention for him to be able to move to Double-A at some point in 2022.

Giants: Patrick Bailey, C; Hunter Bishop, OF; Seth Corry, LHP

Indians: Damon Casetta-Stubbs, RHP

Rays: Heriberto Hernandez, OF; Curtis Mead, 3B/1B

Red Sox: Triston Casas, 1B; Jeter Downs, SS/2B; Connor Wong, C/IF

Twins: Matt Wallner, OF

Surprise Saguaros

Top prospect: Asa Lacy, LHP, Kansas City Royals. Lacy was widely viewed as the top pitcher available in the 2020 draft, though he was the second arm off the board. He’s got a big league fastball/slider combination now, but he’s working on honing the control of his curve and his change after the Royals only had him toss 52 innings this season.

Nationals: Cole Henry, RHP; Jackson Rutledge, RHP

Rangers: Ezequiel Duran, 2B/SS; Justin Foscue, 2B; Sam Huff, 1B; Owen White, RHP

Reds: James Marinan, RHP; Michael Siani, OF

Royals: Zach Haake, RHP; Seuly Matias, OF

Yankees: Austin Wells, C

Schedule

This is the first weekend of AFL action, and the way the season fell in 2021, the other two big events of the AFL season will be on back-to-back weekends, with the Fall Stars Game, the AFL’s All-Star game, coming on Saturday, November 13 and the championship game between the two top regular-season teams to be played the following Saturday.

Benjamin Chase is a newspaper reporter in South Dakota with a huge love of baseball, especially prospects. He hosts the IBWAA Up Next Zoom call on prospects and amateur baseball with excellent guests from around the world of prospects. E.mail him at gopherben@gmail.com.

Cleaning Up

Harper, Wheeler Don’t Merit Postseason Awards

By Dan Schlossberg

When the Philadelphia Phillies came to Atlanta for a final-week, three-game series that could have tilted the balance of power in the National League East, Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler failed to deliver.

Harper and J.T. Realmuto were a combined 0-for-22 before the catcher clouted a solo homer in the last game, while Wheeler was unable to win the opener.

As a result, the Phils were swept right out of contention, leaving them with 10 straight seasons without a playoff appearance.

For that letdown alone, neither Harper nor Wheeler deserve award consideration this fall.

Harper’s final figures (.309, 35 HR, 84 rbi) make him valuable only to the Phillies, who finished second to Atlanta with an 82-80 record that left them 6 1/2 games behind. In fact, they were closer to the third-place Mets, who finished 77-85, than the first-place Braves, who wound up 88-73.

When Harper totally deflated in Dixie, he lost all claim to the MVP award he once won with Washington. Just for starters, there are 10 players more deserving of that trophy. In alphabetical order, they are Ozzie Albies, Brandon Crawford, Adam Duvall, Max Muncy, Austin Riley, Max Scherzer, Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr., Trea Turner, and Julio Urias. As Casey Stengel once said, you could look it up (their stats).

As for Wheeler, he led the NL in strikeouts and innings pitched but won only 14 games to go with a good-but-not-great 2.78 earned run average, fifth-best in the league. Since baseball operates on the theory that it’s not what you did for your team but what you did for your team lately, here are 10 more deserving Cy Young choices than Wheeler, again in alphabetical order: Walker Buehler, Corbin Burnes, Max Fried, Kevin Gausman, Josh Hader, Mark Melancon, Max Scherzer, Julio Urias, Adam Wainwright, and Brandon Woodruff.

Because the Phillies had a terrible bullpen — again — manager Joe Girardi was often forced to stick with Wheeler far longer than he should have. That gave him more innings and therefore more strikeouts.

Before somebody writes in that I have a W.C. Fields aversion to Philadelphia, that is hardly the case. I love the city, the stadium, and even the Phanatic. But, at the same time, I hate to see undeserving people win awards. Unfortunately, Harper and Wheeler both fall into that category this year.

Former AP newsman Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers baseball for forbes.com, Latino Sports, Ball Nine, Sports Collectors Digest, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, and Here’s The Pitch, among others. His e.mail is ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Say-It-Ain’t-So Joe Girardi is 110-112 in two seasons as Phillies pilot while the team has missed the playoffs 10 years in a row . . .

The projected 2022 return of starting pitcher Sixto Sanchez, out all of this year, automatically makes the Miami Marlins better . . .

Now that the Cardinals are back in their nest for the winter, they have to worry about keeping free-agent pitchers Andrew Miller, Jon Lester, J.A. Happ, Kwang Hyun Kim, and Luis Garcia . . .

Talk about a fall: the Padres plunged from 18 games over .500 to their 10th losing record in the last 11 seasons . . .

Hard to visualize free agents Freddie Freeman (Braves) and Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers) in other uniforms — or troubled Trevor Bauer and Marcell Ozuna in any uniform.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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