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
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
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
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
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 email@example.com.