By Benjamin Chase
The 2022 Arizona Fall League (AFL) comes to a close today with the championship game, to be played in Scottsdale Stadium and aired live on MLB Network at 8 p.m. EST.
The Surprise Saguaros will host the championship game, having already clinched the best record in the league.
Late Friday, there was a play-in game between the two teams with the next two best records in the league. One of those two teams was Glendale, but yesterday's game between Mesa and Peoria will determine the other team to play in the play-in game. The winner of Friday's play-in game will move on to play in the championship today.
AFL Fall-Stars game, featuring 24 players who tasted the big leagues this season, was played last Sunday (the 2021 Fall-Stars had 21). If the 2022 AFL has similar success, who are some of the players to get to know for 2023?
Already equipped with a big nickname, Matt "Smash" Mervis is likely the guy who will leave the AFL with the most clear-cut path to a job entering the off-season, as he should head to spring training with a good shot to take either the Cubs' first base or DH job after leading the AFL in home runs to follow up a minor-league season in which he “smashed” 36 long balls.
The guy who has impressed the most with his raw athleticism at the AFL was Jordan Walker of the Cardinals. Though he's a mountain of a man at 6'5" and a listed 220 pounds, Walker exhibited some of the most prodigious raw power in the AFL while also showing impressive plate discipline. That is coming from a guy who has hit .310 over his minor-league career. Walker spent the AFL honing his outfield skills to potentially step into a role in St. Louis.
With just four games at AA, Tyler Hardman was getting his feet wet against advanced pitching in the AFL, but he more than held his own, perhaps accelerating his timeline with the Yankees. His defense is rough at third, but power like that will play.
The Twins' Edouard Julien showed more power than he really ever had in his minor- league career, finishing second in the AFL in long balls and challenging for the league lead in slugging percentage. Adding that power to one of the most patient batting eyes in the minors could allow Julien to quickly find his way into the Twins' lineup.
Heston Kjerstad may have struck out plenty in Arizona, but few turned more heads when he made contact. After a rocky start to his pro career, Kjerstad could jump up quickly in 2023.
Zac Veen was incredibly impressive on the base-paths in the AFL, once taking second on a wild pitch thrown on ball four of a walk. The power is still lacking, but Veen has the build that would indicate there's power to come.
Austin Martin really rejuvenated his prospect status with his performance in Arizona. The Twins prospect showed patience at the plate, pounded the gaps, and was sharp on the bases, stealing 10 in 11 attempts.
Big Mound Numbers
Two pitchers put up 10+ strikeouts in a start in the AFL this year, a feat that had not been accomplished since 2014. Cardinals lefty Connor Thomas struck out 10 on October 17. Thomas is not exactly a strikeout pitcher, but when he locates his sinker, slider, and cutter well, they give pitchers three very distinct looks and he shows the ability to work as a mid-rotation starter.
Dodgers righty Emmet Sheehan got off to a rough start in the AFL, but he's put up impressive numbers his last few times out, including a 10-strikeout game Tuesday. Sheehan is more of a traditional strikeout pitcher with upper-90s velocity and a four-pitch mix of impressive pitches who could develop into a top-of-the-rotation arm.
The Rays have a habit of developing pitching talent. Evan Reifert could be their next gem. Reifert has pitched completely out of the bullpen in the AFL without allowing a single hit over 10 2/3 innings pitched, striking out 22 and walking four.
Oakland's Mason Miller missed most of 2022 due to injury, but he has been making up for it in the AFL, with some of the best raw stuff in the league. He's touched triple digits on the mound and should get some run early in 2023 as a starter in the A's system.
Take the time to check out the top performers at mlb.com/arizona-fall-league and familiarize yourself with the names. They very well could be the guys who shape the 2023 season!
Benjamin Chase is a newspaper reporter in South Dakota who loves all facets of baseball, but especially prospects. He is the analyst on the Pallazzo Podcast prospect show each week and is available for freelance writing. He can be found on Twitter @biggentleben.