The top AFL prospects for each club

September 22nd, 2022

It’s impossible to look at the list of Arizona Fall League alumni without some sense of awe.

Before he chased the American League home run record, Aaron Judge went deep four times for Scottsdale in 2014. Multi-time MVPs Mike Trout (2011), Bryce Harper (2010, 2011) and Albert Pujols (2000) all played at least one autumn in the Phoenix metropolitan area, and if you want to add Michael Jordan (1994) to that list, we won’t stop you. Don’t forget likely NY Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara (2017) either.

So when we recommend paying close attention to who is headed to the AFL each year and how they do, what we’re really saying is be sure to follow the next wave of baseball’s best talents, all in one place for six glorious weeks.

Following last Friday’s AFL roster reveal, here is a breakdown of each farm system’s top prospect headed to the 2022 Fall League:

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Blue Jays: Addison Barger, 3B/SS (No. 14)The 2018 sixth-rounder just got promoted to Triple-A Buffalo, meaning his upcoming stint with Salt River will mark his fourth club of 2022. Already known for above-average power and a plus-plus arm, Barger improved his swing decisions to make more contact and better tap into that pop during his initial breakout at High-A and Double-A during the regular season. He leads Blue Jays Minor League qualifiers in average (.306), slugging (.542) and OPS (.916) and is the only member of that group to hit at least .300 while slugging 20 or more homers (23, in this case).

Orioles: Heston Kjerstad, OF (No. 10)The No. 2 overall pick in 2020 Draft, Kjerstad didn’t play competitive baseball until this season after being diagnosed with myocarditis. He torched Single-A pitching and got bumped up to High-A, where the numbers weren’t as good. This will be a good test for him and perhaps be a springboard to Double-A.

Rays: Mason Auer, OF (No. 13)Tampa Bay grabbed the San Jacinto Junior College product in the fifth round last year, and Auer has already made that look like a steal. The 21-year-old outfielder has been one of the toolsier prospects in a loaded Rays system with plus speed, a plus-plus arm, good outfield defense and promising power. Auer split the season between Single-A and High-A — he just helped Bowling Green capture a South Atlantic League title — so this AFL assignment will be his most aggressive yet.

Red Sox: Nick Yorke, 2B (No. 5)Yorke became just the ninth teenaged batting qualifier with a .300/.400/.500 season in 20 years en route to winning the Low-A East batting title (.323) in 2021, but he slumped to .231/.303/.365 in High-A this year while battling turf toe and a wrist injury. A 2020 first-rounder as a California high schooler, he’ll try to recapture the advanced hitting ability and developing power that enthralled scouts last season.

Yankees: Jasson Dominguez, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 41)Perhaps the most hyped international prospect ever, Dominguez has shown solid to plus tools across the board since signing for $5.1 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2019. He already has played in two SiriusXM All-Star Futures Games as a teenager — he homered at Dodger Stadium in July — and batted .273/.375/.461 with 16 homers and 37 steals in 120 games at three levels while reaching Double-A this year.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

Guardians: Angel Martinez, SS/2B (No. 11)Part of Cleveland’s seemingly never-ending supply of middle infielders, Martinez is a switch-hitter who can do a little bit of everything and also has a high baseball IQ. Signed for $500,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2018, the son of former big league catcher Sandy Martinez batted .278/.378/.471 with 13 homers and 12 steals in 101 games between High-A and Double-A at age 20.

Royals: Tyler Gentry, OF (No. 8)Gentry was limited to only 44 games last season due to knee injuries but looked no worse for wear in 2022. The 23-year-old outfielder tore through High-A and Double-A this summer, leading Royals Minor League qualifiers in average (.326), slugging (.542) and OPS (.965) over 483 plate appearances. He added 21 homers (second-most in the system) and 10 steals to further cement his profile as a solid, well-rounded offensive prospect. Anything close to that production in the AFL would send him climbing even higher in the KC prospect ranks.

Tigers: Colt Keith, 3B (No. 6)Keith’s shoulder in early June put a halt to what had been otherwise a stellar 2022, so it’s encouraging to see him back on an active roster this autumn. The 21-year-old third baseman hit .301/.370/.544 with nine homers and a 19.4 percent K rate over 48 games with High-A West Michigan before the injury, showing off the above-average hit tool and decent pop that buoys his prospect profile. A decent and healthy Fall League will go a long way toward solidifying his potential future place in the Detroit infield, whether it be at third or second where he has also seen time.

Twins: Austin Martin, OF/SS (No. 12) The Twins got Martin, the former No. 5 overall pick, from the Blue Jays at the 2021 Trade Deadline in the Jos? Berr?os deal. He hasn’t hit as expected since coming out of Vanderbilt and he also missed a bunch of time with a wrist injury this year. He still makes a lot of contact, but without much impact to date, something he’ll continue to work on this fall.

White Sox: Adam Hackenberg, C (No. 30)Hackenberg comes from an athletic family with brothers who were an NFL second-round pick as a quarterback (Christian), an MLS first-rounder as a defender (Brandon) and another who was Virginia Tech’s best pitcher as a freshman last spring (Drue). An 18th-round pick in 2020 from Clemson, he batted .223/.317/.322 between High-A and Double-A in his first full pro season. He’s one of the better defensive catchers in Chicago’s system and has solid raw power.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

Angels: Werner Blakely, SS (No. 15)This is an aggressive assignment for Blakely, the Angels’ fourth-round pick in 2020 Draft out of the Detroit area high school ranks. He’s had a solid first full season, but injuries – most recently being hit by a pitch on the wrist – limited him to just 55 games with Single-A Inland Empire. After playing all three infield spots in the summer of 2021, he played third in game action exclusively this year, with raw power to tap into to potentially profile well there offensively.

Astros: Scott Schreiber, 1B/OF (unranked on Astros Top 30)Schreiber has well above-average raw power but didn’t get to show it much in 2022, playing in just 23 games after having back surgery in the spring. A ninth-round pick from Nebraska in 2018, he batted .293/.355/.527 with 17 homers in 80 contests between High-A and Double-A in 2021.

A’s: Zack Gelof, 3B/2B (No. 4/MLB No. 98)The A’s took Gelof in the second round of the 2021 Draft out of the University of Virginia and his .988 OPS during his summer debut served notice that he might be a Draft steal. He jumped all the way to Double-A for his first full season, showing the ability to play both second and third defensively. He was hitting .316/.372/.458 over the first two months of the Texas League season when he was sidelined by a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. He’ll be making up for lost time this fall while trying to regain the timing that did not fully return when he did in mid-July.

Mariners: Adam Macko, LHP (No. 8)Macko has both an interesting back story and stuff. He’d be the first Slovakian-born player to make the big leagues, he grew up in Ireland and went to high school in Alberta, Canada. He also has a fastball that reaches the upper 90s, but injuries last year and this have limited his mound time.

Rangers: Luisangel Acuna, SS/2B (No. 7)The younger brother of Ronald Acuna, Luisangel can’t quite match his sibling’s explosive athleticism but does have solid raw power and speed and can provide quality defense at shortstop. Signed for $425,000 out of Venezuela in 2018, he hit .277/.369/.426 with 11 homers and 40 steals in 91 games between High-A and Double-A.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Braves: Justyn-Henry Malloy, OF (No. 13)After beginning his college career at Vanderbilt, Mallow transferred to Georgia Tech when he wasn’t playing much. A strong 2021 led to the Braves taking him in the sixth round and he’s swing the bat well as a pro since. Patience is his best trait from the right side of the plate as he’s drawn over 90 walks in a year that has seen him go from High-A to Triple-A while picking up 17 homers and 27 doubles.

Marlins: Jose Salas, INF (No. 5)A switch-hitter, Salas has 20-20 potential as well as the instincts and solid arm strength to potentially stay at shortstop. He signed for $2.8 million out of Venezuela in 2019 and batted .250/.339/.383 with 33 extra-base hits and 33 steals in 109 games between Single-A and High-A at age 19 this season.

Mets: Mike Vasil, RHP (No. 11)The 2021 eighth-rounder was showing improved velocity into the mid-90s more consistently soon after the Draft, and he had used his improved arsenal to good effect at Single-A and High-A, finishing with a 3.53 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 85 strikeouts in 71 1/3 innings during the regular season. Forearm tightness kept him out for around two months, making this a classic case of making up for lost innings, and the added exposure to advanced bats shouldn’t hurt either.

Nationals: Robert Hassell III, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 23)Following the July blockbuster trade with the Padres, the Nationals and their top prospect are still getting to know each other. What better way to deepen that understanding than during a six-week fall trip to Arizona? Washington has already given the 21-year-old outfielder his first look at Double-A, and while early small-sample results weren’t overly exciting (.222/.311/.296 in 27 games), Hassell’s plus hit tool and above-average speed can still make an impact any time he’s in the lineup. An improved performance in the hitter-friendly desert could come at the perfect time.

Phillies: Johan Rojas, OF (No. 5)Rojas might be the fastest player in the AFL this season, with close to top-of-the-scale speed. Sure, the rules in A-ball make it easier to steal bases, and he went 33-for-34 with Jersey City, but he also went 29-for-34 after a promotion to Double-A. That speed allows him to be a dynamic center fielder and if he can refine his approach and drive the ball more, he has the chance to be an exciting big league regular.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

Brewers: Tyler Black, 2B/OF (No. 6)Black was on track to see Double-A after hitting .281/.406/.424 in 64 games at High-A Wisconsin before suffering a left scapula fracture that put him on the IL for the remainder of the regular season. The 2021 33rd overall pick entered pro ball with a reputation for a plus hit tool from the left side and solidified that by walking more (45 times) than he struck out (44) during his stay in the Midwest League. The challenge for him in the AFL (beyond reestablishing his health and offensive production) could be on the defensive side. Predominantly a second baseman at Wright State, Black also saw time in center and at third in the Minors, and those looks could continue with Glendale.

Cardinals: Jordan Walker, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 6)Not only is Walker the highest-ranked Cardinal heading to Arizona, he’s also the highest-ranked prospect, period. The 20-year-old, right-handed slugger responded well to an aggressive assignment to Double-A Springfield, hitting .306/.388/.510 with 19 homers and 22 steals in 119 games. His above-average hit tool and plus-plus raw power should transition seamlessly to Fall League play. He’ll continue his transition from third base to the outfield, and that’ll command the most attention in the weeks ahead.

Cubs: Brennen Davis, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 50)The MVP of the 2021 Futures Game, Davis figured to be playing in Chicago by now but got derailed when he needed surgery June 2 to correct a nest of blood vessels that was pushing against a nerve in his back and causing discomfort. A second-round pick as an Arizona high schooler, he has some of the best all-around tools in the Cubs system, most notably well above-average raw power. He appeared in just 49 games this year, 39 in Triple-A, and the AFL could be a springboard to him claiming a big league starting job next spring.

Pirates: Henry Davis, C (No. 1/MLB No. 20)The hope when the Pirates made Davis the No. 1 pick in the 2021 Draft was that his advanced bat would let him move pretty quickly, with his catching being the only thing that could potentially slow him down. Injuries slowed him down more than anything, as wrist issues allowed him to play in just 59 games all year. Not only will he make up for some lost at-bats, but the experience in receiving more advanced pitchers should be invaluable as well.

Reds: Noelvi Marte, SS (No. 2/MLB No. 18)The top prospect the Reds got from the Mariners in the Luis Castillo deal, Marte was up-and-down in the first half of the season, then started swinging the bat more consistently over the final month of the year. Even with the inconsistencies, he still finished just one homer shy of a 20-20 season in High-A at age 20. He’s played nothing but shortstop in his career to date and it will be interesting to see if he gets introduced to some other positions this fall.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

D-backs: Jordan Lawlar, SS (No. 3/MLB No. 13)Lawlar is right on track to play a lot of games in the Phoenix area in the years to come. Spending six weeks there this fall is just another way of getting comfy in those surroundings. The 2021 sixth overall pick played for three full-season clubs (plus a short rehab stint in the complex league) during an ascendant first full season, hitting .303/.401/.509 with 16 homers and 39 steals in 100 games during his climb from Single-A to Double-A. That 20-game stint with Amarillo, in particular, should help Lawlar prepare to bring his well-rounded five-tool skillset to Salt River.

Dodgers: Andy Pages, OF (No. 5/MLB No. 68)Pages has hit for power ever since signing for $300,000 in October 2017, slamming 86 homers in four pro seasons, including 26 this year while batting .236/.336/.468 in 132 Double-A games. Besides coming with well above-average raw pop, he also has arm strength to match and is an intelligent hitter, albeit with an aggressive approach.

Giants: Luis Matos, OF (No. 3)Matos had a reputation for owning the best bat-to-ball skills among Giants farmhands and won the Low-A West MVP award in 2021, but he hit a baffling .211/.275/.344 with 11 homers and as many steals in 91 High-A games this year. Signed for $725,000 out of Venezuela in 2018, he’s the cousin of former big league outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe.

Padres: Jackson Merrill, SS (No. 1/MLB No. 87)Merrill could be one of the most fascinating AFL follows this year. Even after all their midseason wheeling and dealing, the Padres still managed to hold on to their 2021 first-rounder and have been elated by his work on and off the field in his first full season. Merrill hit .325/.387/.482 in 45 games with California League champ Single-A Lake Elsinore and would have been for a higher prospect ranking/promotion to High-A if not for wrist and hamstring injuries. That said, the jump from Single-A to the AFL is a big one that will test Merrill’s promising hit and power tools.

Rockies: Zac Veen, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 24)A lot went right for the No. 9 overall pick in the 2020 Draft this season, including a strong performance in High-A and a trip to the Futures Game. He struggled in Double-A, but the 20-year-old outfielder did finish the year with a combined 12 homers and 55 steals. His AFL time should help him get more acclimated to the upper levels.