Twins' Buxton, Cubs' Bryant head AFL Top 20
MLBPipeline.com ranks prospects who played in this fall's league in Arizona
The Arizona Fall League came to a close with its championship game on Saturday, effectively wrapping up the year for prospects playing in the United States (there's still winter ball to follow, after all).
The 22nd edition of the Arizona Fall League was once again chock full of exciting young talent, though the league was younger than it typically has been, as more players who have yet to play above Class A participated. That's reflected in the Top 20 AFL Prospects list, which includes four teenagers.
The list was derived with the help of the MLBPipeline.com team -- Jim Callis, Jonathan Mayo, Bernie Pleskoff and Teddy Cahill -- along with feedback from a number of scouts who covered the league this fall. The players were ranked by considering this question: If you were building a team, who would you take based on what you saw in the AFL this year? As a result, the list is largely based on long-term potential, though AFL-specific performance was certainly given consideration.
1. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins (Glendale): Baseball's best prospect strained his left shoulder swinging a bat, which hampered him before he was shut down after 12 games. That still was enough time to show off five tools that grade as plus or better, the worst of which might be his merely above-average power -- he slugged three homers in 52 at-bats.
2. Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs (Mesa): If this were a list based solely on top prospects' performances in the AFL, Bryant would be No. 1. The No. 2 pick from the 2013 Draft won the AFL MVP Award, and he has legitimate power that should put him in the bigs soon, though he has to prove to some he can stay at third base.
3. Addison Russell, SS, Athletics (Mesa): Russell is the rarest of all prospects, a legitimate five-tool shortstop. A 19-year-old, he had no problems handling AFL pitching, and he showed the range and arm to make all the plays at short.
4. Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Blue Jays (Salt River): The best starter in the AFL, Sanchez dominated hitters. He has top-of-the-rotation stuff and is ready for a move to the upper levels of Toronto's system.
5. Alex Meyer, RHP, Twins (Glendale): Meyer recovered from a shoulder strain that limited him to 78 regular-season innings to throw an easy 94-97 mph in Arizona. Meyer showed a wipeout slider at times and good command for someone with a 6-foot-9 frame.
6. Austin Hedges, C, Padres (Peoria): Hedges showed off his defense in the Fall Stars Game, throwing out two would-be basestealers. There's still some question about how well he'll hit, but most believe he'll swing the bat well enough. Hedges' glove might be big league-ready now.
7. Andrew Heaney, LHP, Marlins (Glendale): Some evaluators named Heaney as the league's best pitching prospect, citing his three above-average pitches (fastball, slider and changeup) and his plus command. No AFL starter permitted fewer baserunners per nine innings (9.1).
8. Jorge Alfaro, C, Rangers (Surprise): Watching Alfaro, you wouldn't guess he was only 20 and coming off a season spent almost exclusively in the Class A South Atlantic League. He can hit, he's athletic and he has perhaps the strongest arm of any catcher in the Minors.
9. Kyle Crick, RHP, Giants (Scottsdale): Hitters had a tough time handling Crick's fastball when he threw it up in the zone -- it hit 98 mph in multiple starts -- and he topped AFL starters with 15.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Crick's slider is a potential out pitch, though his secondary offerings and command still need work.
10. Albert Almora, OF, Cubs (Mesa): At age 19, Almora was the second-youngest player in the AFL, but he certainly didn't play like it. The center fielder more than held his own, hitting for average and playing solid defense all while continuing to show how plus-rated makeup can maximize one's tools.
11. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers (Glendale): The AFL's youngest player struggled more than any prospect on this list, batting .181 with 25 strikeouts in 72 at-bats. Once Seager calms down a little at the plate, he should hit for both power and average, and could be a Gold Glove winner if he moves to third base.
12. Marcus Stroman, RHP, Blue Jays (Salt River): Stroman had a solid turn in the Rafters' bullpen, holding hitters to a .186 batting average and striking out 10.03 per nine, but his future is as a starter. A 2012 first-round Draft pick, he should be able to help Toronto's rotation at some point next season.
13. Jorge Soler, OF, Cubs (Mesa): The third Cubs position player on this Top 20, Soler has top-of-the-scale raw power that rivals that of any AFL player. "He hits the ball to Yellowstone, he has a fabulous body and he's a poster for what you want the body to be," one scout said, "though the day-to-day focus isn't there."
14. Colin Moran, 3B, Marlins (Glendale): The 2013 No. 6 pick started slowly but finished by hitting in eight of his last nine games. An advanced former collegian, the left-handed hitter showed a solid approach, albeit without any power.
15. C.J. Cron, 1B, Angels (Mesa): Cron recovered from a down year in Double-A to lead the AFL in hitting (.413) and total bases (56) while finishing second in homers (five) and RBIs (20). Cron also made progress with his plate discipline, the key to him becoming a big league regular.
16. Garin Cecchini, 3B, Red Sox (Surprise): Cecchini won the AFL's Stenson Award for sportsmanship and work ethic, but he can also hit, run and play third. He has an advanced approach at the plate, which led him to finish in the top 10 in the league in on-base percentage.
17. Delino DeShields Jr., OF, Astros (Peoria): DeShields' main point of emphasis in Arizona was transitioning from second base to center field, and though he still needs work on his outfield play, he has the plus-plus speed to make it work. With his wheels, on-base skills and surprising pop, DeShields can be a catalyst as a leadoff hitter.
18. Stephen Piscotty, OF, Cardinals (Salt River): Piscotty, a Stanford product, finished the Fall League with a 12-game hitting streak, including a four-hit game that helped him finish fourth in the AFL in batting average. He showed an innate ability to square up the ball, run the bases well and play a decent outfield, a position he's still learning.
19. Mookie Betts, 2B, Red Sox (Surprise): Having put together one of the biggest breakout performances of the Minor League season, Betts continued to display his all-around ability. He controls the strike zone, has double-digit homer and steal potential, and plays a solid second base.
20. Tyler Naquin, OF, Indians (Surprise): While there's always been concern about where on the field Naquin profiles -- he has the arm but not the power to be a right fielder -- he's always hit wherever he's played. That continued in the AFL, where he led the circuit in hits while also proving to many he can play center field every day.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, Callis' Corner. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.