2018 Arizona Fall League Preview: Salt River Rafters

The facilities at Salt River, which is the spring training home to the Diamondbacks and Rockies, are considered to be the best in baseball and the Salt River team should be amongst the top in the Fall League. The 2018 Salt River Rafters will be comprised of prospects from the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Nationals, Marlins, and Twins organizations. The collection of offensive talent and athleticism on this team will be hard to top with as many as six top-100 prospects selected for this team. Brendan Rodgers and Carter Kieboom are two of the most well known prospects here, but there are plenty of others to get excited about.

Pitching Staff

Summary: The Arizona Fall League isn’t known for its pitching, but outside of the Scottsdale squad the Salt River Rafters have the most interesting pitching prospect in the league in Diamondbacks farmhand Jon Duplantier. Joining Duplantier in the Rafters’ rotation is former Brewer now Marlin prospect Jordan Yamamoto and a pair of Rockies prospects in Ryan Castellani and Jesus Tinoco. The rest of the staff is primarily made up of relievers that are getting an audition to be a part of big league plans in 2019. The most interesting arms in that group are Tommy Eveld (MIA), Kevin Ginkel (ARI), Mitch Horacek (COL) and Tyler Mark (ARI). Tommy Eveld was the return in the Brad Ziegler trade this July.

Pitcher to watch: Jon Duplantier, RHP Diamondbacks

Although Jon Duplantier is the pitcher to watch on this Salt River squad, I do want to give a quick shoutout to Jordan Yamamoto. Yamamoto’s season did’t start until late May after a bout with shoulder soreness put him on the DL to begin 2018, but when healthy he rode his above-average fastball with life and plus slider to a nifty 1.83 ERA and 85:14 K:BB ratio. Unfortunately he went on the DL again with shoulder soreness and is looking to make up some of that lost time out here in Arizona. Jon Duplantier is another arm out here looking to make up lost time as he went on the disabled list in June and missed a month and a half with biceps tendonitis. The biggest knock on Duplantier for is career has been the concerns about his durability. He missed some time in college and his unorthodox delivery doesn’t quiet any of those concerns. When healthy Duplantier has been one of the top statistical performers in the minors. He has an above-average fastball in the low 90s that can bump up to 95-96 and a slider that gets ground balls and whiffs. He has the ceiling of a number-two starter.

Infield and Catchers

Summary: Salt River has the best collection of infielders and catchers in the Fall League. The three biggest names on the infield are shortstop-second baseman Brendan Rodgers (COL), shortstop Carter Kieboom (WSH), and shortstop Jazz Chisholm (ARI). I’m very interested to see the defensive alignment with these three guys on the field as they all have some concerns about being able to stick at shortstop longterm and they might be getting some looks at other positions as we head into 2019. The second grouping of interesting infielders on this Salt River Rafters club are shortstop-second baseman Bryson Brigman (MIA), third baseman Drew Ellis (ARI) and first baseman Pavin Smith (ARI). Brigman was acquired at the deadline from the Mariners and his biggest tool is his speed. Drew Ellis was considered by some evaluators to be the best bat on his Louisville team (which also had Brendan McKay), but he’s proven to be a power only guy at this point. Pavin Smith has struggled to hit for the power necessary for a first baseman, even in offensive environments like the Northwest League and the California League. The other infielders that make up the Salt River squad are Travis Blankenhorn (MIN), Josh Fuentes (COL), and Jake Noll (WSH). All three have a utility projection, but none of them play shortstop so they’ll have to continue to hit.

Even the backstops on this team are fun to watch. The four catchers making the trip to Arizona are former University of Texas standout Tres Barrera (WSH), and three Diamondbacks catchers: Renae Martinez, Dom Miroglio and Daulton Varsho. Varsho is easily my favorite of the group. He has an above-average hit tool with average game power, but will always post high doubles numbers. He’s one of the most athletic catchers in the minors and even went 19-for-22 on the basepaths. There are some defensive concerns here, especially a lack of arm strength, but he is improving and has a chance to stay behind the plate.

Player To Watch: Jazz Chisholm, SS Arizona Diamondbacks

Jazz Chisholm is one of the most underrated prospects in all of the minor leagues. I had the privilege of watching him about a half dozen times over the years while he was at Kane County, and he’s an explosive athlete. He has quick, loose hands and hips that explode to the baseball. He uses all fields and has some projection on his lean frame. In 112 games across two levels of A-ball Jazz hit .272/.329/.513 with 23 doubles, 6 triples and 25 homers in 2018. He also added 17 steals on 21 attempts. He has some strikeout concerns but a lot of that is due to his aggressive approach. He doesn’t get cheated and will take a big hack. While he will never win a Gold Glove at short, he should have no issues sticking there, but someone with a better glove will eventually come along and push Jazz to center or second base.

Outfielders

Summary: Despite lacking the star power that the group on the infield has, the collection of outfielders making the trip is a deep and talented group. The most well known guy of the group is former Brewer and now Marlin farmhand Monte Harrison. Harrison has seen his stock fall a bit as inconsistent mechanics and growing contact issues haven’t allowed him to tap into his power and speed. The other outfielders making the trip are Brian Miller from the Marlins, Luke Raley, Brent Rooker and Jaylin Davis from the Twins, Daniel Johnson of the Nationals and Sam Hilliard from the Rockies organization. Miller has zero power but did swipe 40 bags and is a good defender in centerfield. Luke Raley was acquired as part of the Brian Dozier deal from the Dodgers and is a first baseman/corner outfielder bench bat that had a nice season in Double-A. Jaylin Davis battled a shoulder injury in college and several injuries since turning pro, but he’s an athlete with some raw power that knows what he’s doing in the box. I expect him to have a nice AFL stint. Daniel Johnson and Sam Hilliard are both likely bench pieces as the big clubs in front of them are absolutely stacked with talent. Johnson’s speed and glove stand out and Hilliard can hit but probably not enough to play first base.

Player To Watch: Brent Rooker, OF Minnesota Twins

The Twins popped Rooker with the 35th-overall pick in the 2017 draft because of his power and he hasn’t disappointed. Coming out of Mississippi State he was considered the top power bat in his draft class and he’s already racked up 87 extra base hits (40 homers) in one and a half professional seasons. Rooker is an extreme fly-ball hitter and that plays right into his skill set. For his career his fly-ball rate is well over 40% and if he can learn to better pick up spin, he could become a consistent 35-plus homer bat in the bigs. As you may have guessed, strikeouts are a bit of a problem and his 26% rate in Double-A leaves him little margin for error. He does offset it a bit with his nearly 10% walk rate, but he’s being sent to Arizona to work on his pitch recognition and that’s what he needs to do. Defensively, he’s likely a first baseman, but if he hits like we think he can the Twins won’t mind his sub-par range in left field.

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