If there’s one team that is going to attract extra attention this year in the Arizona Fall League, it would have to be the Mesa Solar Sox. The Sox don’t have the most talented roster top to bottom, but as a team with the best prospect in the league (Jo Adell), along with some other interesting Top 100 type prospects (Nolan Jones, Miguel Amaya) they’ll gain some extra attention. That doesn’t even get into the fact they’ve got the most interesting guy in the league, a guy who hit 36 homers in Triple-A while also being used as a pitcher.
Mesa doesn’t really have a true pitcher to watch as much as they have two guys equally worth watching. Each of the two has some positives, but both have some question marks. The biggest name is Alex Lange, the former LSU star turned first round pick by the Cubs, only to be dealt to the Tigers in the Nick Castellanos deal. Lange had a rough year between High-A Myrtle Beach and Double A Tennessee in the Cubs system, but pitched a bit better out of the pen after coming into the Tigers system. The former LSU star has an above average fastball and a borderline plus curve, though he hasn’t been quite the same player as he was prior to knee surgeries going into his junior year at LSU. It’s an important stop for him in the AFL if he wants to keep starting, as he needs to experience some success or risk getting moved to the pen.
The other name to watch is Angels prospect Aaron Hernandez. No, not the former Patriots tight end, but the 2018 third round pick out of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Hernandez held off on his pro debut until this year and ended up going right to High-A with a fastball that flashes as double plus and he also has three more pitches that flash above average in the curve, slider, and change. Hernandez has the stuff to start, but command issues have helped to keep his numbers from matching his raw stuff. Hernandez is another guy potentially destined for the bullpen, but it will be important to watch his command here to see if he can possibly remain a starter.
Under the radar names to watch: The others to watch are led by the Tigers’ Anthony Castro, who despite solid numbers starting in Double-A this year, seems like more of a reliever with a nearly triple digit fastball and a slider that can occasionally flash as a plus pitch. Castro struck out 116 in 102.1 innings in Erie, but he also walked 65 and has a below average change. Cubs prospect Erich Uelmen has a starter’s arsenal, but projects as a reliever capable of generating plenty of ground balls. A pair of high strikeout relievers in Angels Isaac Mattson, who pitched at three levels, including some time at Triple A this year and posted a 13.5 K/9 in 73.1 innings, and Tigers Wladimir Pinto, who split the year between High-A and Double-A posting a 12.7 K/9 in 61.2 innings. Athletics’ Jesus Zambrano dominated the California League to a 1.88 ERA and 0.94 WHIP before a promotion to Double-A where he continued to pitch to a sub-2.00 ERA. Keegan Thompson is the final pitcher to mention, and the former third-round pick threw five scoreless frames in his season debut in Double-A before getting hurt and not appearing until the final 10 days of the season in rehab starts down in Arizona. Thompson is more of a pitchability arm with results who has a chance to make a backend of a rotation if he can stay healthy.
C-Miguel Amaya (CHC)
1B-Jared Walsh (LAA)
2B-Nick Allen (OAK)
SS-Isaac Paredes (DET)
3B-Nolan Jones (CLE)
The biggest name on the infield is Indians Nolan Jones. The second round pick out of a Pennsylvania high school posted a .860 OPS in 77 games in High-A before a promotion to Double A. Jones kept producing after the promotion, hitting .253/.370/.466 with eight homers in 49 games with Akron, helping to add into his season line of .272/.409/.442 with 22 doubles, three triples, and 15 homers plus seven steals in 10 attempts. Jones could use a strong showing here to help push his way into the Indians plans for some point in 2020.
If Jones is the big name, Angels Jared Walsh is the guy with the big production. The breakout star of the Angels system hit 36 homers in Triple A with a 1.109 OPS and even made his big league debut this year. Walsh is more that just a guy with some power and versatility, as he actually pitched in five big league games after seeing action in 13 games in Triple A. He could be the type of valuable piece teams love to have these days as a versatile bench bat with some power that doubles as a lefty reliever.
With Nico Hoerner in Chicago, shortstop may end up being Isaac Paredes, the Tigers prospect with an advanced bat who hit .282/.368/.416 in Double A this year. That’s unless Oakland’s Nick Allen gets the job and moves Paredes to second. Allen, who is the superior defender, hit .292/.363/.434 in 72 games in the California League this summer. The best catcher on the roster is the Cubs Miguel Amaya, a solid hitting and fielding catcher who hit .235/.351/.402 as a 20 year old in High A and a player who has firmly established himself among the Top 100 prospects in the game.
Under the radar names to watch -Nico Hoerner is only listed as a name to watch instead of in the projected best lineup because with his promotion to Chicago after the Javy Baez injury, we may not see the Cubs top pick from 2018 in the AFL this year. It was not the year Hoerner hoped to have this year, but he battled injury and an aggressive assignment to hold his own and make his major league debut just over a year after being drafted out of Stanford.
Another infielder from a strong academic school makes this list with Indians Ernie Clement. The contact and speed oriented hitter makes good contact and has plenty of defensive versatility, but his lack of power will keep him from being more than a utility type. Jahmai Jones is a former Top 100 prospect, but he took a step back in Double-A this year, going from .245/.335/.375 in 48 games last year to just .234/.308/.324 in 130 games this year to go with just a 9 out of 20 success rate in stolen base attempts. Oakland’s Alfonso Rivas had a solid year at the plate, hitting .283/.383/.408, but looks like more of a corners utility type after hitting just eight homers in 509 plate appearances in the California League because he’s geared more towards line drive contact and getting on base than hitting for power.
OF-Jo Adell (LAA), Brandon Marsh (LAA), Greg Deichmann (OAK)
If you don’t know all about Jo Adell at this point, you may not be at the right site. Arguably the best prospect in the game not named Wander, Adell missed some time this year but still cranked out 37 extra base hits in only 76 games across three levels- including 11 in 27 games in Triple A. Adell only hit .264/.321/.355 in his short stint in Triple A, so he can use a strong showing in the AFL to close out his 2019 year. Brandon Marsh is the clear cut second best prospect in the outfield on the team, and had a solid, but unspectacular year in Double A, hitting .300/.383/.428 with 21 doubles, seven homers, and 18 steals in 23 attempts. Marsh is going to need to start hitting for a little more power, though the 21 year old has the ability and combination of frame and projection to do just that. The third outfielder is a bit more of a question mark, but power hitting Oakland prospect Greg Diechmann, who hit 11 homers in 80 games in Double-A this year is the choice.
Under the radar names to watch -Tigers prospect Derek Hill has been around forever at this point, and the 2015 first rounder saw a bit of a power breakout this year as he hit 14 homers. That’s quite the increase over his previous career high of four, set just last year. Of course Hill doesn’t get on base nearly enough for him to let his tools play.