While the 2019 Surprise team may not have the elite talent of the Peoria, Scottsdale, or Salt River squads, there are some incredibly intriguing players that could certainly influence their parent clubs’ 2020 plans with a big performance during the Arizona Fall League. This is a club with a balanced pitching staff and hitting that could be up and down to create problems for other teams in the league and perhaps even come together enough to surprise many with an AFL championship! (Yes, dad humor intentional.)
As far as style on the mound, this is one of the better-balanced pitching staffs in the AFL. There is not a top-50 prospect here, but there are a few that could rank in quite a few top 100 and certainly top 200 lists. There are a half-dozen spots still open, and the organizations that hold those open spots have very intriguing names that would make sense for these spots.
Big name: Daniel Lynch, Kansas City Royals organization. Lynch flew up predraft rankings in his final year at Virginia as the 6’6” lefty’s stuff began to truly play up beyond a four-pitch average stuff lefty. He now works comfortably around the mid-90s with his fastball and shows plus control when he’s on. He was only on the mound for 20 starts and 96.1 innings in 2019, which is a big reason he’s getting the additional work of the AFL.
One to watch: Daniel Bies, New York Yankees organization. The Yankees may have the best power forward rotation in all of professional baseball, and Bies is one of their biggest at 6’8” and 245 listed pounds. He’s in a long line of big (in size) college arms the Yankees have selected and then watched add velocity and/or quality to their breaking stuff to become impressive relief options at the very least. Bies worked as a swingman across three levels in 2019 and struck out 27 percent of hitters. He does rely heavily on his fastball and that could portend a future role in the bullpen, but his raw stuff is certainly something to note through the Arizona circuit.
Barring a change, the catchers are set for Surprise, and they give a good example of the triumphs and struggles of drafting a high school catcher in two of the selections along with the struggle and triumphs of developing athleticism in the tools of ignorance as well.
One to watch: Matt Whatley, Texas Rangers organization. Whatley was the Rangers’ third-round selection out of Oral Roberts in 2017, and he has shown himself as one of the most athletic catchers in all of baseball ever since. Whatley led all catchers in major or minor league baseball in stolen bases in 2019 and he is graded as a plus defender behind the plate with a fringe double-plus throwing arm. His contact rate and finally pulling out some of his average raw power into his game is very likely a focus of his time in Arizona.
The Surprise infield is more a group of David Eckstein players than a group of Manny Machado players for certain. The Saguaros will have one superstar in their infield with a lot of guys surrounding who will be very steady, if not flashy.
Big name: Luis Garcia, Washington Nationals organization. Rated by many as Washington’s second-best prospect entering 2019, Garcia’s numbers at Double-A Harrisburg may not look great until you realize that he was 18 when the season began at the level, turning 19 after roughly a month and a half of play. Originally born in New York City, Garcia established residency in the Dominican and signed with the Nationals in 2016. After a mediocre year in Harrisburg, he’s looking to showcase his immense raw tools in Arizona, very similar to Gleyber Torres, who was coming off a solid-but-not-spectacular season in High-A at 19 before his huge AFL year in 2016.
One to watch: Mason McCoy, Baltimore Orioles organization. A slick-fielding shortstop with tremendous strike zone control coming from Iowa, McCoy had put together decent contact numbers in his first two pro seasons, but nothing amazing and not much else with it. In 2019, he exploded out of the gate with high-A Frederick, hitting .379 over 27 games before being promoted to Double-A. He fell off some in Double-A, but he finished with a solid .290/.345/.378 line. McCoy, along with Bowie teammate Rylan Bannon (also an AFL participant) is as much instinct and baseball grinder as raw talent, but those guys can be fun in an environment like this.
If there is a spot where Surprise may compete with other teams on raw talent level, it is in the grass, where the Saguaros have both raw talent and polish in their outfield that should make for an interesting blend for manager Scott Thorman to arrange in the lineup each contest. Though none is an elite prospect, each is a guy who would either make his respective team’s top 30 (or be in strong consideration for it).
Big name: Bubba Thompson, Texas Rangers organization. Thompson was a two-sport star who had big-time college offers for football before signing after the Rangers drafted him in the first round. After an impressive 2018 that allowed Thompson to show off his power and speed at low-A, he struggled through injury and poor performance in 2019 in High-A. An “older” draftee in 2017, Thompson is 21 now and likely to repeat High-A to open 2020, barring an incredible performance in Arizona to convince Rangers authorities otherwise.
One to watch: Brewer Hicklen, Kansas City Royals organization. Few have stuffed minor league stat sheets the way Hicklen has the last two years in the Royals system. If one were to play a fantasy league based purely on minor league statistics, Hicklen’s 2018 and 2019 would be among the more valuable seasons available. He’s combined for 35 doubles, seven triples, 32 home runs, and 74 stolen bases over the past two seasons. A former two-sport star himself who actually had his college shut down the football program before he could begin his two-sport college career, Hicklen is still raw and could be a late bloomer as his raw athleticism turns into polish.