Last year it was Josh Hader and Lewis Brinson: prospects whose stock made significant jumps during the regular season, each capping them off with outstanding performances in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). Hader was under the radar coming into 2015, but was fully on the map after a lights-out AFL. Brinson was a toolsy first-rounder with an impressive all-around profile, but was left off most industry top prospect lists going into 2015. After capping a breakout season with a glowing performance for the Surprise Saguaros, Brinson was considered a Top-50 guy across the board.
As a dynasty owner, it’s imperative to stay up to date with the player valuation landscape. Since the AFL is the only minor league baseball happening from October through November, each individual player can see their value swing drastically before the industry lists come out in the winter. In the middle of June, going three-for-four with two home runs can get swept under the rug, but that same performance is rewarded with Minor League Player of the Day during the Fall League. This sets the stage for legitimate jumps in perceived value, yet a poor performance in the AFL is often discounted for fatigue, inexperience, or injury (see: AJ Reed, 2015). Here are some outfielders and catchers who could see a bump in dynasty value with even a solid performance in the AFL:
Eloy Jimenez, OF, Chicago Cubs
With a truly electric fall, Jimenez could jump into the conversation for top prospect going into 2018. He’s already the Cher of minor league baseball, going simply by first name in many circles. He’s a consensus top-25 guy at this point and his stock should only continue to rise. The 6-foot-4, 19-year-old Dominican has tremendous power, and it should be fun to see what he can do in the thin desert air. He also has the cushion of the ‘aggressive assignment’, where a weak showing will be chalked up to his age. If he wasn’t already in your sights early this year, his mammoth home run and spectacular catch in the Futures Game likely caught your eye. He has a boost from being in the Cubs organization already baked into his value, but the 2016 Midwest League MVP has earned every bit of praise he’s received.
Anthony Alford, CF, Toronto Blue Jays
While Jimenez only looks like a football player, Alford actually was one — at Southern Mississippi and Ole Miss — during the first three years he spent in the Blue Jays organization after being selected in the third round of the 2012 MLB Draft. Listed at 6-foot-1, 215 lbs, Alford is obviously an elite athlete for the diamond. Since he’s always split time between two sports, he’s still slightly raw, but he has some of the easiest pure physical projection in the minor leagues. His stock skyrocketed last year after he hit nearly .300 across A-ball and High-A, displaying a hit tool more polished than anyone expected. He followed it up with a down year, missing most of April to a knee injury, and sitting out almost two weeks after a collision in the outfield in early June. He hit just .236/.344/.378 (with 9 HR and 18 SB in 92 games) this year, but still took walks at an impressive clip, despite his strikeout rate jumping back up to almost thirty percent. He’s already fallen out of the top-50 on midseason lists, but the Blue Jays organization has had success developing power, so many are still bullish on Alford going forward. A strong AFL would go a long way in regaining some of that preseason 2016 hype.
Christin Stewart, OF, Detroit Tigers
Power will always play in the Major Leagues, and Stewart has it in spades. Hitting a combined 30 dingers between Advanced-A and Double-A, Stewart showed off the tool that made him worthy of a first-round pick in 2015. The parks in the AFL are big, but the air is warm, the altitude is high, and the pitching is often pedestrian. Stewart’s probably not in Detroit’s plans for 2017, but he could be knocking on the door by next season’s end. He has some serious competition for playing time with J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton, but for a system that has had success finding and developing big league power, a loud AFL campaign could provide a healthy boost to Stewart’s already-rising stock. Most of his damage in 2016 was done in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, but he was slightly old for the level at 22. He’ll likely never hit .300 in a big league season, but it would be very interesting if Stewart shows signs of improved barrel control this fall.
Ramon Laureano, OF, Houston Astros
Laureano hit the same number of home runs as Yoan Moncada at the same levels this year (High-A and Double-A), and came two stolen bases short of tying the consensus number one overall prospect. The relatively unheard-of Laureano should be on just about everyone’s radar after his 15 home run, 43 stolen base season, and is worth a speculative add right now. With a big AFL — and perhaps a trade to a more opportune organization — Laureano could provide serious returns as early as next year.
Harrison Bader, CF, St. Louis Cardinals
After an incredibly loud start to the season at Double-A Springfield, the 2015 third-rounder looked to be the breakout prospect of the season. He was hitting .286/.350/.491 with 13 home runs and nine stolen bases (on 19 attempts) prior to earning a promotion to Triple-A. He hit just .231/.298/.354 in the Pacific Coast League before receiving a demotion back to Springfield, where he finished the regular season on a slightly better note. There might not be another prospect whose stock saw the same highs and lows as Bader’s did this year. The AFL is a huge opportunity for Bader to flash the tools that made him such an interesting name earlier this name. The strikeouts never got too out of hand, and the walk rate was steady around seven percent across levels, but the 50 percent success rate on stolen bases is worrisome. As of today, he projects as a potential solid Major League piece — think something between a Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk — but a huge AFL could change some opinions.
Jacob Nottingham, C, Milwaukee Brewers
After a stellar start to 2015 in the lower levels of Houston’s system, Nottingham was dealt to Oakland for Scott Kazmir. After arriving in the bay, he didn’t quite go as hyphy has some had hoped, but he hit a solid .299/.368/.409 in 43 games at High-A. One trade is good for a prospect’s value; a second trade can be worrisome. Oakland dealt him to Milwaukee just a few months later as part of the package that netted the A’s big league slugger Khris Davis. The Brewers were aggressive with Nottingham, assigning him to Double-A right after his 21st birthday. He responded with a .234/.295/.347 campaign which left a lot to be desired from dynasty owners. His strikeout-rate spiked to slightly over 30 percent and his walk rate plateaued around six percent. He displayed athleticism for a backstop, swiping nine bases while hitting 11 home runs in 456 PA, but his future projection is much murkier today than it was this time last year. On the bright side, the AFL provides an opportunity for Nottingham to point his stock in the right direction once again.
Taylor Ward, C, Los Angeles Angels
Ward already has some name value because he’s near the top of all Angels’ prospect lists for the same reason that we’re stuck with our current presidential candidates. There’s no telling how far the Angels’ catching prospect would fall if he was in the Dodgers system (seriously, it could easily be in the thirties), but while he’s still a member of the AAoLA, he’s a de-facto “top prospect”, and just a few weeks of high BABIP away from being a sell-high candidate. The 22-year-old’s .249/.323/.337 triple-slash in the Cal League this summer was ghastly, but to his credit, Inland Empire is one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the league. I wouldn’t hold my breath on Ward posting promising numbers for the Scottsdale Scorpions, but much crazier things have happened.
Zack Collins, C, Chicago White Sox
Collins is in an interesting situation, as he might be the only player in the AFL who was drafted in 2016. Considering plenty of new-player dynasty drafts are held off until the winter, this gives Collins a rare opportunity to increase his already-strong draft value. With an impressive AFL, Collins could prove enough to entice owner’s to draft him over the injured Kyle Lewis, or many of the high-upside arms available with a top-5 pick. He could also gain value out of sheer laziness from owners in your league due to recency bias and the bump in press he’ll receive. The White Sox have been notoriously aggressive with their recent draft picks, and the AFL could easily be the White Sox way of seeing if Collins is ready for an early-2017 call to the show.
Carson Kelly, C, St. Louis Cardinals
2016 was a huge season for Kelly. He entered the year coming off a very lackluster campaign in the Florida State League, and just nine months later, there’s reason to believe he’s the heir-apparent to Yadier Molina’s throne. Projected as an above-average defender, Kelly hit nearly .290 across Double-A and Triple-A before getting a September call-up to the big league club. There will likely never be too much power to his game, but he keeps his strikeouts in check, and has always shown at least a passable eye at the plate. While I don’t expect him make too much noise in the AFL, I feel the assignment alone is reason to believe the Cardinals want to see if he really is their next franchise backstop. Even a solid AFL would go a long way in cementing the jump in value his stock received this year.