Written by: James Schiano (@FreePeteAlonso)
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Every fall, many of baseball’s top prospects head west to showcase their talents in the Arizona Fall League. Former standouts like Cody Bellinger (2016), Max Fried (2017), Pete Alonso (2018), Keston Hiura (2018) and Nate Pearson (2018) carried dominant AFL performances into the following season, and their respective stocks’ soared soon thereafter.
With the 2019 AFL now in the books, five players stood out to me. These aren’t the five prospects who played the best or were the most impressive per se, just the five whose stocks’ I think will rise the most in 2020.
Joey Bart (SF):
Bart is already extremely well regarded but has dealt with some very bad luck over the past season. He lost six weeks of his regular season after getting hit by a pitch on his left hand and was only able to play 10 games in the AFL after getting hit by one of his right hand. Nevertheless, Bart made his mark in those 10 games.
— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) September 30, 2019
His power is impressive in and of itself, but coming from the catcher position makes it other worldly. He hit 4 home runs in just 30 at-bats, good for second in the league, while scorching the 8th hardest hit BIP at 109.5 mph.
Plate discipline has not been Bart’s strong suit over two years of pro ball (34 walks vs. 118 strikeouts) but he was one of only three players to have more walks than strikeouts in the AFL (9:7). If he can maintain some semblance of this discipline and, of course, stay healthy, he may soon become one of the best offensive catchers in baseball at the big league level.
Shane Baz (TB):
Baz’s claim to fame is being the ‘throw in’ player-to-be-named-later that was sent to Tampa Bay along with Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows in exchange for Chris Archer. Already known as potentially the worst trade of all time, Baz’s ascension will could cement that claim in Pittsburgh Pirates lore.
The youngest pitcher in Arizona, Baz struggled mightily with his control (6.5 BB/9) while still showcasing the stuff that will soon make him one of the top prospects in baseball.
Baz threw the 17 (!!) hardest pitches of the entire AFL, topping out at 100.1 mph.
We see you, Shane Baz 👀
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) October 13, 2019
Also, his max spin rate of 2,852 RPM was the 3rd highest recorded in the league. For a frame of reference, there were only 113 pitches thrown in the MLB last season with a spin rate greater than 2,852 RPM of at least 95 mph via Baseball Savant. Baz’s stuff is downright electric, and he will be a top-5 pitching prospect before you know it.
Jared Oliva (PIT):
With plus speed and solid power, it is surprising Oliva has been consistently overlooked to this point. A solid all-around outfielder with pedigree, polish, and consistent production, he reminds me of another overlooked Pirates outfielder…
And did I say production?
Jared Oliva AFL ranks…
— Eric Cross (@EricCross04) October 12, 2019
Oliva will likely start the season in Triple-A Indianapolis and should be a huge beneficiary of the juiced baseball. With holes to fill in Pittsburgh’s outfield and an owner who is unlikely to spend money to adequately fill them from outside, I would be surprised if Oliva doesn’t get his shot with the team sometime this summer. I expect him to fill the box score once he does.
Victor Castaneda (MIL):
As unheralded as unheralded prospects get, the Brewers signed Castaneda out of the Mexican league two years ago. Despite Milwaukee’s putrid farm system, Castaneda is not currently ranked among their top-30 prospects.
Used as a reliever in 2019, Castaneda was deployed as a starter in Arizona. The (temporary?) transition paid huge dividends as he had the third lowest WHIP (0.84), third most strikeouts (29), and 6th lowest ERA (1.99) among all AFL pitchers.
Within a system devoid of talent, Castaneda looks like he may be a diamond in the rough. The Brewers have proven to get the most out of their pitchers, and Castaneda may turn out to benefit from their tutelage. Leaning on his nasty splitter, watch out for Castaneda to earn some notoriety as the 2020 season progresses.
Andres Gimenez (NYM):
Heading into 2019, Gimenez was widely regarded as the Mets’ top prospect. A poor season knocked him down a few notches, but I am more optimistic than most. Gimenez was one of only three players in the Eastern League under 21 years old and showed improvement over the 2nd half of the season.
He also saw a spike across some key power metrics as the season wore on.
Gimenez took this momentum into the AFL, where he led the league in batting average (.371) and was 6th in total bases. His 41 total bases were more than Alec Bohm, Seth Beer, Vidal Brujan and Josh Lowe. Gimenez also clocked in with the quickest home to first time on a bunt base hit at 3.67 seconds.
With a slick glove and serious speed, Gimenez has a very high floor for a 21-year-old. A strong AFL showing and improved power potential have him primed for a strong 2020 campaign.
Follow P365 staff writer James Schiano on Twitter! @FreePeteAlonso
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Featured image courtesy of photographer Rob Lynn and MiLB.com