Today — Tuesday, October 4 — some of the game’s top prospects will come together to play in the annual Arizona Fall League. For 20 years, the league has served as sort of a finishing school for the game’s best and brightest young talent. Each major league team sends six or seven players from its farm system to comprise a league of six teams with each team playing 38 games over seven weeks. (Here is a full schedule of all the games)
The league even has its own Hall of Fame with players such as Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols and Roy Halladay being enshrined. And in 1994, the Scottsdale Scorpions were the team everybody came to watch as a 31-year-old prospect by the name of Michael Jordan roamed the outfield. This season, the Scorpions are once again the team to watch as the outfield boasts a trio of future major league All Stars.
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Here are 25 intriguing prospects to keep an eye on:
Mesa Solar Sox — Cubs, Orioles, Twins, Pirates, White Sox
Gerrit Cole, Pirates — RHP, 21 (age)
Cole was the first overall selection in this year’s draft after turning down the Yankees in 2008 when they drafted him with the 28th overall pick out of high school. With a fastball that can hit triple digits, Cole dominated during his three years at UCLA. Has three plus pitches at his disposal. Aside from his blistering fastball, his slider has late break and his changeup sits in the 90-mph range. This will be Cole’s first taste of professional hitting.
Aaron Hicks, Twins — OF, bats L/R, 22
Hicks was the 14th overall selection in the 2009 draft by the Twins. He came into this season ranked #24 on Baseball America’s top 50 prospect list and was the Twins’ #1 prospect. The power is still developing, but he has every tool in the bag, including an advanced batting eye that allowed him to collect 78 walks in 122 games this season. A slick fielding outfielder, Hicks’ speed makes him a potential gold-glove caliber player in the future.
Josh Vitters, Cubs — 3B/OF, bats R, 22
Vitters was the #3 overall selection by the Cubs in the 2007 draft. Was regarded as having one of the best bats in the draft but his progress has been coming along slowly. Showed signs of breaking out this season as he hit .283/14 HR/81 RBI over 129 games. One of the tougher players to strike out in the minors (54 K), he also rarely walks (22 BB). With Aramis Ramirez’ contract up, Vitters has a golden opportunity to show the Cubs that he is ready to take over the position.
Robbie Grossman, Pirates — OF, bats L/R, 22
Grossman is a ballplayer. He doesn’t possess great tools but does everything well on both sides of the field. He led the minors with 127 runs scored and collected 104 walks on the season, good for a .418 OBP. His 13 HR and 24 SB show a good mix of power and speed as well. The Pirates are starting to stockpile a lot of talent down on the farm, and Grossman will have his opportunity to showcase his skills here.
Phoenix Desert Dogs — A’s, Blue Jays, Indians, Reds, Yankees
Michael Choice, Athletics — OF, bats R, 21
Choice has jaw-dropping, raw power and should give the A’s the big bat they have been lacking for a while now. He hit .285 with 30 HR/82 RBI/.918 OPS over 118 games this season. Still strikes out a bunch but will also draw plenty of walks.
Anthony Gose, Blue Jays — OF, bats L, 21
Gose is a plus defender with plus/plus speed. He stole 70 bases over 137 games this year and also added 16 HR to show some pop in his bat. Needs to work on his plate discipline (154 K) but should be the Blue Jays’ leadoff hitter of the future very soon.
Yasmani Grandal, Reds — C, bats L/R, 22
One of the top defensive catchers in the minors, Grandal also brings a bat with him to the park. Over 105 games, he hit .305 with 14 HR/68 RBI/.905 OPS. The Reds first-round (12th overall) pick in 2010, Grandal is on the fast-track to the majors and Reds’ fans can catch a glimpse of his talents here.
Scottsdale Scorpions — Angels, Nationals, Giants, Phillies, Red Sox
Mike Trout, Angels — OF, bats R, 20
Trout was named Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .326/.414/.544/.958 with 11 HR and 33 SB in 91 games in the minors. An unbelievable defensive center fielder, Trout also has 25-30 HR potential and should hit for a high average in the majors. Could be the fastest player in the majors right now, has been clocked at 3.65 second to first, 4 seconds is considered elite. Had an up-and-down stint in the majors over 40 games, hitting .220 with 5 HR/16 RBI/4 SB as the youngest player in baseball.
Bryce Harper, Nationals — OF, bats L, 19
The first pick in the 2010 draft, Harper lived up to his incredibly high expectations this year before a hamstring injury ended his season. Over 109 games, he hit .297/17 HR/58 RBI/26 SB with a .392/.501/.894 slash line while being the youngest player in the league. With an impressive showing, Harper can start making his case for an opening-day roster spot next season for the Nationals.
Gary Brown, Giants — OF, bats L, 23
The talent in the outfield for the Scorpions would make most major league teams jealous. Brown, the Giants #1 prospect, had a monster year hitting .336 with 115 R/34 2B/13 3B/14 HR/ 80 RBI/53 SB. His .925 OPS shows the total package of power and speed he brings to the field. With the Giants needing help on offense, Brown should be able to showcase himself to fans for what should be an opening day roster spot next season.
Matt Purke, Nationals — LHP, 21
Purke was drafted 14th overall by the Rangers in 2009 but decided to attend TCU after a messy contract negotiation. After a stellar freshman season, in which he went 16-0 with 142 K/34 BB over 116 innings, arm problems during his sophomore caused him to slide to the third round of the 2011 draft. When healthy, he is a power pitcher with great command and could end up being a steal for the Nationals. This will be his first go around as a professional.
Joe Panik, Giants — SS, bats L, 20
Panik was the Giants first-round (28th overall) draft pick this year. He hit .341/6 HR/54 RBI/13 SB over 69 games at class-A ball. Has a great approach at the plate, evidenced by his 28 BB to just 25 K on the season. Should be the Giants shortstop of the future with more time and experience.
Peoria Javelinas — Brewers, Cardinals, Mariners, Mets, Padres
Dan Hultzen, Mariners — LHP, 21
Hultzen was the second-overall pick in this year’s draft by the Mariners. A two-time ACC pitcher of the year at Virginia, he went 11-3 with a 1.57 ERA and 148 Ks this season. His fastball hits 95 mph and his changeup has very good fade and is considered plus. Still needs to work on a third pitch as his curveball is basically a ‘show me’ pitch right now. Will be getting his first taste of professional ball here.
Justin Wright, Cardinals — LHP, 22
A 47th round draft pick by the cardinals in the 2010 draft, the diminutive lefty was impressive across three leagues this year. Over 52.1 innings, he went 5-1/1.03 ERA/0.86 WHIP/70K/ 18BB and held opponents to a .148 average. Has a chance to move up the Cardinals prospect list with continued success here.
Nick Franklin, Mariners — SS, bats L/R, 20
The Mariners top prospect coming into this year, Franklin’s offensive numbers took a hit with the rise in competition. After hitting .283 with 23 HR and 25 SB last year, he hit .281 with 7 HR and 18 SB this year. An above-average defender, Franklin could develop into an All-Star caliber shortstop for the Mariners with a little more polishing.
Jedd Gyorko, Padres — 3B, bats R, 23
Gyorko was drafted for his bat. Regarded as one of the best hitters in the 2010 draft, the Padres used their second-round pick on him and have looked like geniuses for it. Over 140 games this year, he hit .333 with 119 R/47 2B/2 3B/25 HR/114 RBI and .400/.552/.952. He won’t stay at 3B but the Padres will find a way to get his bat into their line up everyday.
Salt River Rafters — Astros, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Rockies, Tigers
Tim Wheeler, Rockies –OF, bats L, 23
Power and speed. That is what Wheeler brings to the game. He hit .298/33 HR/86 RBI/21 SB over 138 games this season. The Rockies first-round (32nd overall) pick in 2009, he will use this as an audition for a spot on the major-league roster next season.
Nolan Arenado, Rockies — 3B, bats R, 20
All talk about Arenado revolves around his bat. With an advanced approach at the plate, and great bat speed, he hit .298 with 20 HR and led the minors with 122 RBI this year. The Rockies #4 prospect heading into this year, Arenado’s lack of range at 3B may push him to a corner outfield spot at the next level.
Steve Ames, Dodgers — RHP, 23
Ames is one of the better control pitchers in the minors. In 2009, he struck out 47 while walking only six over 30 innings. Last season, he struck out 48 while walking only three over 31.1 innings. This year, he went 2-2/2.48 ERA/41K/ 11 BB over 32.2 innings while recording 5 saves. Dodger fans can take a look at their possible closer of the future in Ames.
Surprise Saguaros — Braves, Marlins, Rays, Rangers, Royals
Tim Beckham, Rays — SS, bats R, 21
The first overall pick in 2008 by the Rays, Beckham’s progress has been slow. Still just 21, you can’t just write him off yet, however. He showed some developing power this season, belting 12 HR over 131 games. His defense has vastly improved but shortstop still doesn’t look like his future position. The Rays can afford to be patient with the young hitter and allow him to improve his game without the added pressure of living up to his high draft status.
Sean Gilmartin, Braves — LHP, 21
The Braves first-round pick (28th overall) this season, Gilmartin looks like a future set-up man extraordinaire. He went 2-1/2.53 ERA/0.94 WHIP/30K/2BB over 21.1 innings this year, showing the pinpoint control needed for success out of the pen. His fastball is average, hitting 91 mph at times, his curveball is still developing, and his changeup has good movement and is his best pitch.
Will Myers, Royals — OF, bats R, 20
After a 2010 in which Myers hit .315/14 HR/83 RBI/12 SB and .429/.506/.935 over 126 games, the 19-year-old was named the #15 prospect in baseball by Baseball America. He struggled a bit this season with the jump to double-A, hitting .254/8 HR/49 RBI and .353/.393/.745 over 99 games. His advanced approach at the plate and lightning-quick bat speed project to a middle of the lineup hitter for a Royals team loaded with offensive talent.
Miguel De Los Santos, Rangers — LHP, 23
Seventy strikeouts in 32 innings. That is what De Los Santos did in 2009. That comes out to a ridiculous 19.7 K/9. This season, over 94.2 innings, he struck out 142 batters while walking 46. His fastball hits 95 mph, his changeup is filthy and his curve is a plus pitch. The suddenly pitching-rich Rangers could have a lethal weapon out of the pen as early as next season.
Mikie Mahtook, Rays — OF, bats R, 21
Mahtook was the Rays first-round (31st overall) draft pick this year. He hit .383/14 HR/56 RBI with an SEC-leading 29 SB for LSU this year. An extremely high-energy player, he uses his speed to chase down everything hit to him in the outfield. This will be his first professional experience, and he should be one of the more exciting players to watch.