Christopher Crawford

Prospect Roundup

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2018 AFL Standouts

Monday, November 20, 2017


The 2018 Arizona Fall League season has come and gone, and while the overall talent level paled in comparison to previous years -- particularly with the pitching -- there were still players who had scouts buzzing.


Here’s a look at the standouts of the 2018 AFL season.


Hitters:


Ronald Acuna, OF, Atlanta Braves -- Acuna had the most hype of any prospect coming into the AFL -- with all due respect to Washington’s Victor Robles, who also performed well -- and to say he lived up to that hype is an understatement. He took home the league’s MVP award after hitting .325/.414/.639, and he lead all AFL hitters with seven homers. We’ve written ad nauseum about how talented the 19-year-old outfielder is, but seeing him perform like this as a teenager is still undeniably impressive. He’s going to spend time with Atlanta next year.


Francisco Mejia, C/3B, Cleveland Indians -- Mejia is certainly an offensive standout. Cleveland’s best prospect hit .365 in his 15 games, and the switch-hitter struck out just six times in his 63 at-bats. The switch-hitter has outstanding hand-eye coordination and can make harder contact everywhere. The one caveat here is that Mejia didn’t look good with the glove at third, and it’s very unlikely based on what he showed in the AFL that the Indians would trust him at the position right now. Still, it’s tough to ignore this kind of offensive prowess, and he has more value behind the plate, anyway.


Sheldon Neuse, 3B, Oakland Athletics -- Acquired in the deal that sent Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle to the Nationals, Neuse was outstanding for Mesa, posting a .935 OPS and five homers in his time in the league. The 2016 second-round pick doesn’t have a standout tool, but he also doesn’t have a true weakness. These type of prospects are often underrated, especially in fantasy circles. If you’re looking for an under-the-radar prospect who is going to be able to stick at third, you should take a look at Neuse.


Nicky Lopez, SS, Kansas City Royals -- The Kansas City system is a bit of a disaster, but Lopez was one of the few breakout prospects in 2017, and that continued in the AFL as shown in his .383/.433/.568 line. A left-handed hitting shortstop, Lopez doesn’t have much power, but he can take advantage of mistakes, and every other tool has a chance to be above-average. He’s not a lock to stick at shortstop, but even if he has to move to second base, he has a chance to be a regular.


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Pitchers


Mitch Keller, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates -- Keller was the best pitching prospect coming into the Arizona Fall League, and he leaves with the same title. He ‘only’ struck out 13 batters in his 23 innings, but his 1.52 ERA in that time frame illustrates how little hard contact he allowed. With a sinking mid-90s fastball and plus curveball along with above-average command, he has the arsenal and wherewithal to pitch at or near the top of the rotation.


Max Fried, LHP, Atlanta Braves -- After pitching well in his limited big-league time, Fried continued his good run in Arizona; registering a 1.73 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 26 innings. The southpaw showed off his plus fastball/curveball combination, and the change continues to make progress. The command still isn’t where it needs to be just yet, but if it can be even average, he’s a mid-rotation starter.


Albert Abreu, RHP, New York Yankees -- In the loaded Yankees farm system, Abreu somehow became a forgotten man. He refreshed some memories this fall. The 22-year-old right-hander showed off his three potentially plus pitches, and he allowed one run or fewer in four of his six starts. Like Fried, the control still leaves a bit to be desired, but his upside competes with any pitcher in the AFL not named Keller.


TJ Zuech, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays -- A 2016 first-round pick, Zeuch disappointed in his first professional season, striking out just 51 batters in 65 ⅔ innings. He was much better in the AFL, however, fanning 15 hitters in just under 19 innings with a respectable 3.44 ERA. The 6-foot-7 right-hander gets downhill with a mid-90s fastball, and his curveball is another swing-and-miss option when he stays on top of it. Add in an average slider and developing change, and he has the arsenal and size you’re looking for in a mid-rotation option. It’s just a matter of showing that stuff consistently.




Christopher Crawford is a prospect writer for Rotoworld. He's scouted and covered prospects since 2009 and resides in Coronado, Calif. Follow him on Twitter @Crawford_MILB.
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