Come October, we’ll all be focused on the major-league postseason and waiting to see who will be crowned the 2016 World Series champions. That makes the grind of the 162-game season all worth it.
As the world watches the MLB postseason, some of baseball’s best minor-league players will be playing games in front of much smaller audiences. The Arizona Fall League, which runs from mid-October through mid-November, features many of the game’s best prospects in one six-team league.
The AFL serves many purposes. It’s a chance for teams to give their top prospects more playing time, which comes in handy if they missed time during the regular season due to injury. It also allows them to evaluate fringe roster players whose future with the organization is in question, such as a Rule 5 Draft-eligible player.
Each of the six AFL teams includes prospects from five MLB organizations. The league is hitter friendly for several reasons. First and foremost, the ball really carries in the warm desert air. Also, teams usually don’t send their top pitching prospects to the AFL because they’ve already reached their innings limit for the season.
The 2016 AFL rosters were released on Wednesday. There are still some spots to fill, especially on the pitching side, but for the most part the rosters are in place. Here’s a breakdown of the six AFL clubs and their most interesting players.
Glendale Desert Dogs
MLB teams: Houston Astros , St. Louis Cardinals , Los Angeles Dodgers , Washington Nationals , Chicago White Sox (full roster)
Top Prospect: RHP Francis Martes, Astros. Martes is one of the very few top pitching prospects set to play in the AFL this year. The 20-year-old has a 3.32 ERA with 126 strikeouts and 44 walks in 122 innings this season, all at Double-A. He’s roughly four years younger than the average Texas League player. Martes, who came over from the Miami Marlins in the Jarred Cosart trade two years ago, sits in the mid-90s and has one of the nastiest curveballs in the minors.
One to Watch: C Zack Collins , White Sox. The ChiSox selected Collins with the 10th-overall pick in the 2016 draft and his pro debut was good, but not great. The former University of Miami backstop hit .235/.385/.443 with six home runs in 34 Class A games after signing. Collins is a potential impact bat who could move quickly, even as a catcher. The White Sox love to promote their top prospects aggressively, so don’t be surprised if Collins goes from AFL in October to the big leagues next summer.
Other Notables: OF Harrison Bader , Cardinals; IF Cody Bellinger , Dodgers; OF Courtney Hawkins , White Sox; RHP David Paulino , Astros; OF Alex Verdugo , Dodgers; RHP Austin Voth , Nationals
Mesa Solar Sox
MLB teams: Oakland Athletics , Toronto Blue Jays , Chicago Cubs , Cleveland Indians , Marlins (full roster)
Top Prospect: 2B Ian Happ , Cubs. The 2016 Solar Sox are the most stacked AFL team since Scottsdale had both Mike Trout and Bryce Harper in 2012. Happ stands out from the pack as a second baseman who put up a .280/.369/.441 batting line with 13 home runs and 15 steals in 129 games between Class A and Double-A this summer. Happ switch-hits and is versatile enough to play the outfield as well. Yes, the Cubs have another stud versatile position player knocking on the door.
One to Watch: IF Franklin Barreto , Athletics: Barreto is the top prospect the A’s received from the Blue Jays in the ridiculously one-sided Josh Donaldson trade. The 20-year-old is a bat-first prospect who put up a .281/.340/.413 batting line with 10 home runs and 30 steals in 119 Double-A games this season despite being roughly four years younger than the average Texas League player. There’s no way to salvage the Donaldson trade now. It’s a disaster for Oakland. But Barreto is a high-ceiling prospect who could arrive in Oakland in 2017.
Other Notables: OF Anthony Alford , Blue Jays; OF Greg Allen , Indians; RHP Jeff Brigham, Marlins; IF Yu-Cheng Chang , Indians; 3B Matt Chapman , Athletics; OF Eloy Jimenez , Cubs; RHP Frankie Montas , Athletics; IF Yairo Munoz , Athletics; RHP Duane Underwood , Cubs; OF Bradley Zimmer , Indians
MLB teams: Seattle Mariners , Baltimore Orioles , San Diego Padres , Tampa Bay Rays , Cincinnati Reds (full roster)
Top Prospect: RHP Brent Honeywell , Rays. Honeywell had one of the best statistical seasons of any pitcher in the minors, posting a 2.34 ERA with 117 strikeouts and 25 walks in 115 innings split evenly between Class A and Double-A. He’s a rare screwball pitcher, though his low-90s heater and quality changeup make him more than a one-trick pony. Honeywell is going to the AFL to make up innings after missing time with a minor elbow injury at midseason.
One to Watch: LHP Luiz Gohara , Mariners. It feels like Gohara has been for a long time, and he has after originally signing with Seattle as a 16-year-old back in 2012, which makes it easy to forget he’s still only 20. Gohara’s climb up the minor-league ladder has been slow because his development hasn’t progressed as quickly as hoped, and also because he’s had some conditioning issues. His arm is top notch though, and the proverbial light bulb seemed to go on this season. Gohara might finally be ready to take off and become a true top prospect.
Other Notables: OF Franchy Cordero , Padres; OF Michael Gettys , Padres; C Justin O’Conner , Rays; OF Tyler O’Neill , Mariners; OF D.J. Stewart , Orioles
Salt River Rafters
MLB teams: Atlanta Braves , Milwaukee Brewers , Arizona Diamondbacks , Colorado Rockies , Detroit Tigers (full roster)
Top Prospect: IF Ozzie Albies , Braves. Atlanta has been aggressive with the 19-year-old Albies, and he’s responded in a positive way, hitting .292/.358/.414 with five home runs and 29 steals in 133 games split almost evenly between Double-A and Triple-A. That’s mighty impressive for a teenager. Albies has a very high ceiling and also draws big time praise for his intangibles. He and Dansby Swanson figure to hold down the middle infield for the Braves for a long time. Albies, who doesn’t turn 20 until January, will be the youngest player in the AFL this season.
One to Watch: 3B Ryan McMahon , Rockies. McMahon has put up huge numbers all throughout the minors, though he hit his first bump in the road this season, hitting only .239/.323/.396 with 12 home runs at Double-A. He also struck out in 30.2 percent of his plate appearances as advanced pitchers picked apart holes in his swing. The AFL is hitter friendly and it’s a good opportunity for McMahon to finish strong and feel good about things going into the offseason.
Other Notables: 3B Travis Demeritte , Braves; IF Isan Diaz , Brewers; RHP Chris Ellis , Braves; C Jacob Nottingham , Brewers; OF Brett Phillips , Brewers; OF Christin Stewart , Tigers
MLB teams: Los Angeles Angels , San Francisco Giants , New York Mets , Philadelphia Phillies , New York Yankees (box score)
Top Prospect: SS Gleyber Torres , Yankees. The Yankees acquired Torres from the Cubs as the headliner in the Aroldis Chapman trade, and the 19-year-old will be one of the youngest players in the AFL this year (he’s one month older than Albies). Torres is hitting .273/.358/.426 with 11 home runs and 21 steals in 123 total games this season, and he’s a do-it-all shortstop who projects to be a top notch all-around player.
One to Watch: 1B Greg Bird , Yankees. Last year Jurickson Profar played in the AFL after missing the entire regular season following shoulder surgery. This year Bird will do the same. He had surgery in February and the AFL will be his first game action since. Bird was MVP of the fall league two years, so he’s been here before. The circumstances are very different now though.
Other Notables: 3B Miguel Andujar , Yankees; C Taylor Ward , Angels; IF Gavin Cecchini , Mets; IF Scott Kingery, Phillies
MLB teams: Pittsburgh Pirates , Texas Rangers , Boston Red Sox , Kansas City Royals , Minnesota Twins (full roster)
Top Prospect: IF Yoan Moncada , Red Sox. Moncada is the best prospect in baseball and is therefore the best prospect in the entire AFL this year. He was also just called up to the big leagues, and while that doesn’t make him ineligible for the AFL, Moncada could be on Boston’s postseason roster in October. The 21-year-old is a monster, hitting .294/.407/.511 with 15 home runs and 45 stolen bases between Class A and Double-A this season. The kid has megastar written all over him.
One to Watch: OF Austin Meadows , Pirates. In Moncada and Meadows, Surprise has the two best prospects in the entire AFL on their roster. Meadows is a hitting savant, with maybe the best combination of pure hitting ability and power in the minors. He’s put up a .277/.344/.554 batting line with 11 home runs and 15 steals in 81 games at mostly Double-A and Triple-A this year. Meadows is heading to the AFL after missing time with a freak eye injury — he fractured his orbital bone playing catch — and a hamstring problem this season.
Other Notables: LHP Trey Ball , Red Sox; SS Nick Gordon , Twins; IF Andy Ibanez, Rangers; RHP Michael Kopech , Red Sox
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / 2016 Arizona Fall League rosters: Here’s each team’s most interesting players