While most baseball fans are focused on the drama of postseason play in the fall, it’s also an important time for some of the minor leagues’ top prospects. And starting on Tuesday, some of the A’s most promising young prospects will begin play in the Arizona Fall League.
2016 marks the 25th season of the Arizona Fall League. Each year, the league schedule runs for about 5-6 weeks from early-October through mid-November. There are 6 teams in the AFL, with each team comprised of prospects from 5 different organizations. A’s prospects will be playing for the Mesa Solar Sox this year, where they’ll be joined by players from the Indians, Marlins, Cubs and Blue Jays, and the team will be managed by former A’s outfielder and current Midland manager Ryan Christenson.
Attendance at AFL games typically hovers in the 200s, with the crowds comprised largely of scouts, agents and various professional baseball personnel. Most organizations use the AFL as an opportunity to get some of their top prospects a little more live game action to hopefully help advance their development.
Some of the A’s young infield prospects will be seeing action in Arizona, including shortstop Franklin Barreto, second baseman Max Schrock and versatile infielder Yairo Munoz, while the A’s AFL pitching contingent this year will be comprised of promising right-handers Frankie Montas, Dylan Covey, Sam Bragg and Trey Cochran-Gill. 2014’s top draft pick for the A’s, third baseman Matt Chapman, was originally scheduled to participate, but the decision was made to give the slugger a bit of a breather and his spot on the squad was taken by Schrock.
–A’s Prospects in the AFL in 2016–
Midland RockHounds / Nashville Sounds
11 HR / 36 BB / 94 K / .284 AVG / .342 OBP / .422 SLG / .763 OPS
Barreto has been viewed as the A’s top young hitting prospect ever since his arrival from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson trade. And since joining the A’s system, he’s followed a pattern of starting out slowly each season and then catching on fire in the second half, and this year was no exception. Barreto boasted a .337/.387/.486 slash line over the last 90 days of the regular season, and his hot finish earned him a promotion from Midland to Nashville on the last day of August. In addition to hitting 11 home runs, the infielder led all A’s minor leaguers in stolen bases with 30 this past season. Barreto is still just 20, but he finished the year just one step away from the majors, and a strong AFL campaign could help expedite his estimated time of arrival.
Shortstop / Second Baseman / Third Baseman
9 HR / 23 BB / 76 K / .240 AVG / .286 OBP / .367 SLG / .653 OPS
Munoz entered the season as a consensus top ten prospect for the A’s, but he reported to spring training a bit out of shape and ended up being sidelined till the end of April after dealing with a string of nagging injuries. He then got off to a bit of a slow start over his first couple months of action at Midland. At the relatively young age of 21, Munoz didn’t have a particularly impressive season at the plate in his Double-A debut, but he did have the opportunity to expand his versatility in the field by getting into at least 25 games each at shortstop, second base and third base over the course of the season. He’s likely to continue to see time around the infield while also making up for lost at-bats from the spring during his stint in the AFL.
Midland RockHounds / Stockton Ports / Hagerstown Suns / Potomac Nationals
9 HR / 31 BB / 42 K / .331 AVG / .373 OBP / .449 SLG / .823 OPS
Schrock was acquired by the A’s from Washington at the end of August in return for reliever Marc Rzepczynski. The 21-year-old has done nothing but hit since the Nationals drafted him in the 13th round last year. He kept it up after joining the A’s system late in the season, and he sports an impressive .326/.369/.449 slash line over 175 games in his minor league career. After appearing in just 8 regular season and 8 postseason games in the A’s system, the team will have the opportunity to get a much better look at what they’ve got in the sweet-swinging infielder when he begins his stint in the AFL next week.
Oklahoma City Dodgers / Tulsa Drillers
16 IP / 14 H / 4 ER / 3 BB / 22 K / 2.25 ERA / 1.06 WHIP
Montas was acquired this summer by the A’s from the Dodgers in the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill trade, and he actually comes with a bit of major league experience on his resume. He made 7 appearances with the White Sox in 2015 before being dealt to the Dodgers prior to the 2016 season. Surgery last offseason followed by a broken rib sidelined Montas for all but 7 games this year. The Dominican righty boasts a 100+ mph fastball and has struck out an average of 9.3 batters per 9 innings over his minor league career. Montas has mainly appeared as a starter in the minors. And if he looks strong in his return to action, it’s possible that he could compete for a rotation spot next spring, or the A’s could always choose to put his power arm in the bullpen and see how it plays out there. But the front office will first have to see how the big righty looks when he’s fully healthy and back on the mound in the AFL.
29 1/3 IP / 21 H / 6 ER / 17 BB / 26 K / 1.84 ERA / 1.30 WHIP
A former 1st-round pick of the Brewers out of high school, Covey ended up heading to the University of San Diego after being diagnosed with diabetes during his post-draft physical. The A’s scooped him up with their 4th-round pick in 2013 and, after turning in a solid 2015 season at Stockton, the groundball pitcher got off to a decent start at Double-A in 2016 before an oblique injury caused him to miss four months of the season. And after making just 6 starts this year, the 25-year-old will be looking to make up for lost time in the AFL.
65 IP / 60 H / 31 ER / 19 BB / 68 K / 4.29 ERA / 1.22 WHIP
The A’s 18th-round pick in the 2013 draft, the right-handed reliever has always had good control and solid strikeouts numbers. Bragg got off to a rough start in 2016, but he finished strong and ended up striking out 68 while walking just 19 over 65 innings for Midland. The right-hander had equal success against righties and lefties for the RockHounds, but he’ll be looking to gain greater overall consistency during his time on the mound in the AFL.
73 1/3 IP / 71 H / 25 ER / 25 BB / 58 K / 3.07 ERA / 1.31 WHIP
The reliever came to the A’s from the Mariners in return for Evan Scribner as part of Oakland’s offseason bullpen purge. Originallly taken by the Mariners in the 17th round of the 2014 draft, the 23-year-old had failed to allow a home run in his minor league career prior to this past season. The Alabama native was especially tough on right-handers while coming out of Midland’s bullpen in 2016 and had a stretch of 3 ½ months this season where he didn’t surrender a round-tripper for the RockHonds.
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