2021 Arizona Fall League Championship Game
There’s only one Arizona Fall League game left in 2021, and that one involves a title.
East Division champion Mesa will face West Division winner Surprise in the AFL Championship game on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET (5 p.m. local) at Salt River Fields. The one-game playoffs will be broadcast on MLB Network with Scott Braun and MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo on call. It will also stream on MLB.com and through the MLB app.
While the AFL is generally seen as a prospect-centric showcase, the last game on the calendar represents an opportunity to share the team’s success in a unique environment. The Fall League sees players from five different organizations play together for six weeks in the wilderness, allowing minor leagues to share a clubhouse and gain experience with players who will once again become opponents down the line. .
This fall, the Mesa Solar Sox are made up of hopefuls from the Athletics, Blue Jays, Cubs, Marlins and Orioles systems. The Surprise Saguaros are made up of Nationals, Rangers, Reds, Royals and Yankees.
Before the book officially ends on the 2021 Arizona Fall League season, here are 10 prospects to watch out for in Saturday’s league game, one for each club represented on the field in Salt River:
Athletics: Jonah Bride, INF / C (unranked)
It’s already a big week for Bride. He was added to Oakland’s 40-man roster ahead of Friday’s Rule 5 deadline, and he could continue the good times on Saturday. Bride showed a patient approach to the plate this fall, especially as the season progressed. He walked 10 times while taking out just four batters in eight games in November, posting an OBP of 0.581 in this clip. Bride finished the AFL regular season with a .250 / .451 / .462 line in 71 home plate appearances. Perhaps most notably, he started catching during his time with Mesa, having previously played only first, second and third in his Minor League career. With the way he’s reaching base, the Solar Sox should consider one of those options for him to be meaningful at bat on Saturday.
Blue Jays: Gabriel Moreno, C (MLB No. 32)
There’s a good chance we’ll look back on the 2021 Fall League and think Moreno was the strongest hitter on the circuit (aside from Spencer Torkelson, who left the circuit earlier). The 21-year-old goaltender was sent to Arizona to make up for lost batting strikes due to a broken thumb and looks a lot like the star he was at Double-A New Hampshire. Moreno reached .329 / .410 / .494 and led the AFL with 11 doubles in 22 games for the Solar Sox. The right-handed slugger is able to pulverize the ball all over the court with authority, as he showed last Saturday when he had the highest exit speed in the Fall Stars Game at 107.9 mph. Moreno added a third base to his defensive repertoire this fall, but he’s quite capable behind the plate. Either way, his bat could play a big part in securing a title for Mesa.
Cubs: Nelson Velazquez, OF (No. 29)
As far as a household name exists in the AFL, Velazquez has certainly become one with his MVP-level performance in the wilderness. The Chicago outfielder finished the Fall League as the leader in home runs (nine), hits (40), total goals (74), stroke percentage (0.712) and OPS (1.191). It came from some promising signs of a power break at the end of the season at Double-A. The Cubs saw enough of Velazquez’s promising bat – in addition to his outfield arm – to add him to the 40-man roster, so like Bride, he’ll have a lot to celebrate this weekend.
Marlins: JJ Bleday, OF (MLB No. 71)
Many in Southeast Florida could breathe a sigh of relief this fall because of what Bleday was able to accomplish after a tough Double-A campaign. The 2019 first round only hit .212 / .323 / .373 with 12 home runs in 110 games for Jacksonville. He used the Fall League to make quality adjustments and finished his regular season with a .316 / .435 / .600 line and five long balls in 24 games. That’s not a huge enough sample size to say that Bleday, who won the Fall Stars Game MVP last week, is officially back to the status that made him such a promising bat coming out of Vanderbilt. , but it’s a solid step on a big stage. One last big performance on Saturday could be a sweet icing on his AFL cake.
Orioles: Nick Vespi, LHP (unrated)
Speaking of the Fall Stars Game, Vespi put in a strong performance for the winning team last Saturday, allowing just one base runner in a scoreless relief frame. It was a highlight in a strong fall league for the 26-year-old southpaw, who had a 2.51 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings for the Solar Sox. Vespi relies heavily on breaking throws, especially his slider, and has to account for his below average fast ball speed. The off-speed stuff can always throw hitters off balance, and that’s what the southpaw will want to show on Saturday. He could pitch with a chip on his shoulder and a rule 5 draft berth in the lead after Baltimore failed to add him to the 40 on Friday.
Nationals: Jackson Cluff, SS (No. 19)
Cluff missed much of the season with a broken thumb and wasn’t much of a productive Double-A hitter (0.190 / 0.278 /, 278 in 35 games) when he played. Sent to the Fall League to make up for lost time, he accomplished more than that with Surprise. Cluff hit .342 / .432 / .456 with seven more hits and eight steals in 22 games in Arizona. His above-average speed and good field ability in the middle of the infield gave him decent ground, but an improved bat in the fall helped level his stock.
Rangers: Justin Foscue, 2B (MLB No.83)
Like his potential double play partner, Foscue was also sent to the Southwest after a bruised coast limited him to just 62 games this summer. Unlike Cluff, Foscue crushed most of his time on the pitch, including a 33-game streak with High-A Hickory in which he hit 0.736 with 14 home runs. He brought his above-average pop to Surprise – the home of the Rangers’ spring training – where he hit five home runs and posted an OPS of .944 in 89 home plate appearances this fall. The former Mississippi State star has all the skills to make an extra offensive noise in Saturday’s showdown.
Reds: Michael Siani, OF (n ° 11)
How about someone who can show off elsewhere beyond the plate? Siani consistently earns positive marks for his defensive work in the outfield, so Mesa’s hitters might want to think twice before hitting his way. His 60-degree speed also helped him slip 10 sacks in 11 attempts in 14 games with the Saguaros. Siani missed a few weeks of AFL play but returned on Monday, meaning some worthwhile games could be on the cards on Saturday.
Royals: Nathan Eaton, INF / OF (unrated)
Eaton entered the AFL game overshadowed by some really big names in the Kansas City system, but used his time in Arizona to make a name for himself. He can show good speed, in particular, and used that to triple in last weekend’s Fall Stars Game. Eaton, who finished the AFL with an average of .317 and .816 OPS in 20 games, saw the time at third base, shortstop, center field and left field and used a decent arm in all four places. Another winning performance could give the Royals and their fans another name to consider entering the offseason.
Yankees: Austin Wells, C (# 6)
The first round of 2020 entered the fall with a reputation as a solid all-round hitter, and he certainly backed it up. Wells hit .344 / .456 / .578 with nine more hits in 18 games for the Saguaros. His 1,034 OPS placed sixth among AFL qualifiers and trailed only Velazquez (1.191), Elijah Dunham (1.037) and Bleday (1.035) among hitters who could appear in the championship game. The most important questions about the UNLV product are mostly defensive. Can he stick to the receiver? The Yankees will have to respond to them in the long run. In the short term, Well has more than enough bat to possibly win his first pinstripe trophy.