Big Hype Prospects continues with a look at the early results from the Arizona Fall League. This is, historically, a hitter-centric league so it will come as no surprise that the best early performers are mostly position players.
Five Big Hype Prospects
Zac Veen, 20, OF, COL (AA)
AFL: 31 PA, 1 HR, 7 SB, .455/.581/.636
Veen has posted video-game numbers, especially on the basepaths. During the regular season, he stole 55 bases in 64 attempts (541 plate appearances). He’s upped the ante in Arizona, swiping a league-leading seven bags in eight attempts. Veen’s biggest statistical weakness is an elevated swinging strike rate. To close out the season, he posted a 15 percent swinging strike rate at Double-A while batting .177/.262/.234 in 141 plate appearances. His early rebound at the fall league is an encouraging sign.
Emmet Sheehan, 22, SP, LAD (AA)
AFL: 6 IP, 5 K, 2 H, 2 BB, 2 HBP, 0.00 ERA
One of only a few pitchers with serious clout in the AFL, Sheehan has held opponents scoreless through two appearances. He’s presently on the cusp of Top 100 prospect status for many evaluators. The Dodgers consistent ability to get the most out of their pitching prospects certainly contributes an added hint of optimism.
Command is the limiting factor for his development, and it happens to be the only thing he’s struggled with thus far in Arizona. Sheehan’s repertoire is a tad unusual. While a fastball-curve-changeup trio sounds vanilla, he’s a right-hander whose best pitch is a changeup. His fastball and curve tunnel well and can have upwards of 20-mph of separation. Scouting reports tend to downplay his curve when viewed on its own, but the pitch seems to play up within his repertoire.
Heston Kjerstad, 23, OF, BAL (A+)
AFL: 40 PA, 3 HR, .368/.400/.711
The second-overall pick of the weird 2020 draft, Kjerstad missed all of 2021 due to heart inflammation. He finally made his minor league debut this season. He steamrolled Low-A pitchers in 98 plate appearances then struggled versus High-A opponents. Since he’s missed so much time, his performance in the AFL will have more influence on how evaluators view him than most other participants. Presently, he’s tied for the league lead with three home runs. Notably, he’s also struck out 10 times which is right on par with his strikeout rate in High-A.
Matt Mervis, 24, 1B, CHC (AAA)
AFL: 21 PA, 3 HR, .263/.333/.842
The co-leader in home runs is Mervis. He’s accomplished the feat in 19 fewer plate appearances than Kjerstad. Mervis spent the regular season climbing from High- to Triple-A. Along the way, he hit 36 home runs in 578 plate appearances. His plate discipline and contact rates improved at every level, culminating in a 10.4 percent walk rate, 14.6 percent strikeout rate, and 8.7 percent swinging strike rate in Triple-A. He’s a classic pulled contact, fly ball masher built for the height of the juiced ball era. He should arrive in Chicago early next season. He’ll enjoy Wrigley Field when the winds are blowing out.
Matt McLain, 23, SS, CIN (AA)
AFL: 30 PA, 2 SB, .200/.467/.250
A talented middle infielder now overshadowed by Elly De La Cruz and Noelvi Marte, McLain could make a case for a quick promotion to the Majors with a strong showing this fall. To date, he’s shown epic patience, working a league-leading 10 walks in just 30 plate appearances. He’ll need to show a stronger knack for making quality contact, whether in play or over the fence. His 2022 campaign at Double-A was characterized by plenty of discipline (15.5 percent walk rate), decent power (.221 ISO), and a poor .232 batting average. While batting average isn’t tightly related to production, most quality prospects tend to post high averages in the minors.
Joey Wentz, DET (24): It’s uncommon but not entirely unheard of for players with Major League experience to play in the AFL. Wentz pitched 32.2 effective innings with the Tigers, including a 3.03 ERA (4.56 xFIP). He missed the early portion of the season, so he’ll make a few extra starts to further build his workload. A former 40th-overall pick, Wentz threw four perfect innings in his first AFL appearance.
Luisangel Acuna, TEX (20): Acuna lacks the same raw tools as his talented older brother, but his development has progressed encouragingly nonetheless. He reached Double-A as a 20-year-old. He has picked up where he left off in the AFL, batting .300/.323/.633 with a pair of home runs in 31 plate appearances. Don’t worry about the low walk rate, his discipline might be his carrying trait.
Nick Yorke, BOS (20): After a poor regular season campaign, Yorke is looking to put his name back on the map with a hot finish. Thus far, he’s hitting .300/.410/.400 in 39 plate appearances. He’s yet to homer or steal a base. He has, however, worked six walks compared to six strikeouts. In High-A, his strikeout rate was three times higher than his walk rate.
Zack Gelof, OAK (22): Gelof is well-regarded by Athletics personnel, though his on-field results weren’t ideal. He finished the year on a power-binge in Triple-A, blasting five home runs in 38 plate appearances. He blasted two home runs on Thursday, his first of the AFL season. Overall, he’s batting .259/.355/.481.
Jordan Lawlar, ARI (20): Although he sputtered statistically to end the season in Double-A, scouting reports continually put Lawlar in the discussion for the number one prospect. In 32 plate appearances, he’s hitting .333/.500/.667 with two home runs and three steals in four attempts. 2023 is his age 20 season, and there’s an outside chance he’ll debut. A hot AFL would help those odds.