Exclusive Scouting Report: AFL Rising Stars West

(Professional scout Adam McInturff has been covering the Arizona Fall League for Baseball Essential. This latest contribution covers the Arizona Fall League West team from the Rising Stars game and includes some quick take along with detailed scouting reports on six top prospects.)

It was a pleasure to cover the Arizona Fall League’s Rising Stars game this weekend for Baseball Essential, the second time I’ve covered the Fall League (and the Rising Stars Game itself) for the website. If I had to boil down my overall takeaways from the AFL West squad in just a few bullet points before delving into the “nitty gritty,” I suppose I would order them like so:

  • Austin Meadows (Pirates) is excellent. All he had to do was take one swing (kept hands inside a fastball to flick a 390+ foot towering shot to his pullside) to show how unusual his blend of hit and power tools are on a centerfielder’s frame. That swing was among the best individual strokes on a ball I saw from a prospect all of this season. I have absolutely loved this guy since seeing him “day one” as a high school junior, and I recall talking with scouts after he was drafted ninth overall in 2014 — everyone unanimously shocked that eight teams passed on this guy. He’s that good, in my mind.
  • Gary Sanchez (Yankees) is taking “that next step” we all hoped Jesus Montero would take, but never seemed to. All drama surrounding Montero (and subsequently, ice cream sandwiches) aside, Sanchez and Montero will forever be inevitably linked as two seven-figure Latin American catchers the Yankees invested in as teens. The Gary Sanchez version seems to be making more consistent contact to tap into his power than Montero did, while also showing superior defensive tools and an above-average arm with surprising quickness in his pop-up on the throw down to second. Sanchez has lit the AFL on fire this year, and might be the second Yankee in a row to win league MVP — Greg Bird won it in 2014. The way Sanchez is hitting the ball right now, it might not matter if he catches: he’s showing offensive upside and massive power potential such that he might develop the bat to crack any lineup, regardless of position.
  • While he did homer tonight, Alex Blandino (Reds) would have been a guy I talked about either way. He has really opened my eyes throughout the AFL season, and the usually hit-oriented Blandino demonstrating the capacity to “let it fly” on an inside pitch and send it deep out of the yard was enthusing. While I don’t think he has the sheer athleticism and “quick twitch” to play an MLB shortstop, he has some “Anthony Rendon-lite” similarities to me — meaning he has a similar body and set of tools, but I probably couldn’t get behind the assertion Blandino will impact the MLB game to the same degree Rendon does. Blandino is a heady player with high baseball IQ and feel for the barrel. He has a loose, whippy RH stroke, much like Rendon — and, similarly to Rendon, he is a sure-handed defender, though not a SS. It will be interesting to see how the Reds bring Blandino along in general, and especially considering the holes that could open up in the rebuilding Cincinnati infield in the coming seasons.
  • This is the best I’ve seen RHP Lucas Sims (Braves) and RHP Damien Magnifico (Brewers). Sims started the game, and showed a mix of stuff that has an at-least 60-grade fastball and curveball (on the 20-80 scouting scale), while still needing to improve some aspects of his third pitch (a changeup) and overall control — though there is ample time for the 2012 first rounder out of a Georgia high school to continue to improve. Magnifico’s best bolt was 100 mph, but he has always thrown hard. What caught my eye about Magnifico the most was the degree his overall control and mid-80s slider had improved since his collegiate days at Oklahoma. While neither the slider nor his overall control is genuinely “MLB average,” they might not have to be for him to have MLB utility as a late-inning reliever, though I wouldn’t crown Magnifico a “future wipeout closer,” specifically, quite yet.
  • Two pitchers who opened my eyes for the West squad — both constituting somewhat as “sleepers” given the overall talent level and prospect pedigree in the AFL Rising Stars Game — were RHP Trevor Williams (Pirates) and LHP Chaz Hebert (Yankees). Neither has a particularly high ceiling — Williams maybe profiling as a number-four starter for a non-elite rotation at best, and Hebert either as a number-five starter or left-handed swingman — but aspects of both pitchers’ games stuck out to me, and I think both of these guys are going to have their crack at the big leagues in more limited capacities down the road. There are plenty of “untouchable” prospects in the AFL that pro scouting departments know will be difficult to acquire. However, these lesser-to-middle-tier prospects who perform in the AFL significantly increase in trade value, and can be the third or fourth pieces of a prospect-for-veteran deal.

Now, on to the actual scouting notes themselves, first some of the bats, and then the pitchers from the West squad….

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