The best offensive team in the Arizona Fall League was easily the Surprise Saguaros. Scoring 17 more runs than any other team, Surprise wound up with the league’s best record, 19-11-1. They took on the Scottsdale Scorpions in the championship game, but wound up falling 6-4 in a game where they committed four errors. Despite the championship game numbers, they were a very good defensive team and had the league’s second best ERA and the fewest unearned runs, just six.
Jacob Barnes was one of the best relief pitchers in the league this season, pitching nearly twelve innings and not surrendering a single run. His K/BB ratio was 17/3 and posted a WHIP of 0.77, which would have led the league if he pitched enough innings to qualify. He does not have overpowering stuff, his fastball works around 93, but he shows a good feel for three pitches, mixing in a slider and change.
The best ERA for any starting pitcher this fall belonged to a fellow Milwaukee Brewers prospect, Josh Hader. He was dominant in his 16 innings, really raising his stock, showing a good feel for all three of his pitches, including a running breaking ball that plays especially well in his low arm slot. He allowed less than a runner per inning while working as both a starter and reliever.
The pitcher that showed the most advanced feel for pitching was Luke Weaver. He appeared in five games as a reliever and two as a starter, and showed flashes of future success in either role. He projects best as a number three or four starter as he has a fastball that regularly works 91-92 but with run and very good command, but can add a couple MPH in a relief role. His changeup is his best secondary offering, sitting 78-83 with excellent deception and some late dip in it. He is still working on the slider, which currently works more like a cutter than a wipeout pitch but had moments of being an above-average pitch. He allowed less than a runner per inning as well and had a K/BB ratio better than 4/1, but one poor outing against Salt River inflated his ERA to 3.72.
The story of the Saguaros offense is all about the big three bats (Jurickson Profar, Gary Sanchez, and Patrick Wisdom) but the improvements of Bubba Starling should not be overlooked. Starling was in the AFL in 2014, where he hit .177 without a single home run, but 2015 was a whole different story. His approach at the plate was much better, something that was evident all the way back to Spring Training, and hit .274 with an OBP of .330 this fall with four home runs.
Profar was the DH all fall, without logging a single inning in the field after missing all of the past two seasons with arm trouble. Talking to him after the championship game, he indicated that his arm was feeling good and he is looking forward to taking the field again, but he let his bat do the talking during this AFL season. His average was not great, hitting .267, but he put together very good at-bats and came through with runners on base, finishing third in the league with 20 RBIs.
The only two players to drive in more runs than Profar were his teammates, Patrick Wisdom and Gary Sanchez. Wisdom is a very strong armed, elite fielding third baseman that has struggled with the bat at times. Early in the fall, he put together some rough at bats, often chasing bad pitches and looking off balance, but he was excellent down the stretch. He got a hit in eight of his final nine games, had nine RBIs in his final four, and homered in each of his final two games before the championship game. Overall he still only hit .237, matching his average from Double-A Springfield where he spent his whole minor league season. Wisdom could be a Gold Glove caliber third baseman, so it was a surprise when he went unprotected ahead of the coming Rule 5 draft, and could be a player a team takes a flyer on and hope his bat makes the strides needed to stick in the big leagues.
The player who had the MVP all but locked up in the first half of the AFL was Gary Sanchez. He finished with a .295 average while leading the league in home runs with seven and tied with Wisdom in RBIs with 21. He only hit two home runs after the Fall Stars game, but the real story was what he did behind the plate. Sanchez will never be a very good catcher in terms of receiving ability as he allowed far too many balls to get past him and his glove jabs at pitches too often, but he has a cannon of an arm that may allow him to stick behind the plate. I clocked him with a 1.80 pop time regularly due to his arm strength and surprising footwork for player of his size. With the Yankees moving John Ryan Murphy this offseason, Sanchez should have every opportunity to win the backup catching job in New York, but he might be best served heading back to the minors where he can catch every day but take over the starting role should there be an injury to Brian McCann.