While the focus of baseball is now whittled down to four clubs with a chance to become World Series champions, the next generation of MLB talent was getting underway out in the desert. The Arizona Fall League kicked off its season on Tuesday, with several Detroit Tigers prospects seeing their first action in a month. The Fall League (AFL) features a decent chunk of MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects, and while the samples are small, some of the matchups should be interesting.
The Arizona Fall League is centered in the Phoenix, Ariz. era, with teams based at various Cactus League spring training complexes. While the quality of prospect talent is mixed, often including players who missed reps with injury during the regular season, there should be plenty of talent on display. As noted in the media guide, 52 percent of major league players in 2017 had appeared in the AFL at one point or another in their minor league development.
Each major league team is required to send seven prospects to the AFL, which is administered by Major League Baseball itself. To be eligible, players must be under contract at the Double-A or Triple-A level no later than August 15 of the current season. There are two exemptions for Advanced-A players, as well as two general exemptions. Six teams of 35 players per roster will play six days a week until November 18.
Detroit Solar Sox?
Center fielder Daz Cameron leads the Tigers’ contingent, who will take the field for the Mesa Solar Sox. The 21-year-old Cameron was acquired from the Houston Astros in the Justin Verlander deal in 2017. He has done nothing but impress since, putting together a splendid 2018 campaign, and he capped his season with a successful stint for Triple-A Toledo in August. He is ranked on several other top 100 prospect lists — FanGraphs has him ranked 41st overall — though MLB Pipeline hasn’t gotten onboard as of yet.
Cameron went 2-for-4 on Tuesday, hitting in the leadoff spot for the Solar Sox. He recorded a single and scored a run against Astros top prospect Forrest Whitley, who was otherwise murderous, striking out eight in his 3 1⁄3 innings of work. Whitley is the eighth ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline. Only the Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a more highly ranked prospect in the AFL this season.
Catcher Jake Rogers, also acquired in the Verlander deal, is the Tigers’ best hope for a true starting catcher of the future. While his chops behind the plate are unquestionably among the best in the minor leagues, the bat remains a bit of a question mark. Rogers struggled mightily at the Double-A level this past spring, but finally caught fire in June and put together an encouraging second half in his age-23 season.
Rogers isn’t ranked with the likes of Cameron — or the Tigers’ other top positional prospect, Isaac Paredes — but in the end he may prove just as important. He has shown solid home run power and an eye for drawing walks since coming over from Houston, but still needs to trim his strikeout rate and settle in more consistently against higher quality pitching. The AFL will give him a jump on gaining that experience with an eye to the 2019 season. He will likely see his first major league cup of coffee within the next calendar year.
Who else should we watch for?
Beyond Cameron and Rogers, the Tigers sent a handful of interesting arms out west to work for the Solar Sox. Hard-throwing lefty Gregory Soto got the start on Tuesday, and continued to display the need for serious command improvements to fulfill his most likely role as a power lefty in a major league bullpen. Soto will have to protected from the Rule 5 draft this fall, and the Tigers could really use some reasons to keep him on their 40-man roster.
Not-quite-sidearm reliever John Schreiber, who handled most high leverage situations for the Double-A Erie SeaWolves, made his AFL debut on Tuesday as well. Like Soto, it didn’t go so well, as Schreiber walked two in his inning of work, and allowed an earned run to blow a lead. Fortunately the Solar Sox were able to come back and pull it out. Schreiber looks like he could be on a fast track to Detroit in 2019, but continues to need work on his changeup and overall command. Though his workload will presumably be light, five weeks of AFL play should help him get off to a quick start next season.
Eduardo Jimenez, who closed games for the Lakeland Flying Tigers in 2018, and Sandy Baez, who made his major league debut this year, round out the list of pitchers the Tigers contributed to the Solar Sox roster. While Baez reached Detroit this year, it was largely due to attrition. He’s another player whom the Tigers’ front office will have to make a roster decision about on this fall. Outfielder Danny Woodrow, and third baseman Danny Pinero, neither of whom is regarded as a legit prospect, round out the Tigers’ contingent, and will get some extra work in this fall.