MESA, Ariz. — Over the past five weeks, some of the game’s top prospects have spread across the Valley of the Sun, exhibiting why they could be the faces of Major League Baseball’s next generation. On Sunday, they got to share one field.
The National League bested the American League, 9-3, in the 2022 Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game at Mesa’s Sloan Park. The game featured one significant homer for a near-Major Leaguer, several extra-base hits from Top 100 talents, notable (if short) pitching performances and even one Cardinal vs. Cardinal matchup.
Here are 12 of the best performers from Sunday’s Fall Stars Game:
1. Matt Mervis, 1B, Cubs (No. 21): The 24-year-old left-handed slugger entered Sunday as the Fall League home run leader with six and didn’t disappoint in his organization’s Spring Training home with the only dinger of the afternoon. Mervis went deep on a 1-0 backdoor breaker from Rays submarine right-hander Antonio Menendez, sending it comfortably out to left-center as part of a six-run fifth inning for the NL. The Chicago first baseman, who was named Fall Stars MVP, has shown off pop everywhere he’s played in 2022 — from his 36-homer regular season to his 19 long balls in Saturday’s Home Run Derby — and that sustained performance could make him a Major League option for the Cubs as early as Opening Day 2023.
2. Christian Chamberlain, LHP, Royals: Pitchers generally get limited looks in a showcase event like a Fall Stars Game, but the Kansas City southpaw certainly made the most of his Sunday. Chamberlain fanned Top 100 prospects Zac Veen, Jackson Merrill and Andy Pages as part of a perfect third inning for the AL. He threw 11 of his 12 pitches for strikes and got six swings-and-misses in that span. Those whiffs were spread out evenly between the left-hander’s low-90s fastball with good riding life and his biting 79-81 mph curveball as Chamberlain showcased the two pitches that could make him a future bullpen piece for KC.
3. Jackson Merrill, SS, Padres (No. 1, MLB No. 83): Batting second and starting at short for the NL, Merrill was the only player from either side with a multihit performance as he went 2-for-3 with a double, a single and an RBI. The RBI two-bagger came on a popup just beyond the reach of Rays shortstop Ronny Simon in the fifth inning, but we won’t hold that against him. San Diego’s top prospect jumped straight from Single-A to the Fall League and hasn’t enjoyed the best results (.662 OPS in 94 plate appearances) in such an advanced environment. But Sunday served as a reminder that his above-average hit and power tools give him the chance to perform on any given day.
4. Justin Martinez, RHP, D-backs (No. 30): The 6-foot-3 right-hander is known for his easy gas, and he showcased it Sunday by touching 99 mph multiple times in a scoreless third frame. But it was his upper-80s split change that got four whiffs, two from Simon and two from Edouard Julien, as he struck out both. Martinez ended the 2022 regular season — his first since undergoing Tommy John surgery — at Triple-A Reno, and while he does have previous starting experience, Sunday was the latest example of why his stuff can especially play up in shorter stints out of the bullpen.
5. Zac Veen, OF, Rockies (No. 1, MLB No. 23): The NL started the Colorado center fielder in the leadoff spot and never removed him from the game, allowing him to get five plate appearances. He reached three times in true leadoff fashion — twice on walks, once on a ninth-inning single — and added in the game’s only stolen base for good measure. That last note should come as no surprise. Veen leads the AFL with 16 steals, the most by any Fall Leaguer since 2011. His kinetic energy is part of what makes him such a promising prospect, and that was again on display from the top of the NL lineup.
6. Zach Britton, OF, Blue Jays: The 24-year-old was sent to the AFL to continue to get more defensive looks in the outfield after being a catcher for most of his career, but he’s shown up with a good bat too, hitting .404/.482/.574 over 56 plate appearances to earn his spot in Sunday’s exhibition. He showed he belonged too by reaching in two of his three plate appearances as an AL starter, the first of which was his second-inning double that represented the junior circuit’s first hit of the afternoon. Avoiding the wear-and-tear of catching could allow Britton’s offensive skills to play more frequently in the upper Minors, and he continues to make a case for himself in the desert.
7. Evan Reifert, RHP, Rays: The Tampa Bay reliever’s appearance in the seventh inning should have made a few fans at Sloan Park sit upright in their chairs. Why? Reifert has yet to allow a run or even a hit over 10 2/3 scoreless innings for Mesa, during which he has struck out 22 batters. Well, that hitless, runless streak continued Sunday as Reifert retired Veen, Masyn Winn and Pages in order while showing off his usual mid-90s fastball and 83-85 mph, high-spin slider. The Rays know what to do with skilled relievers, and Reifert is looking like one more and more in his extended period of 2022.
8-12. Jordan Walker, Jasson Domínguez, Nick Gonzales, Colt Keith, Lawrence Butler: There may have been only one homer hit Sunday, but that doesn’t mean the game was lacking extra-base hits. In fact, there were eight doubles split evenly between the two sides — three by players named above and the other five provided by players in this section. Domínguez, Gonzales and Keith’s two-baggers drove in runs in the 12-run fest while Walker’s automatic double plated a pair in the fifth.