Tigers’ Keith makes Fall League Top 30

Detroit Tigers

Since its inception in 1992, the Arizona Fall League has sent more than 60 percent of its participants and more than 3,000 players to the big leagues. That group includes Hall of Famers Roy Halladay, Derek Jeter and Mike Piazza, another Cooperstown lock in Albert Pujols and this year’s American League MVP (Aaron Judge) and AL Rookie of the Year (Julio Rodríguez).

Baseball’s finishing school once again was loaded with talent this offseason, including 16 members of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list. The highest-rated prospect on the Top 100, Cardinals outfielder Jordan Walker, also claims the No. 1 spot on our annual ranking of the Fall League’s best prospects. Only three Top 100 guys didn’t crack our AFL Top 30, all because they didn’t play enough: outfielders Robert Hassell (Nationals) and Brennen Davis (Cubs), who exited early with injuries, and right-hander Tink Hence (Cardinals), who worked just 8 1/3 innings.

Numerous non-Top 100 Prospects made strong impressions, none more than Joe Black MVP Award winner Heston Kjerstad. The Orioles outfielder had his pro debut delayed two years by myocarditis, but he has regained the power that led Baltimore to select him No. 2 overall in the 2020 Draft.

Because teams rarely send quality pitchers to Arizona unless they lost significant regular-season innings without sustaining a serious injury, position players always dominate our AFL prospects list. They claimed the first 10 spots and 25 of the 30 overall. Several scouts who covered the league contributed to our rankings, which are based on long-term potential while also considering Fall League performance.

1. Jordan Walker, OF, Salt River (Cardinals No. 1/MLB No. 6)
Walker looks nearly ready to take over in right field for St. Louis with his massive right-handed power and a strong arm that clocked 99.5 mph on one throw. The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder has a naturally long swing and steps in the bucket, but he still has good plate coverage and generates plenty of leverage.

2. Jordan Lawlar, SS, Salt River (D-backs No. 3/MLB No. 12)
Before an errant pitch broke his left scapula midway through the AFL season, Lawlar stood out with his five-tool potential at shortstop. His quality approach and strong makeup are two more assets, with the only quibble being that he doesn’t have the true plus arm that some teams desire at shortstop.

3. Jackson Merrill, SS, Peoria (Padres No. 1/MLB No. 83)
Though he was the third-youngest player in the league at age 19 and had just 45 games of full-season experience, Merrill more than held his own. He made a lot of hard contact and could have a higher offensive ceiling than Lawlar, though he’s less likely to remain at shortstop.

4. Zac Veen, OF, Salt River (Rockies No. 1/MLB No. 23)
Two scouts compared Veen to Cody Bellinger, both for his combination of power and speed and also for his difficulty at times catching up to fastballs up in the strike zone. The AFL Offensive Player of the Year after batting .333/.444/.444 with a league-best 16 steals and nearly twice as many walks (15) as strikeouts (eight), he should be able to make adjustments at the plate and his instincts may allow him to remain in center field.

5. Heston Kjerstad, OF, Scottsdale (Orioles No. 9)
Kjerstad batted .357/.385/.622 and topped the Fall League in hits (35), doubles (nine), extra-base hits (15) and total bases (61), after which one evaluator rated him as the circuit’s best prospect. He had the best left-handed power in the league, and his 30 percent strikeout rate reflected his willingness to work deep counts rather than issues with his swing or pitch recognition.

6. Noelvi Marte, 3B, Glendale (Reds No. 2/MLB No. 17)
Marte had the roughest AFL of anyone in this top 10, batting .211/.321/.310 and making six errors in 20 starts at third base. He seemed a bit flummoxed by trying to man the hot corner for the first time in his career, but he could produce 30-plus homers on an annual basis and his bat will play at first base or left field if needed.

7. Masyn Winn, SS, Salt River (Cardinals No. 2/MLB No. 51)
Winn had the best infield arm in the Fall League, a legit 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and also was one of its fastest runners and top defenders. He’s more of an on-base guy than a power threat, and questions about his ultimate offensive impact precluded him from ranking higher.

8. Henry Davis, C, Surprise (Pirates No. 1/MLB No. 19)
Perhaps the biggest enigma in the AFL, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 Draft looked shaky as a receiver and didn’t deter the running game despite a plus-plus arm. A majority of scouts think Davis is destined for the outfield rather than catcher, though he should have enough bat to profile on a corner.

9. Nick Gonzales, INF, Surprise (Pirates No. 5/MLB No. 93)
Gonzales barreled balls more regularly than most Fall Leaguers, though evaluators believed he’d be more effective if he didn’t hunt home runs at times and just let his power come naturally. While he divided his time between second base, third base and shortstop, his average arm is stretched on the left side of the infield, so he may wind up in left field.

10. Andy Pages, OF, Glendale (Dodgers No. 5/MLB No. 66)
While his concentration can lapse at the plate, Pages is a dangerous hitter who taps into his well-above-average raw power when he’s locked in. He also has well-above-average arm strength and gets the job done in right field.

11. Quinn Priester, RHP, Surprise (Pirates No. 3/MLB No. 44)
Though he logged a 6.26 ERA, Priester was an easy choice as the AFL’s top pitching prospect and its lone slam-dunk big league starter. He needs to refine his command, but he missed bats with his 92-96 mph fastball, 82-86 mph slider and 76-80 mph curveball.

12. Luisangel Acuña, SS, Surprise (Rangers No. 7)
Ronald Acuña’s little brother had one of the bigger gaps between his ceiling and floor among Fall Leaguers. He has electric bat speed and the chance for at least solid tools across the board while sticking at shortstop, though he’ll need to solve quality breaking balls to get there.

13. Jasson Domínguez, OF, Mesa (Yankees No. 2/MLB No. 39)
The Martian batted just .159/.250/.217 and his tools looked good rather than otherworldly. Yet he’s still a 19-year-old switch-hitter who projects to have at least solid speed and power, and evaluators think his floor is a big league regular.

14. Nick Yorke, 2B, Scottsdale (Red Sox No. 4)
After slumping through the 2022 regular season, Yorke regained his control of the strike zone and drilled line drives to all fields while showing 20-homer potential. There are some questions about whether he’ll remain athletic enough to play second base rather than left field.

15. Matt McLain, SS, Glendale (Reds No. 5/MLB No. 73)
Though he hit .190/.340/.316, McLain displayed plus speed and at least 20-homer power. Projected as more of a second baseman than a shortstop, he has chased homers since turning pro and would be better with a more measured approach.

16. Mason Miller, RHP, Mesa (Athletics No. 20)
Miller had the best pure stuff among AFL starters, sitting in the upper 90s and touching 102 mph with his fastball while also overpowering hitters with a mid-80s slider. He does come with some health questions and reliever risk, but if he winds up in the bullpen, it might be as a closer.

17. Kumar Rocker, RHP, Surprise (Rangers No. 8)
Working his way back from right shoulder surgery in September 2021 and yet to make his official pro debut, the No. 3 overall choice in the 2022 Draft was somewhat underwhelming. He still can make hitters look bad with a mid-80s slider that ranked as the best in the Fall League, but he struggled to throw strikes or dodge bats with his mid-90s fastball.

18. Jeferson Quero, C, Glendale (Brewers No. 7)
A better bet to become an everyday catcher than Davis, Quero is a quality receiver who used his plus-plus arm to erase 46 percent of basestealers while other AFL backstops combined to nab just 17 percent. A bit overmatched by advanced pitchers as a 19-year-old, he projects as an average to solid hitter with gap power.

19. Edouard Julien, 2B, Glendale (Twins No. 14)
An easy choice as the AFL’s Breakout Player of the Year, Julien tied for the batting title (.400) and topped the league in on-base percentage (.563), OPS (1.249), runs (24) and walks (23). He had the most patient approach in the league, and scouts liked his offensive game more than that of more famous Twins and Glendale teammate Austin Martin, though they also thought he could get passive at times and is best suited for first base or left field.

20. Johan Rojas, OF, Surprise (Phillies No. 5)
The Fall League’s fastest player used his at-least plus-plus speed to get on base, steal bases (13-for-13 in 12 games) and cover plenty of ground in center field. Rojas has some raw power as well, but he will need to find a more selective approach and launch more balls in the air to tap into it.

21. Austin Martin, SS/OF, Glendale (Twins No. 12)
Martin bounced back from a dismal Double-A season, batting .373/.454/.482 and showing the hitting ability that made him the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 Draft. He still comes with questions about his power, however, and scouts don’t think he throws well enough to have a shot at playing shortstop.

22. Mason Auer, OF, Mesa (Rays No. 11)
Auer’s .229/.308/.471 line belied the fact that he owned some of the best all-around tools in the league, including well-above-average raw power, speed and arm strength. He needs more polish at the plate and in the outfield, but he could develop into at least a solid center fielder.

23. Matt Mervis, 1B, Mesa (Cubs No. 21)
After slamming 36 homers during the regular season and pacing the Minors in extra-base hits (78), total bases (310) and RBI (119), “Mash” Mervis continued to live up to his nickname by tying for the AFL lead with six homers. The Fall Stars Game MVP is a 24-year-old, first base-only, all-bat guy, but his power is a carrying tool and could win him a starting job in Chicago next year.

24. Emmet Sheehan, RHP, Glendale (Dodgers No. 22)
Sheehan tied for the Fall League lead with three wins, thanks to some of the best fastball induced vertical break and one of the niftiest changeups in the circuit. His 92-96 mph heater can be unhittable when it’s on — and it has touched 99 in short stints — but he projects more as a multi-inning reliever than a starter unless he can improve his slider, control and command.

25. Colt Keith, 3B, Salt River (Tigers No. 6)
Keith showed the ability to hit for power and average while also working walks, an impressive combination at age 20. Evaluators were dismayed that he has bulked up above his listed 211 pounds, costing him quickness and athleticism, and he struggled at third base with six errors in 10 starts.

26. Zack Gelof, 2B, Mesa (Athletics No. 3/MLB No. 94)
Despite an up-and-down Fall League, Gelof showed the ingredients to become a complete hitter with solid power, though he’ll need to refine his approach to get there. Drafted as a third baseman, he played better than expected at second base.

27. Joey Wentz, LHP, Salt River (Tigers No. 24)
Coming off a strong September in Detroit, Wentz breezed through three scoreless four-inning starts and topped the AFL in ERA, opponent average (.053) and WHIP (0.50). He comes with a higher floor than most of the league’s starters because he mixes four average-ish pitches well, though he has to prove he can stay healthy.

28. Lawrence Butler, OF, Mesa (Athletics No. 14)
He’s still a work in progress at the plate, but Butler could be a 20-20 corner outfielder if he can make more consistent contact. He won the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award, honoring the AFL player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership.

29. Ronny Simon, SS/2B, Mesa (unranked on Rays Top 30)
The Fall League RBI leader (24), Simon is an athletic switch-hitter with solid speed and surprising power for a 5-foot-9, 150-pounder. He’s capable of playing all over the diamond and should provide utility value if he doesn’t hit consistently enough to be regular.

30. Owen Caissie, OF, Mesa (Cubs No. 10)
Though he struggled to make contact against the most advanced pitching he had faced, the 20-year-old Caissie has obvious upside. He has the bat speed and leverage to produce 25 or more homers per season and the plus arm desired in right field.

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