Not every bit of baseball in the country ends when the World Series is over. There’s always the Arizona Fall League, where MLB teams each send a handful of prospects every October and November to get a little extra seasoning against some different, higher-level competition.
This year, the Orioles sent their handful of prospects out to Arizona to play with the Salt River Rafters alongside prospects from the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Marlins, and Brewers. In a departure from the last several years of AFL play, the O’s actually had some of their players who were sent out to Arizona do well.
Recent AFL seasons have been something of a preview for relievers getting called up to the big league bullpen. Mychal Givens turned a 2014 AFL appearance into a 2015 roster spot. Donnie Hart did the same thing from 2015 to 2016. Both of Stefan Crichton and Jimmy Yacabonis played in the AFL last year and were in the Baltimore bullpen this year.
It’s a place where a prospect can show what he can do. The sample sizes are all small, especially for pitchers, so don’t jump for joy over success or give up on a prospect whose time wasn’t successful. Maybe they were just working on something. But it’s always nicer to see a small sample size success story than having to explain away a small sample size failure.
Here’s who the Orioles sent out there and how they did:
This is the third year in a row that Scott has made an appearance in the AFL. The Orioles keep sending him out there in hopes that this will be the time where everything clicks and he figures out how to throw strikes. This year wasn’t the year. Scott tossed just 9.1 innings over five games and walked eleven batters while hitting two more. He posted a 12.54 ERA and a 2.36 WHIP.
We got a little taste of what must tantalize the Orioles about Scott in his short big league appearance at the end of this season. We got a much bigger taste of why he still has work to do. The latter is what carried over to Arizona.
The Orioles second round pick from last year’s draft made the jump from Aberdeen last year to Frederick this year. That jump went well enough that they sent him to the AFL, where he was used mostly in relief. Akin struck out 13 batters and walked just five in 16.1 innings, recording a 2.76 ERA with an impressive 0.92 WHIP.
The O’s skipped Akin from Aberdeen last year to Frederick this year. He had a bit of a walk problem in Frederick - though not nearly a Scott-level walk problem. He’s done enough to show he’s ready for Bowie’s rotation next year, and from there, who knows?
There were more familiar position player names sent out to Arizona, but it was Wilkerson who had the only good month out of the O’s prospect trio. What’s not to like about a guy batting .317/.396/.512 against solid competition? Wilkerson is Rule 5 eligible this year, so he picked a good time to make his case for the O’s to protect him by adding him to the 40-man roster.
With the Orioles utility infielder from the past several seasons, Ryan Flaherty, now a free agent, someone must fill that void. Maybe Wilkerson can be that guy. He is mostly a second baseman by trade but has played some third and short in the minors.
The O’s Rule 5 pick from last year managed to generate positive articles every time he did anything good in Arizona, but if you look at his overall batting line of .208/.234/.333 in 18 games, it’s hard to see anything positive about that.
When a player doesn’t do well in the AFL, teams will say something like, “It was about getting him some more experience since he missed time with an injury this year.” Indeed, the O’s hid Santander on the disabled list for most of the season and even when he was active, hid him on the bench. This after he never played above High-A before the O’s selected him in the Rule 5 draft. So, hopefully the experience helped.
The biggest actual prospect the O’s sent out to the AFL, Mountcastle lit Frederick on fire with an .885 OPS at that level at age 20. That’s very good! It was enough to get him bumped up to Bowie, where he shifted to third base and ran into some challenges against tougher competition.
The AFL also represented some tougher competition and also challenged Mountcastle. over 21 games, he batted just .244/.287/.402. He doesn’t turn 21 until February, so don’t abandon hope based on this - but it is a reminder to pump the brakes a bit on the hype his Frederick performance earned him. Hopefully, the AFL will give Mountcastle an idea of what to work on as he focuses for a full season at Bowie next year.
It’s OK if you haven’t heard of the 25-year-old who has been an O’s farmhand since 2013. I didn’t know who he was before they sent him to the AFL. His career has gone better since a 2016 boot into the bullpen. Gonzalez pitched well for the Frederick bullpen this season, but a 25-year-old should do well in Frederick, so it made sense to test him in the AFL.
Gonzalez passed. He didn’t allow a run in nine outings and allowed just a 0.72 WHIP. He’s another player who will likely be put on the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, and if he does well at Bowie next year, could find himself in Baltimore before long, like Givens, Hart, and Yacabonis before him. And he’s a lefty! Everyone loves a lefty - except for lefty batters.
Liranzo’s Arizona adventure was cut short after four games due to “minor shoulder soreness.” For pitchers, no shoulder soreness is totally minor. In his four games, Liranzo was on the Scott plan, and not in a good way, walking six batters in 4.2 innings. Yeah, it’s four games, but four games that were more of the same from what he did at Bowie this year, walking guys and giving up homers despite substantial velocity.
After Liranzo was hurt, he was replaced on the roster by Maryland’s own Ryan Meisinger, who allowed just one hit in six innings pitched across four games. Not bad for an emergency replacement.
With two players who could play a part with the O’s in the future having nice Arizona campaigns, there’s more to be excited about than there has been in recent years. Hopefully the guys who are hiding behind the small sample size get things going in the right direction when they get back to baseball in the spring.