With most of the baseball world’s eyes turned towards the postseason this week, another fall MLB tradition got under way out in Arizona: The Arizona Fall League, where from now through November 10, six teams each formed by prospects from five different organizations will be giving some extra game action to those prospects. Games began on Monday.
The Orioles contingent in the AFL this year is playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions, alongside of prospects from the Angels, Atlanta, Giants, and Red Sox organizations. The Orioles sent three position players and four pitchers to Arizona for the league: outfielders Heston Kjerstad and Reed Trimble, infielder César Prieto, and pitchers Noah Denoyer, Nolan Hoffman, Easton Lucas, and Nick Richmond.
This is in line with the past couple of AFL rosters from the Orioles, with one or two players you definitely know if you follow the O’s minors at all, and a variety of guys hoping to play their way more into the picture. Last year’s roster included Kyle Stowers, who broke in to MLB by season’s end, and Yusniel Díaz, who didn’t.
The 2021 O’s AFL group also had Logan Gillaspie and Nick Vespi in the bullpen. These were not guys with top prospect stock. They were guys auditioning for roles, and though Vespi didn’t get put on the 40-man roster last November, we saw both in the Orioles bullpen during the season. We’ll see if any of this year’s group can go from “probably almost nobody knows who he is” to “guy who’s good enough to be pitching in Baltimore.”
Here’s how things went for these guys in the first week of games.
The former first round pick is here to keep shaking off rust after missing extended time due first to myocarditis and then to a multi-month hamstring strain. At 23, he’s one of the older players on his team; the Scorpions roster also includes 20-year-old Red Sox prospect Nick Yorke and 20-year-old Giants prospect Luis Matos (not the one we know, obviously).
It was a good first week! Kjerstad leads all AFL batters with eight hits across the five games he played, including two doubles and a home run. It may not mean much, but it’s better than if he was 0-23 instead. A week in, it’s an offense-heavy league. Teams are averaging 7.28 runs per game.
Here’s Kjerstad hitting his dinger, which went a long way:
The 23-year-old signing from Cuba has played in just three games so far, batting 2-14 with no walks yet. In the regular season, Prieto dominated High-A Aberdeen, where he was old for the level, then had a tougher time at Double-A.
The O’s competitive balance pick last year also missed a bunch of time this season, in his case due to needing offseason surgery on a core muscle. Trimble was hit by a pitch in his shin in the first game of the AFL season and missed a couple of games after that, but has returned to action. He’s 2-6 over three games.
The only one of the O’s pitchers to make a start this week, Denoyer’s outing was 2.2 innings with one run allowed. Nobody pitches a lot in the AFL, so don’t be discouraged by such a short outing, unless you want to be bummed that he allowed seven baserunners - three hits, two walks, two hit by pitch. Denoyer, 24, finished this season with Bowie.
This 25-year-old reliever missed two months of this season with an injury, so he’s getting some extra work in the desert as well. Hoffman struck out three batters in a 1.2 inning relief stint, allowing one run. When healthy this season, he was pitching out of Bowie’s bullpen. Hoffman will be Rule 5 draft eligible, so if Mike Elias does the “add a reliever you haven’t thought much about” again (it was Félix Bautista last year) then maybe Hoffman will be that guy.
Lucas, 26, was acquired by the O’s for Jonathan Villar after the 2019 season. This 6’4” lefty spent the season in Bowie’s bullpen, where he had a good strikeout rate (10.3 K/9) but a higher walk rate than you’d like (4.0 BB/9). He got into one game this week, allowing a run in an inning.
The only one of these O’s pitchers to throw twice this week, Richmond allowed a run across three innings, with two strikeouts and no walks allowed. There are worse ways for him to try to be this year’s version of Gillaspie.
The Scottsdale Scorpions have a 3-3 record through six games.