MLB.com Columnist

Jim Callis

Pipeline Inbox: Who's the best hitter in the '16 Draft?

Jim Callis answers questions from fans in advance of the AFL title game

Pipeline Inbox: Who's the best hitter in the '16 Draft?

Sadly, the Arizona Fall League schedule is coming to an end. After Saturday's championship game, the next time you'll be able to see top prospects in action in the United States will be in March during Spring Training.

MLB Network and MLB.com will broadcast Saturday's clash between the Scottsdale Scorpions and the Surprise Saguaros live, starting at 3 p.m. ET. There will be a lot of talent worth watching, including shortstop Christian Arroyo (Giants) and outfielder Clint Frazier (Indians) for the Scorpions and infielder Jurickson Profar (Rangers) and catcher Gary Sanchez (Yankees) for the Saguaros.

After the AFL concludes, MLBPipeline will turn its focus to the 2016 Draft. We'll release our initial Top 50 Draft rankings shortly before the Winter Meetings. We'll also continue to monitor big league trades, providing analysis and updating our organizational Top 30 Prospects lists whenever they need updating.

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Who do you see as the best bat in the 2016 Draft? Which bat has the most upside?
-- Blaine B., Marion, Ind.

If we're talking purely about offensive production, then Louisville outfielder Corey Ray is the best bat in the upcoming Draft. He led the U.S. collegiate national team in OPS (.971), extra-base hits (nine) and steals (11) last summer, displaying a quick left-handed swing, an all-fields approach and plus speed. The highest ceiling belongs to The Westminster Schools (Atlanta) outfielder William Benson, a quality athlete who draws Jason Heyward comps and could provide 30-plus homers on a yearly basis if he taps fully into his raw lefty power.

If Blaine is using "bat" as a synonym for "position player," Ray still would qualify as the best available because he combines his offensive gifts with a chance to play center field in the big leagues. Florida outfielder Buddy Reed would have the most upside. While he's still raw offensively, Reed has a chance to hit .270 with 15-20 homers annually while offering plus-plus speed and advanced center-field skills.

Two other outfielders worth mentioning are Chaminade (Los Angeles) Prep's Blake Rutherford and Mercer's Kyle Lewis. Rutherford has a tools package very similar to Ray's but hasn't proven himself against the same level of competition. Mercer had a breakout year in 2015, starring in the Southern Conference and in the Cape Cod League, and he has huge power along with at least average tools across the board.

Engel on his AFL progress

White Sox outfielder Adam Engel is having a very productive Arizona Fall League. What is his ceiling and his realistic future?
-- Nick D., Chicago

Adam Engel has a strong frame that results in projections of future power, but it hasn't shown up in games yet. Will it develop?
-- Matt C., Northbrook, Ill.

With one day remaining in the AFL regular season, Engel leads the league in hitting (.403), on-base percentage (.523) and doubles (nine) while ranking second in slugging (.642), runs (16) and steals (10). That's a far cry from the .251/.335/.369 line he posted at Class A Advanced Winston-Salem this year (he did top the Carolina League with 65 steals), or the .256 average and two homers he recorded in three college seasons at Louisville.

Though Engel is a strong 6-foot-1, 215-pounder with good bat speed, he has never translated those tools into game power and figures to max out around 10-12 homers per season. He's a good center fielder with well-above-average speed, but it remains to be seen if he'll produce consistently enough to be a big league regular. Engel will be 24 next season and has yet to play above Class A Advanced, and the safer bet would be to project him as a fourth outfielder.

Do you think Albert Almora or Eddy Julio Martinez is a better long-term fit for the Cubs in center field? Or is there someone else in the system who would be better?
-- Jen D., Marion, Ill.

Let's take Chicago center-field prospects for $200, Alex ...

As of now, Almora is the leading candidate to be the Cubs' center fielder of the future, but he's far from a sure thing. The sixth overall pick in the 2012 Draft, he batted .272/.327/.400 with six homers in 106 Double-A games last season, which wasn't terrible for a 21-year-old but also doesn't scream "can't miss." Almora is a gifted defender but has yet to show much aptitude offensively beyond making consistent contact.

Almora's two-run double

A Cuban defector who signed for $3 million in October, Martinez has yet to show what he can do in pro ball. There are mixed reports on him, with some scouts raving about his upside and other evaluators more skeptical. Martinez has more strength and speed than Almora, though Martinez didn't hit for much power in Cuba and isn't in Almora's league defensively.

Two more names who could surface in center field for the Cubs are Ian Happ and Donnie Dewees, college products whom Chicago took with its first two selections in the 2015 Draft. Happ is the best all-around hitter in this discussion and Dewees might be the second best.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.