Lineup of year's most impressive Fall Leaguers highlighted by Yankees' Sanchez, Rangers' Profar
By Mike Rosenbaum
The Arizona Fall League's six-week season concluded with Saturday's championship game. And while it can be difficult to evaluate players in such a limited amount of time, especially with frequent roster fluctuations, some performances in the Fall League simply stand out more than others.
Here is a lineup of prospects who impressed in this year's Fall League -- MLBPipeline.com's All-AFL Team:
C: Gary Sanchez (Yankees' No. 5 prospect)
Sanchez opened the Fall League on a tear and hit .295/.357/.625 with a league-best seven home runs and 55 total bases in 22 games for Surprise. The 22-year-old showcased his two loudest tools in the Fall Stars Game as he clubbed a two-run home run and threw out a basestealer en route to being named Player of the Game. Sanchez's shortcomings as a blocker and receiver continue to hurt his chances of becoming an everyday catcher, but his cannon of an arm and sound catch-and-throw skills will always allow him to compensate for some of those deficiencies.
1B: Dominic Smith (Mets' No. 5 prospect)
Smith picked up in the AFL where he left off in the Florida State League, making consistently loud contact and barreling the ball to from line to line. MLBPipeline.com's No. 92 overall prospect hit .362 in 14 games for Salt River and might have contended for the batting title if not for a muscle strain that sidelined him for roughly two weeks. The 20-year-old's approach supports the numbers, too, as he's extremely patient and willing to take a walk but also is comfortable hitting in any count and seldom expands his zone. Meanwhile, Smith's defense at first base drew rave reviews throughout the fall.
2B: Chad Pinder (A's No. 7 prospect)
Pinder, 23, hit a career-high 15 home runs (and 32 doubles) this year at Double-A Midland, eliminating much of the doubt about whether his power would translate outside of the California League. That trend continued in the Fall League, where he hit four home runs in only 13 games and once again showed an impressive blend of bat speed and barrel awareness. While Pinder possesses the arm strength for shortstop, his range and tendency to field balls close to his body are better suited for the keystone long term.
Runner-up: Aledmys Diaz (St. Louis Cardinals)
3B: Jeimer Candelario (Cubs' No. 20 prospect)
Candelario arguably was the top breakout prospect in this year's Fall League, hitting .329/.371/.610 with five home runs, eight doubles and 15 RBIs in 21 games for Mesa. The 21-year-old switch-hitter was particularly impressive from the left side of the plate, exhibiting plus bat speed and in-game power to all fields. Candelario made strides at third base during the regular season and has continued to work hard in the AFL, but the roadblock ahead of him in Chicago raises obvious questions about his future defensive home.
SS: Christian Arroyo (Giants' No. 2 prospect)
Arroyo followed a strong season at Class A Advanced San Jose with an equally impressive showing in the AFL, hitting .308 with three home runs and three doubles in 19 games for Scottsdale. The 20-year-old right-handed hitter employs an aggressive approach and has some swing-and-miss to his game, but he also finds the barrel quite a bit -- thanks to excellent hand-eye coordination and a deep contact point -- and has good pop for his size, with the potential for 12-15 home runs at maturity. Arroyo has good actions and hands at shortstop but range that's a cleaner fit at second base, although his bat makes him attractive at either middle-infield spot.
OF: Lewis Brinson (Rangers' No. 4 prospect)
Brinson, 21, was moved from the AFL to the Puerto Rico Winter League after the season's third week, but he made an indelible impression before departing, batting .300 with six extra-base hits and five steals in 11 games for Surprise. During that time, the No. 65 overall prospect was arguably the best player on the field in terms of his athleticism, tools and overall capacity to impact a game. And with so much room left for improvement, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Brinson continue his surge toward the Major Leagues next season, even with Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara seemingly ahead of him on the depth chart.
OF: Clint Frazier (Indians No. 2 prospect)
Frazier, MLBPipeline.com's No. 35 overall prospect, showcased his full offensive package in the Fall League, hitting .281 with three home runs, four steals and 15 runs scored in 22 games for Scottsdale -- a majority of which featured him batting leadoff. The 2013 first-rounder's bat speed and raw power are among the best in the Minor Leagues, with the combination suggesting the ceiling of an All-Star. However, Frazier's aggressive approach and below-average recognition of breaking balls -- even in advantageous counts -- was exploited in the Fall League, especially when facing pitchers multiple times.
OF: Jake Bauers (Rays No. 23 prospect)
That Bauers celebrated his 20th birthday in early October made him the youngest position player in this year's Fall League. His age didn't show, however, as the left-handed hitter overcame a slow start to hit .353 over his final 10 games and finish with a .745 OPS. Defensively, Bauers made a seamless transition from first base to the outfield, showing the ability to play both corner spots.
DH: Jurickson Profar, Rangers
Profar is finally beginning to look like the same player who ranked as baseball's unanimous top prospect in 2013 before a shoulder injury limited him to just 12 games over the past two seasons. He's lost a step and has been limited to DH duties, but the 22-year-old's approach, contact skills and power are all still there. While the switch-hitter's .267 average in 20 games isn't particularly impressive, he consistently worked deep counts and made hard contact from line to line, and his 20 RBIs were one off the league lead.
SP: Josh Hader, LHP (Brewers' No. 14 prospect)
Hader paced the league with a stellar 0.56 ERA while tallying 19 strikeouts in 16 innings. He also posted a 0.94 WHIP and held opposing hitters to a .154 average while pitching seven games (two starts) for Surprise. The 21-year-old lefty was consistently 95-98 mph with his heater, with his crossfire delivery -- from the first-base side of the rubber -- creating a ton of natural deception. Hader, whom Milwaukee acquired at the Trade Deadline as part of the Carlos Gomez deal, also showed a vastly improved slider that he could both throw for a strike and then bury in the dirt (especially on the back foot of right-handed hitters) when ahead in the count.
SP: Luke Weaver, RHP (Cardinals No. 8 prospect)
Weaver, like Hader, excelled despite bouncing between Surprise's bullpen and rotation (seven appearances/two starts), ranking second in the league with a 0.83 WHIP while striking out 18 batters, against only four walks, in 19 1/3 innings. The 22-year-old righty operated in the 93-95 mph range, topping out at 96-97 in several outings. The slider is raw -- he only picked it up during the regular season -- but projects as average, and he continues to demonstrate excellent feel for his plus changeup, throwing it convincingly to right- and left-handed hitters alike. With a three-pitch mix and above-average command profile, Weaver has the makings of a No. 3 starter at maturity.
RP: The Scottsdale Bullpen: Ray Black, RHP (Giants' No. 25 prospect); Twins RHPs Nick Burdi (No. 10) and Jake Reed
The Scorpions' bullpen featured two of the AFL's hardest throwers in Black and Burdi, and both right-handers used their triple-digit fastballs to pile up strikeouts. Black fanned 16 batters over nine innings while consistently hitting 101 mph and even bumping 103 in one of his final outings. Burdi, meanwhile, used his 98-100 mph heater and 88-90 mph slider to strike out 11 batters across eight scoreless innings. Not to be forgotten is fellow Twins right-hander Jake Reed, who, after allowing one run in last year's Fall League, made 10 scoreless appearances and notched three saves.
Runner-up: Damien Magnifico (Brewers)
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.