Arizona

2022 Arizona Fall League statistical standouts

There’s just nothing quite like the Arizona Fall League.

Where else will you find rosters filled to the brim with top prospects, giving them the space to test their skills against top talent? It’s often reiterated that one shouldn’t put too much stock in AFL stats, and while that’s true given the small samples and tired bodies, the cream tends to rise to the top.

With the AFL’s 30th season on the books, we delved into the record books to put this year’s accomplishments in historical context.

Matured knocks out the world
It may be difficult to declare a reliever the most dominant pitcher in AFL history, but Evan Reifert (Rays) can make a case as well as anyone. In eight appearances for Mesa, the 23-year-old hit 40 batters and beat out 25 from another world, conceding just one hit — a measly single in his last game — in the process. His Reliver of the Year award almost seems to undercut what he has achieved.

riperts 62.5 percent strike rate was the best single-season mark in AFL history, faced at least 40 batters and surpassed Darwinzon Hernandez in 2018 (49 percent) by a substantial margin. Tommy Hanson, the author of arguably the best season by an AFL starting pitcher, “only” amassed a 46.7 percent strikeout rate in 2008. ripens 0.028 batting average of opponents? Also a Fall League record.

A year ago, Reifert was a silent acquisition in a small deal with the brewers. After allaying concerns about his command with his stellar run in Arizona, he has positioned himself to reach the Upper Minors in early 2023.

Julien’s amazing strength and patience
Quebec has won the AFL’s Breakout Player of the Year award for a reason. Edouard Julien (No. 14 Twins) won part of the league batting title by hitting a straight .400 and also connecting on five homers, one off the league lead.

Four of these long balls came in about 24 hours. Julien homered twice in consecutive games for Glendale on October 22 and 24, a feat equaled only once in the AFL since game logs became available in 2005 (Braxton Davidson, 2018). While those two games boosted Julien’s slugging percentage, he was able to do his .535 batting average on balls in playthird best in a single season in league history is a testament to how adept he was at finding the grass.

Julien now ranks third all-time in a different category; his 0.563 Base Percentage This fall, only Dustin Ackley (.581, 2010) and Nate Roberts (.565, 2012) are on the single-season leaderboard. Julien walked (23) more often than he batted (22), only cementing his reputation as the disciplined minors batter. (50 players have 1,000 plate appearances as of 2021 — Julien’s .437 OBP is 45 points ahead of Miguel Vargas in second place.)

Veen doesn’t stop running
Pitting AFL performances in the stat categories that count — home runs, RBIs, doubles, etc. — across epochs isn’t exactly the best way to do it. The AFL’s early seasons saw around 50 games scheduled for each team, while no squad played more than 30 this year.

At first glance, the 16 bases stolen by Zac Veen (No. 1 Rockies, No. 23 MLB) for Salt River this year were notable, but simply that since nine other players matched that total in a Fall League season or have surpassed. But on an installment basis, its 0.75 stolen bases per game are the most by an AFL player with at least 20 games played, beating Eric Young Jr. (2008) and Chase d’Arnaud (2009) by .65 strokes per game.

Veen’s skill on the basepaths is undeniable, having stolen 91 bases in his first two seasons as a pro. He will have no trouble unlocking it at the upper levels if he carries his .444 AFL percentage on base.

Thomas and Sheehan double digits
The AFL is certainly known more for offense than pitching, as you may have gleaned from this column’s trend so far. The last thing an organization wants is for one of their prospects to suffer an injury, so innings are meticulously managed and starting pitchers can’t finish what they started… (last full AFL game was 1996).

That made Thomas’s night on October 17th all the more special. That 10 strikeout game for Salt River was the first in the fall league since Kyle Zimmer in 2014, and Connor Thomas (No. 24 Cardinals) made it in just four innings. However, these types of performances tend to occur in groups. Before Zimmer, Hanson (who, incredibly, made it twice) and Phil Hughes were the last pitchers to hit double digits in 2008. Before that Jered Weaver and Brian Murphy, both in 2005.

This year, it was Emmet Sheehan (No. 22 Dodgers) who was up to the task. In Glendale’s third-to-last game, the right-hander fanned out 10 over five goalless frames, including eight straight. It was certainly appropriate that these two did; Thomas (1.50) and Sheehan (3.54) ranked first and second among pitchers to pitch at least 20 innings this year.

Quero dominates behind the plate
Luis Matos was named Defensive Player of the Year by the AFL for his outstanding play in midfield, but I’m not sure anyone at his position was further ahead of the competition than Jeferson Quero (Brewers No. 7), who at just 20 impressed years old for Glendale.

AFL baserunners have stolen more bags this year (245) than any season since 2012, at least in part because Quero couldn’t be behind the plate for every single one of them. When he was, however, he was excellent. Queros 45.8 percent were caught stealing was the top qualified backstop, Good ahead of runners-up Henry Davis and Adam Hackenberg with 26.3 percent. Since 2005, only Gary Sanchez (61.5%, 2015) has passed as many attempts as Quero – who was 13-24 – and discarded them at a better rate.

Here’s an additional note: In the one pre-Statcast game Quero played at Salt River, he threw a throw to second base at 86.9 mph (despite the runner advancing on what was described as a wild space). Of the 120 catchers in the major leagues last season, only 14 threw a ball with as much speed as this quero throw. Again, very impressive stuff as one of the youngest players in Fall League.

Kjerstad covers his bases
Heston Kjerstad (No. 9 Orioles) started Fall League with a bang and just never slowed down. His total of seven bases for Scottsdale on opening day — a homer, double and single — boded well for the future, as he equaled that total on two other occasions. (The last player with a trio of games totaling seven bases in an AFL season was Pete Alonso in 2018.)

Kjerstad was awarded this year’s MVP award for this consistency. His 61 bases in total has advanced the field by 10 and is only Nelson Velazquez’s 74th in the last 10 seasons in 2021. The fact that Kjerstad was back on the field this season was remarkable in and of itself after spending two years on account of of myocarditis was absent. That he was miles ahead of the competition was even more impressive.

Mervis lives up to its nickname
When Brennen Davis, Chicago’s No. 2 prospect, was asked about his organizing colleague after both had previously shown great performances in Fall League, he was quick to correct. “You mispronounced his name – it actually is Mash Mervis‘ Davis said.

Matt Mervis (#21 Cubs) hit 36 ​​home runs during the regular season, then joined Mesa and hit six more, along with the Yankees’ Tyler Hardman for the championship lead. As previously mentioned, that total isn’t historically significant — 126 players hit six or more homers in an AFL season — but the number of times Mervis has nuked them is with his 10.2 AB/HR frequency Rank in top 10 all time, at least 60 at-bats. Kjerstad, for example, hit one less homer than Mervis but averaged nearly 10 more at-bats between them.

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