Teams around baseball announced their representatives for the Arizona Fall League (AFL) last week. Created in 1992, the league has long been considered a finishing school for upper tier prospects from Double-A and Triple-A. Many of the current Yankees such as Brett Gardner, Dellin Betances, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge have passed through this league on their way to the majors. This season the league changed their rules regarding the players eligible to participate, and the Yankees have seemingly adjusted their philosophy on assigning players to the league.
In previous seasons the AFL required players to be in Double-A or Triple-A, with each major league team being given one exemption for a player who finished the season at a lower level of the minors. This season that rule has been lifted along with several other rules that limited players eligibility. Bill Bavasi who is overseeing operations of the league this year has said, “Now, if you think he’s ready, bring him on.” The new rules are being tried conditionally this fall based on the wishes of major league general managers.
The league also moved its season forward with Opening Day happening on September 17th, and the season ending on October 27th. This will allow the season to act as more of a continuation of the minor league season, and allow players to stay sharp.
The Yankees will send no representative from their current MLB Pipeline top 30 prospects list. There is potential in the players going for the organization, but this group is farther from the majors than many of the players who have represented the team in the past.
RHP Glenn Otto - 61.1 IP, 3.23 ERA, 74 K, 36 BB, 1.50 WHIP.
Otto pitched mostly at Tampa this season, but he also had five rehab innings in the Gulf Coast League. He was the Yankees’ fifth-round pick in 2017, but missed nearly the entire 2018 season after experiencing a blood clot in his shoulder. Two more trips to the injured list this season leave Otto with only 91 innings pitched in his professional career. His fastball and curveball have impressed scouts, but he will need more repetitions if he is going to develop a full compliment of pitches that he will need to be a starter.
RHP Daniel Bies - 92 IP, 3.33 ERA, 105 K, 33 BB, 1.25 WHIP
The 6 foot 8 inch Bies was tremendous in 69.1 IP for Charleston this season, pitching to a 2.86 ERA, and 1.10 WHIP. He was challenged more in Tampa, but settled in after a rough 2.2 IP, 7 ER debut. Bies was used as a starter and reliever this season, but 18 of his 24 appearances lasted at least three innings.
1B/2B/3B Brandon Wagner - .179 BA, .290 OBP, .280 SLG
Wagner made a case to be part of the AFL during the 2018 season when he hit .267/.380/.461, finishing second among Yankees minor leaguers with 21 HR between High-A Tampa, and Double-A Trenton. Baseball America credited him with the best plate discipline in the Yankee system in their review of the minor leagues after that year. This season was a struggle for Wagner, but the Yankees never cut his playing time, and he finished well, hitting .310/.344/.414 over his last 16 games, including two games with Triple-A Scranton.
C Donny Sands - .221 BA, .283 OBP, .310 SLG
Sand was a third basemen, but converted to catcher after being selected by the Yankees in 2015. Once labeled as “one of the best pure hitters in the Yankees system” in scouting reports, Sands has not found much success over the last two seasons. His 2018 was interrupted by three stints on the injured list. In 2019 he only played in 68 games for Tampa despite avoiding the injured list.
OF Josh Stowers - .273 BA, .386 OBP, .400 SLG
The University of Louisville product came to the Yankees from Seattle once all the details of the Sonny Gray trade were worked out. He had a solid season in Charleston, and finished the year red hot, hitting .347/.461/.453 over his last 27 games. He has tremendous speed registering 35 stolen bases on the season, but the Yankees will want him to refine that skill and become more efficient as he was also caught stealing 16 times. Stowers was ranked as a top 30 Yankees prospect heading into the season, but was bumped out at the mid-year point.
While there are some talented players in this year’s Yankees AFL representatives, it pales in comparison to the the Yankees 2016 AFL roster that sent top-15 organizational prospects Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Tyler Wade, James Kaprielian and Dillon Tate to the desert. Greg Bird who was just coming off his first season-ending injury was also part of the Yankees contingent. Pitchers like Clarke Schmidt, Nick Nelson, and Mike King who all missed significant time with injuries this season profile as the type of highly rated prospects who in years past would have gotten the call here to challenge themselves while building up more innings. Chris Gittens, coming off of a Eastern League MVP season, also fits the traditional billet.
Time will tell if the Yankees as an organization have made the right call with their 2019 AFL roster selections, but they are adjusting to the rule changes and using a wide portion of their minor league roster. This year’s continent has been placed in a high visibility setting surrounded by elite talents and scouts from all parts of baseball. Now we will see if any of the young Yankees can capitalize on the opportunity.