The Yankees announced their Arizona Fall League roster earlier this week with a marquee prospect name and a number of players looking to build off of their 2021 seasons. The AFL at one point was considered a finishing school for top prospects, as it was almost exclusively made up of players coming from the Triple-A and Double-A levels. In recent years though, the rules have been relaxed to allow for more players at the Class-A levels to play in the league, but there are still loads of talented players heading to the desert to start the season next week.
Headlining the Yankees class is their sixth-ranked prospect, Austin Wells. The catcher posted a strong offensive season, hitting .264/.390/.476 with 16 home runs. He earned strong reviews for his bat against both Low-A and High-A pitching during the year, but it is unlikely that his assignment is based on his bat.
Austin Wells Moonshot with bat flip! pic.twitter.com/tEfv91Sytr— Florida Prospects Report (@league_fl) July 25, 2021
Questions about Wells’ defense were brought up before he was even drafted by the Yankees, when multiple evaluators questioned his ability to stick behind the plate. That narrative continued to grow through the 2021 season, as numerous scouts who saw Wells play behind the plate came away less than impressed with his overall defensive package. Wells allowed 98 stolen bases while only throwing out 14 runners during his time behind the plate this year, a poor rate at any level of play. His play in Arizona could be a chance for him to either improve on his catching ability, or possibly try out a new position, as he played some first base and outfield during his time in college.
One of the Yankees’ most recognizable undrafted free agents was left-handed outfielder Elijah Dunham who likely would have gone off the board within a round or two if the 2020 draft had been extended past five rounds. The Indiana University alumnus got off to a hot start and finished the season with a .263/.362/.463 line with 13 home runs and 28 stolen bases in 33 attempts. Dunham was one of the first players pulled up to High-A within the Yankees’ organization and performed well at both Class-A levels and is now ranked as the team’s 24th-best prospect by MLB.com.
Left-handed pitcher Clay Aguilar was one of the most impressive pitchers in the Yankees’ system this past year. The undrafted free agent made his professional debut and in 46 innings with Low-A Tampa, he pitched to a 2.15 ERA, with 66 strikeouts and just 11 walks. He earned a late-season promotion to High-A Hudson Valley and in his one outing, tossed six scoreless innings. After throwing just 52 innings combined on the season, Aguilar will be looking to carry his success to the AFL against a generally higher level of competition in an offense-friendly environment.
Zach Greene is a hard-throwing relief pitcher who put up strong strikeout numbers at High-A Hudson Valley and Double-A Somerset this season. On the season, he pitched 59.2 innings with 91 strikeouts and just 21 walks. He has the potential to open next season on the doorstep of the major leagues after being the eighth-round pick of the Yankees in the 2019 draft.
Joining Dunham and Wells on the offensive side of the ball is a player who was alongside both players for most of the 2021 season, Andres Chaparro. After signing with the Yankees in 2015 as an international free agent, Chaparro has consistently reached base for the organization, but has struggled to generate much impact on the baseball hitting just 17 home runs in his first four seasons. This year, Chaparro found his power stroke, belting 15 home runs between Low-A Tampa and High-A Hudson Valley, while still putting up an impressive .381 on-base percentage. Chaparro spent time manning both third base and first-base on the season and finished with a flourish, posting a 1.100 OPS in his last 14 games of the season.
Blane Abeyta’s overall numbers for 2021 don’t look too impressive, as he registered a 5.37 ERA between the Florida Coast League and Low-A Tampa. He finished strong with 28 strikeouts and a .134 BAA over his last 19.2 innings pitched. He also improved on his control issues from earlier in the season, walking just seven batters in that four-game stretch to finish the campaign. The undrafted free agent from the 2020 draft will be looking to build off his strong finish to 2021.
After a strong start to his Yankees career, Harold Cortijo has struggled to find the strike zone since going down with an injury while pitching for Low-A Charleston in 2019. Last winte,r Cortijo pitched in the Puerto Rican Winter League, but was largely ineffective, due to a 9.8 BB/9 rate. That lack of control manifested itself again this season as he walked 10.2 BB/9 while pitching in the FCL and with Low-A Tampa.
Tall right hander Tanner Myatt continues to have one of the most electric arms in the Yankees organization, as opponents have hit just .169 off him in his minor league career. He continues to battle control problems, walking 70 batters in 77 career innings. While working in relief this year, he went down with an injury causing him to miss the second half of the season. He will be looking to pick up more innings and improve on his command and control in Arizona.
The Yankees are sending a mix of high-upside and and strong-performing prospects to the Arizona Fall League. Wells will garner most of the attention as the Yankees prospects play for the Surprise Saguaros alongside prospects from the Reds, Royals, Rangers and Nationals but anyone from the contingent is capable of taking a major step forward. No longer just a finishing school for major league ready prospects, the AFL is another opportunity for these young players to take the lessons of the regular season and put them into action as they try to climb towards the major leagues.