With the major league season coming to an ignominious end for Yankees fans, it’s a good thing we can turn elsewhere for some baseball. The calendar has turned to October and that means it is time for the Arizona Fall League. As always, New York is sending some of its minor leaguers for extra seasoning.
Last season’s contingent was headlined by super-prospect Jasson Domínguez, who struggled in his fall league action. But the Yankees had a couple of players parlay very successful 2022 stints in Arizona into strong 2023 seasons.
Third baseman Tyler Hardman, who put up a 1.035 OPS last fall, followed that by hitting 26 home runs at Double-A this season, leading to an .890 OPS. His development has him ranked 17th on MLB’s Yankee prospect ranking. First baseman TJ Rumfield is a similar story, building on his strong 2022 fall in 2023, and appearing at 17th on Baseball America’s midseason prospect ranking. Here’s hoping some of this season’s fall cadre can see similar progression.
Right-handed pitcher Trystan Vrieling headlines this season’s crop of players. The Yankees drafted the 6-foot-4 righty 100th overall out of Gonzaga in 2022. After primarily pitching as a reliever at Gonzaga, New York had plans to develop him as a starter. Unfortunately, injury got in the way and he missed the 2023 season. Playing for Mesa this fall will give Vrieling an opportunity to pitch some innings against quality competition.
Shortstop Benjamin Cowles, a 10th round pick in 2021, is also headed to toil for the Solar Sox. Cowles spent virtually the entire 2023 season at High-A playing for Hudson Valley, before a late promotion sent him to Triple-A for three games. Cowles had a lot of swing and miss in his game this season, striking out in just under one-third of his at-bats. Despite that, he posted a strong .353 OBP and showed a little pop, with 10 home runs in 109 games.
Fellow shortstop Caleb Durbin will join Cowles. Originally drafted by Atlanta, Durbin came to New York in the deal that sent Lucas Luetge to the Braves. Durbin began 2023 at Hudson Valley before a promotion sent him to Double-A Somerset, where he put up an .801 OPS with 21 stolen bases. Unfortunately, injury robbed him of a couple of months of playing time, so much like Vrieling, the Fall League will provide him with valuable reps.
Right-handed reliever Nolberto Henriquez will get a chance to improve on a rough 2023 season. The Yankees signed him to a minor league contract in August 2018. Henriquez reached A-ball this season, and in 30.2 IP at two levels, pitched to a 6.75 ERA. He walked 15 men in those innings, so perhaps the fall will give him a chance to improve his command.
Center fielder Nelson Medina has a similar 2023 story to Cowles. A 2017 minor league free agent signing, the right-handed swinging Medina spent the vast majority of the season at A-ball before heading to Scranton Wilkes-Barre for a dozen games. Medina really struggled in his first taste of Triple-A pitching, but he raked at A-ball this season, with an .859 OPS in 50 games.
Kevin Stevens, another right-handed hurler, will look to get some valuable innings under his belt. Stevens, who played at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, signed with the Yankees in July 2022. Unfortunately, he spent virtually all of 2023 injured, going on the 60-day injured list in April, only being activated a couple of weeks ago.
Baron Stuart is yet another right-handed pitcher New York is sending to Mesa. Stuart, signed to a minor league contract in July 2022, worked as a starting pitcher at Tampa and Hudson Valley this season, throwing 100.2 innings over 20 appearances. The free pass seems to be Stuart’s bugaboo, as he walked 46 opposing batters in those innings. Like Henriquez, perhaps Mesa will provide Stuart an opportunity to work on his command.
The Yankees have had three of their players walk away from the Arizona Fall League as its Most Valuable Player. Eric Duncan, Greg Bird, and Gleyber Torres all starred during their stints in Arizona.
I’m sure the Yankee brass would be thrilled if one of this year’s seven could manage to replicate that accomplishment, but I suspect there will be no complaints if some of them manage to match what Hardman and Rumfield did last year. Have a strong fall, and continue that momentum next season.