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Arizona Fall League Update: Week 1

It was a successful opening week for most of the Yankee farmhands playing for the Mesa Solar Sox.

Mesa Solar Sox Photo Day
Benjamin Cowles
Photo by Jennifer Stewart/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The first week of the Arizona Fall League is in the books, so it’s an opportune time to look in at the eight Yankees prospects and farmhands who are playing for the Mesa Solar Sox this fall. Note that the number is now eight instead of seven as recounted in our AFL Yankees preview last week, as they recently added pitcher Matt Sauer, the club’s second-round pick in the 2017 draft.

Starting with Sauer, he made two appearances out of the Solar Sox bullpen this week, throwing three innings total, allowing no runs. He made his first appearance on opening night, throwing two scoreless frames with a couple of strikeouts. He followed that up with another sterling frame on Saturday. It’s a good start for the 24-year-old righty, who is currently No. 25 on MLB’s Yankees prospect list.

Speaking of Saturday’s game, Trystan Vrieling, a 2022 draftee, made the start for Mesa. His first outing of the fall season ended with two shutout innings. Vrieling allowed three baserunners, including two walks, but escaped unscathed in what ended as a 1-0 Mesa victory. It was the third-round pick’s first career professional appearances after missing all of the minor league season due to elbow issues.

Meanwhile, Baron Stuart, signed by the Yankees as an undrafted free agent in 2022, was the star of the show Saturday. The 24-year-old came out of the bullpen in the fourth inning and hurled two scoreless of his own, striking out four and allowing a lone hit.

Kevin Stevens is another Yankee hurler who shone during initial Arizona Fall League action. Stevens made two appearances out of the Mesa bullpen this week, throwing a combined 1.1 innings without allowing a run. He allowed one hit, walked none, and struck out two.

Nolberto Henriquez, on the other hand, did not have a successful initial week with Mesa. He entered the season opener in the fourth inning. By the time he was yanked after recording two outs, he’d allowed five runs to score, on five hits and a pair of walks. He made a second appearance later in the week and tossed a scoreless inning, but through one week, a 27.00 ERA and three walks in 1.2 innings are both rather unsightly.

On the other side of the ball, shortstop Benjamin Cowles had himself quite a week. He finished the week’s action 4-for-10 with four walks, and drove in three runs. Cowles also flashed some leather early in the week, making a stellar play at second base. Cowles smoothly fielded the throw at second then fired a strike to first to finish the double play.

Fellow infielder Caleb Durbin also had a nice week that included a web gem. Durbin collected four hits in 15 at-bats, including a triple. And on Friday night, he teamed up with Mesa’s third baseman to catch a baserunner getting greedy.

Center fielder Nelson Medina is the final Yankee position player toiling for Mesa and he had a bit of a rough opening week. One hit in 10 at-bats and he struck out six times. Lots of time to turn it around, but that was almost certainly not the start he was hoping for.

Overall, it looks like the vast majority of the young hurlers New York sent to the desert are off to good starts. Mesa “boasts” a 5.19 team ERA through six games, which brings the performances of Sauer, Vierling, Stuart, and Stevens into stark contrast.

Offensively, the Arizona Fall League is usually pretty high scoring. Last season for example, five of the six clubs finished with a team OPS of at least .769. So while only Cowles really raked at the plate this week, the sample size is small and there’s reason to think Durbin and Medina can start to mash.