The 2023 Arizona Fall League came to an end on Saturday, with the Surprise Sagueros taking the championship game. San Diego Padres’ prospect Jakob Marsee took home Most Valuable Player honors. The Mesa Solar Sox, host of the eight Yankee farmhands the club sent to the desert, finished the season 14-16 and missed the playoffs.
As for those Yankees youngsters, Caleb Durbin was the story of the fall. He entered the final two games with 20 stolen bases, putting him in striking range of the all-time AFL record of 24. He didn’t quite make it, managing one steal before the season came to an end. Combined with his 36 swipes during the regular season, Durbin stole 57 bags total in 2023.
As impressive as his baserunning was, it’s part of a larger story. He finished the fall with twice as many walks as strikeouts, and posted a 1.044 OPS. He capped also his AFL with his third home run in Mesa’s finale.
Durbin advanced as far as Double-A Somerset in 2023. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on him in 2024, to see if he continues to build on a brilliant fall.
Fellow infielder Ben Cowles also shone this fall. Cowles spent all but three games of 2023 at Single-A before heading to Mesa, where he hit four home runs this fall and posted a .956 OPS. It is important to note that Cowles showed a lot of swing-and-miss, whiffing 24 times in 69 at-bats.
That seems to be the norm, as Cowles struck out in almost one-third of his regular season at-bats. A strikeout rate that elevated likely does not bode well for the future, but if he can drive the ball, no one will complain and at the very least, he seems like important organization middle infield depth.
Outside of those two guys, no one else really distinguished themselves this fall. Matt Sauer, who is Rule 5 eligible this fall, showed good stuff and had good peripheral numbers. But the overall results were inconsistent, and after missing a chunk of 2023 due to injury, it feels unlikely that the Yankees will protect Sauer with a move onto the 40-man roster this offseason.
2022 third-round pick Trystan Vrieling is another hurler who missed a considerable part of 2023 due to injury. Like Sauer, he at least managed to get a few innings in this fall, though both his peripherals and results were not great. He’s least healthy and hopefully has a full 2024 season ahead of him.
Kevin Stevens might be least-known name New York sent to Mesa, but he had one of the best fall campaigns of Yankee pitchers. Pitching exclusively out of the bullpen, he tossed 7.1 innings, whiffing 10 opposing hitters. He also missed the entire 2023 regular season with injuries.
Baron Stuart and Nolberto Henriquez both struggled mightily in limited appearances on the mound, as did Nelson Medina at the plate. None of the three figure to play prominent parts in the Yankees’ long-term plans, but hopefully they’re all more successful in 2024.
Last year, TJ Rumfeld and Tyler Hardman had fantastic fall seasons, and then built on them in 2023. With any luck, Durbin and Cowles can find a similar path this coming season. At the least, we should see the former’s name pop up on some prospect lists when those start coming out.