Bernie on the Scene: Scouting Profiles of Important Fall League Prospects

Bernie on the Scene: Scouting Profiles of Important Fall League Prospects

This article is part of our Bernie on the Scene series.

Today I'll continue to profile Arizona Fall League prospect players. Players assigned to the AFL by their respective clubs always have a chance to make the big leagues. Pitching prospects are more unreliable than hitters. We do see AFL pitchers advance, but we have to remember that high-profile prospect pitchers have probably reached their innings maximum during the regular season. Often, pitchers in the AFL are making up for innings missed due to injury.

Austin Wells, C, New York Yankees (update from my previous profile)
6-2, 220 
Bats: Left
Age: 22
Wells was a first-round pick of the Yankees in 2018 out of University of Arizona. He was the No. 28 overall pick, and signed for $2.5M.

Wells is really moving quickly in the Yankees system, being assigned to the AFL after only one season in professional baseball. Wells played both at Class-A and Class-A Advanced this past season, hitting .264/.390/.476 with 16 home runs and 76 RBIs. He stole 16 bases and was never caught stealing. And remember, he's a catcher. In the Arizona Fall League, Wells is hitting .500/550/.944/.1.520 after two weeks and 18 at-bats. He has a homer and five RBIs.

As a left-handed hitter, Wells is a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium. He has plenty of power and is capable of hitting the ball out of most parks. The short porch in right field at the Stadium might be perfect for his powerful bat. Wells delivers another bonus for the Yankees. He should be able to

Today I'll continue to profile Arizona Fall League prospect players. Players assigned to the AFL by their respective clubs always have a chance to make the big leagues. Pitching prospects are more unreliable than hitters. We do see AFL pitchers advance, but we have to remember that high-profile prospect pitchers have probably reached their innings maximum during the regular season. Often, pitchers in the AFL are making up for innings missed due to injury.

Austin Wells, C, New York Yankees (update from my previous profile)
6-2, 220 
Bats: Left
Age: 22
Wells was a first-round pick of the Yankees in 2018 out of University of Arizona. He was the No. 28 overall pick, and signed for $2.5M.

Wells is really moving quickly in the Yankees system, being assigned to the AFL after only one season in professional baseball. Wells played both at Class-A and Class-A Advanced this past season, hitting .264/.390/.476 with 16 home runs and 76 RBIs. He stole 16 bases and was never caught stealing. And remember, he's a catcher. In the Arizona Fall League, Wells is hitting .500/550/.944/.1.520 after two weeks and 18 at-bats. He has a homer and five RBIs.

As a left-handed hitter, Wells is a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium. He has plenty of power and is capable of hitting the ball out of most parks. The short porch in right field at the Stadium might be perfect for his powerful bat. Wells delivers another bonus for the Yankees. He should be able to hit for a good batting average, something Gary Sanchez was not able to do. Wells has had elbow issues in his past, but the Yankees are convinced he will be able to remain as a catcher. The elbow issues have impacted his throwing ability, and he has a rather weak arm for a catcher.

A New Jersey writer I met in the press box told me there is concern Wells will be another defensive misfit, just like Sanchez. I see a work progress. He won't be Johnny Bench, but he isn't a clank, either. He has work to do behind the plate, but his bat plays. Scouting Grade: 50

Fantasy Relevance: A powerful hitter, Wells may be a good option at catcher. It remains to be seen if he can stick to the position due to poor arm strength and defensive issues.

Marco Luciano, SS, San Francisco Giants
6-2, 178 
Bats: Right
Age: 20
In 2016, Luciano signed with the Giants for $2.6 out of the Dominican Republic. He is now the club's top prospect.

After having completed only two seasons stateside, Luciano is among the top players in this year's Fall League. In a game I watched last week, Luciano hit two home runs and almost had a third. His opposite field drive late in the game was caught on the warning track. He also had a single in the game. After 20 plate appearances, Luciano is hitting .250/.444/.550/.994 with two homers and four RBIs. 

With broad shoulders and a very well put together frame, Luciano is a presence on the field. A good athlete, he is smooth at shortstop but not spectacular. He does, however, have a very strong and accurate arm. With the Giants extending shortstop Brandon Crawford's contract, Luciano has more time to develop his own skills. However, he's a guy they won't be able to keep down for very long. It remains possible the team can play him at second base, but I haven't seen that this fall. 

Strong and powerful, Luciano is likely to be a middle-of-the-order hitter in the Giants lineup. He might be an ideal designated hitter until Crawford relinquishes his shortstop position. Or, perhaps Luciano moves to second base as I stated above. Whatever the case, he'll play at the big league level.

Luciano is one of those "electric" type hitters. He just stands out among his peers for his strength and power. Everything he does seems bigger and stronger. I look for him to be an outstanding hitter for power and for batting average. He has MVP qualities. Playing at Class-A and Class-A Advanced this season, Luciano hit .278/.373/.556 with 18 homers and 57 RBIs. In the Arizona Fall League, Luciano is hitting .250/.444/.550/.994 with two homers and four RBIs.

One aspect I did not like in the Fall League was seeing Luciano stand at home plate and admire his home run, then trot to first base and flip his bat about five feet from the base. That type of showboating may work for a big league players, but Luciano hasn't even reached Double-A yet. It was a bit too much for a young prospect. Scouting Grade: 60

Fantasy Relevance: Top-shelf selection in any format. Draft him, get him in auction or whatever is required. I think he'll produce. But patience is required. It won't happen right away.

Triston Casas, 1B, Boston Red Sox
6-4, 252 
Bats: Left
Age: 21
Triston Casas was a first-round draft pick of the Red Sox in 2018 out of American Heritage High School in Plantation, Florida. As the No. 26 player taken in the draft, Casas was signed for $2,552,800. 

Casas has a big frame, and he is quite a presence at first base and in the batter's box. He's a strong left-handed hitter, and the Red Sox are hoping he will be an ideal fit for their future at first. And don't forget, he'll be able to take plenty of aim at the cozy right field seats in Yankee Stadium every year.

Casas played at Double-A and Triple-A this past year. He finished hitting .279/.394/.484/.877 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs. Frankly, one might expect to have seen more power in his 329 plate appearances. He struck out 63 times, which isn't bad for a big guy like Casas. That same contact has eluded him so far in this fall. In his first 29 plate appearances, he has struck out 12 times, and he's look fairly compromised in the process. He has one homer and is hitting .235/344/.414/.758.

Casas brings plenty of viable tools to his game. He should be able to hit for average with above average power. He plays a solid first base defensively, showing good footwork and agility for such a large frame. He has a very strong and powerful arm. The only issue is his very, very slow foot speed. He could be a classic base clogger.

I've seen Casas take the pitch to the opposite field with good bat control. And his power plays to left field as well, which is a bonus. I don't think there's any question that Boston is counting on Casas to be its first baseman of the future, sooner than later. He has all the classic qualities a team looks for in that position. I just wonder how he'll fare against really high velocity pitching? Scouting Grade: 55

Fantasy Relevance: I think Casas is about as solid a first-base prospect as there will be available in dynasty formats. If you draft him in a season-long league, you may not see him until the end of the year. But anything's possible, if he hits in the spring.

Lars Nootbaar, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
6-3, 210 
Bats: Left
Age: 24
The Cardinals selected Nootbaar in the eighth round of the 2018 draft. He received a $150,000 signing bonus.

I have to say that Nootbaar is one of the most exciting players I am watching in the AFL. One won't find him listed on many prospect rankings, as he doesn't get much press or buzz. But from what I can see, this guy has a really sweet and measured swing from the left side of the plate.

In the Fall League, he is hitting first in the batting order quite often. As of the end of the first two weeks, he has hit four homers and a double in 22 plate appearances. That's doing some serious raking. His totals after the first two weeks: .273/.429/.864/.1.292.

The Cardinals were really sold on Nootbaar this season, when he hit .264/.349/.364/.712 combined at Class A, Class-A Advanced and Double-A. He hit seven homers and drove in 38. The team promoted Nootbaar to the big club, where he hit .239 in 124 plate appearances. He also hit five home runs. 

I like everything about him. I like his power potential, his hit potential, his arm in the outfield, his speed and his obvious excitement about playing the game.

While I don't think he'll rock the world, a guy with his swing and his tools can carve out a nice role for himself as a regular on a club that has always looked for outfielders who can hit. I'm just optimistic about his future. Scouting Grade: 50

Fantasy Relevance: Nootbaar just turned 24, so he's still quite young. He's also turning heads here in Arizona, and for good reason. I won't go out of my way to grab him, but he would make a nice stash in a keeper league. This is a guy with huge upside.

Patrick Bailey, C, San Francisco Giants
6-1, 210
Bats: Both
Age: 22
The San Francisco Giants selected Bailey in the first round of the 2020 draft out of North Carolina State. The Giants gave Bailey a signing bonus of $3,757,000 as the No. 13 overall player taken. 

The same Giants took Joey Bart with their first-round pick as the No. 2 player taken overall in the 2018 draft. They gave Bart a signing bonus of $7,025,000. 

They have $10.8M tied up in prospect catchers. Does that make sense? 

Bailey is one of four catchers playing for Scottsdale in the Fall League. I have seen him catch in three of the four games he's appeared in so far.

Bailey spent the season primarily in Class-A and Class-A Advanced, with four games in Rookie League. He hit a combined .265/.366/.429/.795 with nine homers and 39 RBIs. He stole seven bases in eight attempts. He struck out 91 times in 369 plate appearances. 

Bart played at Triple-A Sacramento all season. He hit .294/.358/.472/.831 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs. He struck out 82 times in 279 plate appearances. He also played in two games for the parent Giants, and got two hits in six plate appearances, striking out twice as well.

I would guess the Giants want flexibility behind the plate if and when Buster Posey retires. Bailey is seen as a solid defensive catcher, Bart not as much. But Bailey has some power potential in his bat. Bart probably has more raw power.

The fact Bailey is a switch-hitter is a plus in his favor. He is solid from either side, with power upside that can play. He uses more of an uppercut swing from the left side. But hitting from the right side seems to be more natural and more comfortable for him. And I think his power will play better from the right side as well.

It might be fair to assume the Giants would want to trade either Bart or Bailey, rather than keep them both on the roster while Posey continues to shine. Or — and this is a possibility — Posey gets more time at first base, and Bart and Bailey share the catching duties beginning in 2023. I have no idea how that plays out.

For me, neither of the former first-round catcher selections is All Star caliber. They are both in the range of average to a tad above. So take your pick. Scouting Grade: 50.

Fantasy Relevance: I still think the Giants like Bailey more for his defense than his offense. And I still think Bart is the better fantasy option. He has more proven power and is ahead in experience. Bart just seems to me the better option of the two catchers — especially if we follow the money. Money always equates to playing time.

HEADING HOME:

Among the experiments on display in the Arizona Fall League is the use of 18-inch square bases, instead of the normal 15-inch square bases that are currently in use in Major League Baseball.

MLB feels the larger bases will assist in increasing the number of stolen base attempts and stolen base success. The extra three inches will, of course, get the runner to the base quicker, I get that. It does make some sense.

Another benefit of the larger bases could help both the pitcher and first baseman or second basemen covering first base on ground balls. Just as the runner can get to first easier, the pitcher and/or the first or second baseman have a wider base to touch. That makes sense, too.

The bigger bases are very obvious to the observer. Those three inch additions are noticeable. 

I like the change and I like the benefits they may bring. I'm not able to determine anything negative from having larger bases. If you have a negative reaction to share, please let me know. I'm sure I may not have thought of it.

----

Detroit Tigers prospect Spencer Torkelson sprained his ankle trying to get back to third base on a pickoff throw last week. He was removed from the game. He limped into the dugout and then the clubhouse. So far, he hasn't been removed from the league, and the injury may not be that serious.

Thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff

Please leave me suggestions for Fall League position players you would like me to feature in my Fall League scouting profiles. I may not get to your request right away, but I will respond in these next few columns. For example: Next week I will profile reader requests for Michael Toglia and do an update on a profile I've done before on Kody Hoese. Thanks for the requests.

Have a great week. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bernie Pleskoff
Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.
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