The 2016 Arizona Fall League is right around the corner and this year's is going to have some high caliber talent. The Rangers' affiliate is the Surprise Saguaros and they "share" the team with the Red Sox, Royals, Twins, and Pirates. Not surprisingly, the Saguaros tend to have some pretty damn solid teams year after year. This season the Rangers aren't sending anyone with Yoan Moncada's talent, but the names they are sending are mostly intriguing in their own way.
RHP - Reed Garrett
RHP - John Fasola
LHP - Joe Filomeno
C - Isiah Kiner-Falefa
C - Jose Tevino
IF - Andy Ibanez
OF - Scott Heineman
Out of the pitching crew Fasola is the name that jumps out; he's a 24 year old who split time between advanced A ball, AA, and AAA this year and has had a massive amount of success. Fasola works with two pitches, a fastball with above average running life that sits around 94 and can touch 97, and a potentially above average slider when he's locating it down. Fasola's real killer is his plus command that took a jump in the right direction again in 2016. Fasola still has a bit to go as the fastball can get a little straight at times, the slider isn't good enough to make up for mistakes over the plate, and hitters can sit on one of two velocities. Fasola is a legit bullpen prospect who will almost definitely get a shot to be a middle reliever on an MLB team, possibly in 2017, and he will be facing some of the premier talent that MiLB has to offer in the AFL.
Joe Filomeno, a 23 year old big man relief prospect, follows a similar path as Fasola. He too spent time in High Desert and Frisco, but didn't get the promotion to AAA late in the season. Joe has two solid offerings from the left hand side in a fastball with solid life that gets between 92-94 and a low 70's curve that bites hard. Filomeno lives and dies with dropping his curve in for a strike and then dropping it off the face of the planet for whiffs. A lot of times he gets exactly what he wants, but he's had constant trouble with his huge walk rate as well. The AFLis going to be a big test for Filomeno and unless he can improve the command it's hard to see him going much farther in the system.
I'm not going to lie to you; Reed Garrett in the AFL confuses me. Garrett has an average sinking fastball that sits in the high 80's, a below average changeup with slight tailing motion, and a very loopy recognizable curve ball. He has inconsistent control from start to start; which is an issue when every weapon in his arsenal is hittable and he has to command the zone and change paces well to go late into games. Garrett profiles as org depth or possibly a 6th starter/long man type if everything clicks.
The two catchers being sent to the AFL are very interesting in their own way. Kiner-Falefa is a rapidly improving defensive catcher with plus-plus makeup, an advanced approach at the plate, solid hit/run tools, and 20 grade game power. Isiah has a path to the bigs though as a catcher and there's always a possibility he puts on catcher muscle and hits his first professional dinger. Trevino is another 80-grade makeup catcher with an excellent reputation for handling pitchers and defense. There have been continuous questions on whether he would continue to hit as he moved through the MiLB and so far he's proven capable. The AFL is going to have some great pitching talent and it will be a great test for Trevino.
Andy Ibanez, the Cuban 2B signing, is coming off a solid debut season between Hickory and Frisco. After mercilessly rampaging through A ball he struggled early to find a groove against AA pitching. Ibanez doesn't have too many flashy tools, but he has a whole set of average, or close to average, tools. Ibanez has the defensive set to be a solid defensive 2B and it's possible he would be able to shift to LF as well, but either way he will need to hit to continue. Although he struggled with pitch recognition against better pitching, his advanced approach and a finely tuned swing means he has a good shot to get there.
Scott Heineman quickly grabbed my eye in spring training. The 23 year old OF oozes athleticism a la a shorter, more condensed, Ryan Cordell. Scott is quicker off the block than Cordell is and I think he will be able to stick in CF for a longer portion of his career, but the other similarities are staggering. Heineman had an excellent year in High Desert and you do have to take the power stats there worth a grain of salt, but that doesn't discount the impressive approach, the speed, or the quality of contact. The big question for Heineman, as it is for Cordell, is if his hit tool will allow him to continue to progress towards the MLB. The Rangers seem to have a knack for picking up toolsy college outfielders in the 11th round and it's going to be intriguing watching Scott's progression in the AFL.
Even though the Rangers aren't sending a Lewis Brinson to the AFL in 2016, they are sending names who have a chance to impact the MLB club as soon as 2017 (Fasola). This won't be the last time you hear these names and there's a good chance that more than two of these guys break into the MLB and that is never anything to brush off. If you get a chance to get out to the AFL. I would definitely suggest doing so; maybe you can even sneak over to watch some of the 18 year olds, Enright, Taveras, Ragans, Spease, etc. and Tim Tebow work to make the most out of their budding MLB potential.