I don’t have stats to back this up (yet), but my assertion is that there are very few Arizona Fall League baseball players who excel at the major league level who did not excel in the Fall League. And the corollary to that is that prospects who struggle in the Fall League seem destined to struggle in the major leagues. The latest example is Austin Riley, a new call-up who’s smoking the ball for the Atlanta Braves.
So how did Riley fare in the Fall League? Let’s take a look. In 2017 Austin played for the AFL champion Peoria Javelinas. My recollection was that Ronald Acuna Jr., Riley’s teammate with the Javelinas, was the hands-down winner as the MVP of the league that year. But what I hadn’t remembered was that Austin gave him such a good run for his money! Here are the comparisons:
Ronald Acuna Jr. (99 Plate Appearances): BA .325/ OPS 1.053/ HR 7/ RBI 16
Austin Riley (77 Plate Appearances): BA .300/ OPS 1.021/ HR 6/ RBI 18
I can’t recall the last time the Philadelphia Phillies had a player with a decent showing in the Fall League, and all of their Fall League alumni have struggled in the majors. In contrast, the Yankees have had a bumper crop of AFL stars, the best among them being Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Gleyber Torres. Judge ran neck-and-neck for MVP in 2014 with his Scottsdale Scorpions teammate Greg Bird who won it, and Sanchez was the MVP in 2015. Bird should have been a star, but was injured. And sure enough, when he was sent back to the Fall League in 2016, he struggled with the same numbers that he’s put up since returning to the Yankees.
Torres had a torrid year for the Scottsdale Scorpions in 2016, putting up a Ted Williams-like .403 batting average with a monstrous 1.158 OPS. A prospect of the Chicago Cubs who came up alongside Ian Happ, Torres was sent to the Yankees in the Aroldis Chapman deal, and has blossomed into a star. Ian by comparison had a mediocre 2016 campaign with the Mesa Solar Sox, with a .236//778 line, and sure enough has struggled in the majors with stats in the same neighborhood that resulted in his tough demotion to the minors just two weeks into this season.
So that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it, unless someone comes up with stats to show otherwise.