The minor league season is only about a week away from its conclusion, but that doesn’t mean the prospect fans don’t have anything to follow until next spring. The Arizona Fall League is right around the corner, meaning a whole lot of the game’s best prospects will be in one place for about six weeks for that play out in the desert.
There are some changes to the league this year, most notably that this is starting earlier than it had in the past. The AFL had always started right around the time the MLB playoffs had gotten underway, but this year the start date was moved up to the day after the Triple-A playoffs end. That gives pitchers less down time before getting started again and also provides a longer offseason for the prospects. There is also no more restrictions on who can participate. It used to basically just be limited to Double-A and Triple-A prospects, but we will see more younger players in the league this year.
With that in mind, the Red Sox will be sending six prospects out to Arizona to play in the league. They will be on the Peoria, along with players from the Astros, Mariners, Pirates and Padres. Let’s take a quick look at all six of the prospects.
Jarren Duran, OF, Portland
The headliner among the position players is Duran, who has been one of the biggest stories on the farm this year. The speedy outfielder has taken a bit of a step back in the second half of the year, but he’s still among the most exciting players in the system and has been better since an initial slump after his promotion to Portland. Duran also got a bit of national exposure earlier this year as a participant in the Futures Game at All-Star Weekend.
Bryan Mata, P, Portland
Duran is the guy I’m personally most excited about on this roster, but Mata is the best Red Sox prospect heading out to Arizona. The pitcher, who like Duran started the year in Salem before a promotion to Portland, is only 20 years old but has pitched well beyond his years. After a down year in 2018, the righty has come storming back in 2019 with improved stuff while also throwing the most innings of his career. It will be interesting to see him against more competitive hitters every at bat, particularly as a guy who has the potential for a midseason call-up next year if things continue to progress almost perfectly. It’s worth remembering that these guys aren’t really going to pitch full outings out here, so his career-high in innings already isn’t a major concern.
Tanner Houck, P, Pawtucket
Houck is probably the name on this list that most surprised me, not because he doesn’t deserve it based on talent but rather because it makes me confused about their plans for the righty in September. He had been thought of as a potential September call-up, but with the season starting in mid-September I wonder if they would still bring him to the majors for a week or two before sending him to Arizona. That would seemingly be a waste of a 40-man spot. Either way, we’ll almost certainly see Houck in the majors next year and this will be a chance for him to continue his adjustment to a relief role.
C.J. Chatham, SS, Pawtucket
Chatham has had a big year himself in the Red Sox system, finally showing an ability to be healthy and showing the tools for a future major leaguer. Unless he sees a major improvement in the power department he’s likely not more than a second-division starter, but he has solid bat-to-ball skills and can play in the middle infield. I’m most interested to see how his time is split between second base and shortstop, as improving his versatility will only help his major-league prospects.
Marcus Wilson, OF, Portland
Wilson was, of course, the outfielder received from the Diamondbacks in the Blake Swihart trade. He now heads back out to Arizona for a couple of months. He’s had an interesting time since getting to Boston, struggling mightily in Portland before getting demoted to Salem. Things have turned since then, though, as he dominated High-A before getting promoted back to Double-A and looking much better there. He’s potential outfield depth as soon as midseason 2020.
Yoan Aybar, P, Salem
Aybar is potentially the most interesting name on this list, and also the least known. A former outfield prospect, he started pitching last season and immediately showed big-time potential. He has a huge fastball that gets into the upper-90s as well as a breaking ball with some potential. His command is still raw, but he’s shown real strides as this season has gone on and earned a promotion to Salem. Teams will be watching him closely as Aybar is Rule 5 eligible this winter and he has the type of raw talent that rebuilding teams can try and stash on an active roster in a mop-up role through a season.