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Ranking the Top-5 Twins Prospects Headed to the Arizona Fall League


After a one-year hiatus, the Arizona Fall League is back. This league combines some of baseball’s best prospects, so who are Minnesota’s top five prospects heading to the AFL?

The Arizona Fall League started in 1992 as an off-season league where some of baseball’s best up-and-coming prospects can take the field together. Six teams make up the AFL, and each club plays a 30-game schedule. According to MLB.com, “Nearly 60 percent of all AFL players make a Major League roster, with the league boasting 321 All-Stars, 21 MVPs, six Cy Young Award winners, eight World Series MVPs, 103 Silver Sluggers, 96 Gold Gloves and 32 Rookies of the Year.”

Will any of the names mentioned below be able to add to the accolades mentioned above? Here are the top five Twins prospects heading to the 2021 Arizona Fall League:

5. Michael Helman, 2B/OF
2021 Stats: .246/.336/.462 (.798), 19 HR, 21 2B, 4 3B, 87 K, 51 BB (111 G)

Helman ended the 2019 season at High-A, and he spent all of 2021 at the same level. He was over 2.5 years older than the average age of the competition at that level. During the 2021 season, he was among the organization leaders in homers. He is listed as a second baseman on the AFL rosters, even though he primarily played in the outfield this season. This might be an opportunity to get him more reps in the infield. 

4. Kody Funderburk, LHP
2021 Stats: 2.55 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 82 K, 28 BB (67.0 IP)

Minnesota selected Funderburk with their 15th round pick back in 2018. During the 2019 season, he struggled at Low-A as he posted a 4.68 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP in 13 appearances (10 starts). Funderburk posted strong numbers between High- and Double-A this season while being used as a starter and a reliever. He has only pitched 155 innings as a professional, so this is likely an opportunity for him to get more innings under his belt.  

3. Zach Featherstone, LHP
2021 Stats: 2.13 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 93 K, 42 BB (55.0 IP)

Entering 2021, Featherstone was limited to 18 1/3 innings since the Twins drafted him as a position player in 2016. None of those innings came above the rookie leagues. Minnesota pushed him to High-A this season, where the 25-year old was 1.7 years older than the average age of the competition. Featherstone posted an eye-popping 15.2 K/9 out of the bullpen this season. Unfortunately, he also walked nearly seven batters per nine. This is likely an opportunity to get Featherstone some more innings so he can work on his control. 

2. Andrew Bechtold, 3B
2021 Stats: .239/.328/.459 (.786), 18 HR, 23 2B, 131 K, 45 BB (99 Games)

Originally, Bechtold was a fifth-round pick by the Twins back in 2017. His college experience at Maryland helped him post an .829 OPS at Elizabethton. He struggled in 2018 at Low-A as his OPS dropped by 236 points. The Twins sent him back to Low-A in 2019, and he split time between Low- and High-A with a .738 OPS. Like Helman, he was among the organization leaders in homers this season. Defensively, he continues to play at third base with some time at first. 

1. Matt Wallner, OF
2021 Stats: .265/.350/.504 (.854), 15 HR, 14 2B, 2 3B, 100 K, 28 BB (68 Games)

Wallner strikes out a bunch, but he has light-tower power, which puts him at the top of this list. He came in as the organization’s 12th best prospect in the most recent Twins Daily prospect rankings. A broken hamate bone limited him to 68 games, so sending him to the AFL to recoup some last at-bats makes sense. In a third of his plate appearances this season, he struck out, so that will be something to watch in Arizona.    

How would you rank these players? What will you be looking for in the AFL? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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Seeing the Twins only send seven players, shouldn't you have included all of them?  Who are the other two?

As for Wallner, would have been good to include his number of AB so we better knew how bad his strike out numbers really are, or aren't?

Don't see anyone from this group repeating what Lewis did two years ago.  But should be a great experience for all.  Hopefully, one of those lefties has a nice October and keeps rising up the ladder.

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I am shocked - this does not look like a real prospect list.  Wallner is interesting, but so is Rooker and that does nothing to move the needle.  

I had to look back to see who we chose in past years and we usually have one or two real prospects and then question marks so this year is not too different. 

2019, Royce Lewis, Jovani Moran, Luke Raley, Dakota Chambers, Zack Neff, Moises Gomez. 

In 2018  - Brent Rooker, Jaylin Davis, Travis Blankenhorn, Hector Lujan, Alex Robinson, Devin Smeltzer, Luke Raley, and Griffin Jax were the planned players.

2017 - LaMonte Wade, Tyler Jay, Chris Paul, Andrew Vasquez, Ryan Eades, Tom Hackimer, Sean Miller. 

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I wonder what led the decision to send no top prospects.  They normally send at least a couple of expected future MLB players.  Here only Walner is expected to make it at some point.  Who knows though maybe the FO sees something in them and want to face some other comp.  I have not looked at full rosters maybe every team was holding back. 

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Let's look back. In 2019 the Twins sent Royce Lewis, Ben Rortvedt, Dakota Chalmers, Moises Gomez, Jovani Moran, Luke Raley and Zach Neff. All still playing. Raley made it to Dodgerland this year.

 

In 2018: Jaylin Davis, Rooker, Blankenhorn, Hector Lujan, Adam Bray, Smeltzer, Jax, and Raley...again. All still playing ball.

 

In 2017: Tyler Jay, Chris Paul, Lamonte Wade, Andrew Vasquez, Ryan Eades, Sean Miller and Tom Hackimer. Paul and Miller were infielders who are no longer in pro ball.

 

In 2016: Gordon, Gonsalves, Curtiss, Melotakis, Randy Rosario, Garver, Tanner English. Tanner English disappeared. Melotakis is still hanging in Indy ball.

 

All-Stars, ROY, batting champs, World Series players...whatever. Just a good chance to get extended seasonal play against a higher caliber of promising player.

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7 hours ago, USAFChief said:

This is unquestionably the weakest group this organization has ever sent to the AFL.

 

Wow. 

Please tell me about the impressive group of players we sent to the AFL in 1995 or 1996. I'm sure they were all first ballot HOFers, weren't they?

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With the exception of Wallner, this AFL group does seem light on prospect status. But I find this group to be "interesting".

I agree with jmlease1 that this is very much a "show me" group. But I'm kinda OK with that after the lost 2020 year and who these guys are.

Funderburk and Laweryson are 2018 and '19 selections that need IP. One is a high K LH RP and the other a SP. Again, they need IP to get ready for 2022. They wouldn't be here if the Twins weren't looking at each moving up at least a full level in 2022.

Featherstone is a bit older, but a recent convert to the pen after being drafted initially as a position player, much like Gore. He is absolutely a "show me" something high K arm who again needs IP.

Helman and Bechtold are very similar while being very different at the same time. Both are a little long in the tooth prospect wise, but each is again "interesting". 

Helman is a 2B/CF who mostly played the OF this past season. He is a good athlete with speed and power potential he began to really show this year. But the bat hasn't fully played yet. This is his opportunity to show he's ready for AA in 2022 or maybe get passed by.

Bechtold has always been reputed as being an excellent defensive 3B who has also played some 1B and a little 2B. As a JC draftee he dominated his rookie half season and then slid production-wise. The power seemed to come in 2021 even though the bat lagged a bit. He also began to work behind the plate between games in order to utilize his arm and increase his versatility. I believe he got a one game start behind the plate at the end of the season. Don't be surprised if you see him behind the plate in a few games.

Not a great group. I do believe the Twins are being cautious with some arms they COULD have sent. But I think they are being very deliberate in the arms they sent to AZ to see if they can improve and make the next step.

I was excited when Bechtold was first drafted, but an OK rebound in 2021 doesn't excite me. The more athletic Helman interests me. But really, I'm watching Wallner and the arms to see what they might do.

Not an exciting group to be sure. But there is some interest here.

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23 hours ago, USAFChief said:

This is unquestionably the weakest group this organization has ever sent to the AFL.

 

Wow. 

As your resident AFL season 'reporter' - I don't disagree when it comes to name recognition, but it will still be fun to follow these guys. There's always a surprise in someones performance that's fun to discuss!

Lot of different reasons this could be the case (they wanted SWR there but ended up agreeing to skip it due to his weird season with the olympics and trade), but overall the league is stacked with top 100 talent this year.

Marco Luciano and Tristan Casas are on the Scottsdale roster with our Twins guys. Spencer Torkelson and C.J. Abrams are there as well.

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Just a couple side notes:

1] I have no idea right now without looking back at previous handbooks, or reading the new one comjng out, or doing exhaustive research, etc, what Fatherstone or Funderburk throw. But you don't have the K numbers they had this year if you don't have SOMETHING to offer in regard to velocity and breaking pitches. Seems jts all about control and refinement with them.

2] I remember Featherstone transitioning to the mound after his rookie half year as a position player. But I had completely forgotten he had TJ surgery and missed 2yrs PLUS the 2020 season. To miss all that time and yet pitch at A+ in 2021 with success and a high K rate is pretty remarkable, even with a high BB rate.

3] For some bizarre reason, I thought Laweryson was drafted earlier than 2019. I guess memory fails sometimes, LOL. He appeared in 10 games his rookie year at Elizabethton, 6 GS before I GS at CR. He then, like everyone, missed 2020 and jumped to A+ CR this year with mixed results in 15 games. His ERA was high but his other numbers were solid, including high K numbers.

The more I look at and reflect on this group of "marginal" prospects who are all outside the top 30 prospect lists with the exception of Wallner, the more curious and interested I become. 

I'm expecting nothing from Bechtold, sorry to say. I have some hope that the athletic Helman will blossom. But more and more I'm seeing a real plan for the pitchers here. They are "asking" Funderburk and Featherstone to prove they are ready for Wichita next year. And they are asking Laweryson to follow the Gross and Gipson-Long path of later round draftees who have a SOMETHING to work with and develop.

I hate to just repeat my previous comments about this group being "interesting" and agreeing they are all "show me" prospects, but the more I look and reflect the more I'm intrigued. I think the FO is being very deliberate with the arms they sent to AFL, knowing what they already have with the arms they didn't send.

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On 10/12/2021 at 6:54 PM, RonCoomersOPS said:

Please tell me about the impressive group of players we sent to the AFL in 1995 or 1996. I'm sure they were all first ballot HOFers, weren't they?

You didn't ask about 1994, but we sent Marty Cordova that year. He was ROY in 1995.

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7 hours ago, big dog said:

You didn't ask about 1994, but we sent Marty Cordova that year. He was ROY in 1995.

Point being that (Marty Cordova aside, sort of) many of the players we send to the AFL are not really heard from again and that calling this year's group "unquestionably the weakest group this organization has ever sent" is so hyperbolic and so clouded by recency bias that it is pretty much completely nonsensical.

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7 hours ago, RonCoomersOPS said:

Point being that (Marty Cordova aside, sort of) many of the players we send to the AFL are not really heard from again and that calling this year's group "unquestionably the weakest group this organization has ever sent" is so hyperbolic and so clouded by recency bias that it is pretty much completely nonsensical.

1995 Peoria

  •  LaTroy Hawkins, Matt Lawton, Dan Naulty, Jamie Ogden, Kevin Ohme, Mitch Simons, Todd Walker

1996 Scottsdale

  • Jason Bell, JJ Johnson, Jamie Ogden, Mark Redman, Todd Ritchie, Dan Serafini

We of course have the benefit of hindsight, a different kind of bias, as to how these careers turned out, knowing that the late 90s were a dreary time for the franchise.  Certainly many players sent to the AFL, in general, do not progress, for any number of reasons - that's also a red herring.  But at the time, most of the players in those two years looked like real prospects - worth a fan's trip to the Phoenix area for a look-see.  E.g. the now-forgotten Jason Bell was a 21-year old who had had success at high-A and was so-so when promoted to AA but with good strikeout numbers for the time.  And the unlamented 1996 group as a whole had 3 pitchers who went on to have more than just a cuppajoe in the majors.  (I won't bother to defend the FO's two-year fascination with first baseman Ogden.)  Does anyone besides Wallner in this year's group, old other than Laweryson and not with much of a track record, look like they have a prayer of that?

Digging up the names for these two seasons in the AFL was tedious.  I'll pass the baton back to you, if you want to dig out a team with less-compelling prospects than these or, back to the point, less interesting than the crew being sent to Scottsdale for 2021.

Nonetheless, I'm going, later this month. :)

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