Every Arizona Fall League team feels like an All-Star team of sorts. Players from five different organizations combine forces for six weeks in hopes of getting in more work and production before the long, cold offseason. Even then, it's still possible to create another, bigger super team of top talents from the autumn.
Five award winners, led by league MVP Nelson Velazquez, headline MLB Pipeline's 2021 All-Arizona Fall League team, as voted on by members of our staff. Pitcher of the Year Owen White, Reliever of the Year Graham Spraker and co-Hitters of the Year JJ Bleday and Juan Yepez also made the cut in this group of 12.
The Cardinals have the most representatives with three All-AFL players, while the Rangers and Blue Jays also claim two. Championship winners Mesa unsurprisingly lead the way among Fall League clubs with four players with Glendale (three), Surprise (three) and Peoria (two) filling out the other spots. The list also features four Top 100 prospects, each from a different system.
Players were chosen strictly for their on-field performance during their time in the desert.
This is our 2021 All-Arizona Fall League team:
C: Gabriel Moreno, Mesa (TOR No. 1, MLB No. 32)
All eyes were on how Moreno could perform following a breakout Double-A season that was limited to only 32 games due to a fractured thumb. The verdict: pretty good. The top Toronto prospect led the Fall League with 11 doubles and finished with a .329/.410/.494 line in 100 plate appearances for the champions. He sealed his spot on the All-AFL team by throwing out nine of 19 attempted basestealers, thus leading the circuit in caught-stealings at a time when rules were changed to encourage movement on the basepaths.
Honorable mention: Austin Wells (NYY), Logan O'Hoppe (PHI)
1B: Juan Yepez, Glendale (STL No. 26)
The Year of Yepez continues apace. After hitting a career-high 27 homers and pushing his way to a Wild Card roster spot, the 23-year-old kept on producing in Arizona with a .302/.388/.640 line and seven dingers in 23 games. His 15 total extra-base hits were tied for second-most in the Fall League, while his 55 total bases placed third. Yepez got some time in the corner outfield spots, but 16 of his 20 defensive starts came at first base. He certainly showed enough bat for the position.
Honorable mentions: Drew Lugbauer (ATL), Triston Casas (BOS)
2B: Nick Gonzales, Peoria (PIT No. 4, MLB No. 62)
The 2020 first-rounder batted .322 with a 1.084 OPS over 43 games from Aug. 1 onward for High-A Greensboro to end his first full season. He had no issue carrying that hot bat with him to the southwest. Gonzales finished third in the AFL with a .380 average and second with a .483 OBP over 19 games with the Javelinas. With 27 knocks, he was the only Fall Leaguer to pick up 25 or more hits in 20 or fewer games. He also showed an advanced approach with a near-even 14/13 K/BB ratio in 87 plate appearances.
Honorable mention: Jose Tena (CLE)
3B: Ezequiel Duran, Surprise (TEX No. 7)
Acquired from the Yankees in the Joey Gallo deal in July, Duran got an extended chance to make a first impression in the Rangers system and certainly made the most of it. His four triples were tied for the league lead, and 14 of his 20 hits went for extra bases. As a result, his .611 slugging percentage, which came against just a .278 average, was sixth-best among AFL qualifiers. Beyond providing thump, Duran made a lot of contact with the Saguaros, striking out in only 11.5 percent of his plate appearances. He also saw time at shortstop and second base as Texas continued to try to find a defensive home for his power-speed combo.
Honorable mention: Curtis Mead (TB)
SS: Bryson Stott, Peoria (PHI No. 2, MLB No. 97)
Stott walked 24 times in 119 plate appearances this fall. He struck out 14 times in the same span. He reached base in all 26 games in which he played. That's taking strike-zone discipline to a whole new level. Of course, the 2019 14th overall pick wasn't completely passive during his days in Arizona. He produced a .318/.445/.489 line with two homers and five stolen bases in those 26 games and gave Philadelphia a lot to think about when it comes to its shortstop position for 2022 and beyond.
OF: Nelson Velazquez, Mesa (CHC No. 29)
Plenty of digital ink has been spilled on these pages over Velazquez's AFL accolades. Never hurts to say them one more time. The Fall League MVP led the showcase circuit in homers (nine), hits (40), total bases (74), slugging percentage (.712) and OPS (1.191). It wasn't even close in some categories. He became such a force in the Solar Sox lineup that he became the AFL equivalent of an everyday player and finished with 123 plate appearances, four more than anyone else. The 2017 fifth-rounder parlayed that -- along with a strong finish to the regular season at Double-A Tennessee -- into a 40-man roster spot ahead of last week's Rule 5 Draft deadline.
OF: JJ Bleday, Mesa (MIA No. 5, MLB No. 71)
The Solar Sox claim two outfield representatives here. The 2019 fourth overall pick bounced back from a rough Double-A season to hit .316/.435/.600 with five homers across 24 games. His 15 extra-base hits tied Yepez's for second-most in the league while his 1.035 OPS placed fifth. Only Velazquez had more total bases than his 57. The Fall Stars Game MVP utilized late-season adjustments to end 2021 on a high, and it'll be on him to show he's capable of this level of production for even longer stretches next spring.
OF: Elijah Dunham, Surprise (NYY No. 24)
The Yankees signed Dunham as a nondrafted free agent out of Indiana following the shortened 2020 Draft. This fall, he certainly looked like someone who should have gone in those five rounds. Dunham led the AFL with 11 stolen bases (in 12 attempts). In fact, he was one of only two players with at least 10 extra-base hits and five steals. Stott was the other. Dunham got it done at the plate with a .357/.465/.571 line, two homers, three triples and six doubles in 23 games. He walked more times (14) than he struck out (10) over 101 plate appearances.
DH: Lars Nootbaar, Glendale (STL graduate)
Sure, Nootbaar accrued enough time in the Majors to graduate from prospect status this summer, but the Cardinals sent him to the Fall League to make up for some of the at-bats he missed while on the St. Louis bench. The outfielder performed about to expectations for a player with experience in The Show. He ranked third in the AFL in both slugging percentage (.643) and OPS (1.080), while batting .314 with a near-even 15/14 K/BB ratio in 87 plate appearances. The USC product wasn't known for power during his collegiate or early Minor League days but made that tool a point of emphasis in Arizona. Next up: trying to work his way into the Cards outfield for good.
SP: Owen White, Surprise (TEX No. 28)
The AFL Pitcher of the Year made for an easy selection here. White led the AFL with 28 1/3 innings pitched and made the most of that time on the mound by finishing with a 1.91 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 29 strikeouts. He didn't allow a run in three of his six starts and struck out at least four batters every time out. The 2018 second-rounder has managed only 35 1/3 innings of Minor League ball to this point in his career, but in showing off an impressive four-pitch mix, he proved why he could be the top arm in the Texas system rather quickly.
SP: Andre Pallante, Glendale (STL No. 30)
The 23-year-old right-hander showed some improved velocity by sitting in the mid-90s at times during his days as a Desert Dog, but that's not why he is here. Pallante finished second among AFL qualifiers with a 1.29 ERA -- the lowest mark by anyone with more than one start. He also managed 22 strikeouts in 21 innings, 11 of which came over consecutive outings on Nov. 3 and 9. The 2019 fourth-rouner had some issues with control, but he solidified his place among the Cards' Top 30 prospects with his performance in Arizona.
Honorable mention: Coleman Crow (LAA)
RP: Graham Spraker, Mesa (TOR unranked)
It was fitting that Spraker closed out Mesa's Championship Game win Saturday, hours after he was named AFL Reliever of the Year. The Toronto right-hander didn't allow a run in 11 regular-season appearances for the Solar Sox. He struck out 17 and walked only two in his 11 1/3 innings. He also allowed only seven baserunners to reach base all fall, leading to a 0.53 WHIP. Spraker goes heavy with a 93-94 mph fastball that he can spot well and mixes in an 89-91 mph cutter to keep hitters off balance.
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