AFL: Grading the performances of the seven prospects


The Arizona Fall League always comes and goes too soon.

It’s a five-and-a-half-week, 30-game league comprised of some of baseball’s most prized prospects. And like any other year, this season did not disappoint.

The Yankees did not send a plethora of top-end prospects like they have done in recent years, but there was still a reasonable cause for excitement with the bunch they did send.

Here’s a performance-based review of the seven prospects the Yankees sent to the Glendale Desert Dogs this fall.

Matt Wivinis, A

Matt Wivinis put together the best fall league of his fellow Yankee counterparts, earning him an ‘A’ grade.

He appeared in 11 games out of the bullpen for manager Dave Anderson, throwing 12 innings and permitting just two earned runs. He allowed six hits, walked six batters and struck out 14. He held hitters to a .146 average and ended with a 1.50 ERA.

Amongst a plethora of big-league-hitters-to-be, Wivinis was an escape artist for Glendale. He nearly finished his fall league tenure with a sub-one ERA, but giving up a run on November 5 nudged it north of one.

The first run the 25-year-old allowed this fall came in his debut on October 9. The next run came nearly a month later. Sandwiched in between those two earned runs was a near four-week stretch of sheer dominance.

Considering he struggled this summer in a spell at Double-A Trenton, Wivinis’s fall was an encouraging sign moving into 2019.

Hobie Harris, B

Hobie Harris is the other Yankees arm who had a nice fall. Of the nine games he appeared in, he threw 15 innings and allowed seven earned runs on 14 hits. He walked seven, punched out 16 and held hitters to a .250 average.

His 4.20 ERA is not indicative to the stint Harris had with Glendale. The 25-year-old had one clunker of an outing on October 27, when he allowed three runs in just 1.1 innings.

Subtract that appearance and those three earned runs and Harris permitted just four earned runs in 13.2 innings with the Desert Dogs. That clocks out as a 2.73 ERA, and thus, the ‘B’ grade.

Harris’s last three seasons in the New York organization have been terrific. He’s compiled sub-three ERAs in each of the last three years.

It was an injury-riddled summer for Harris, which is why he spent the first two months of his offseason in Arizona, but the organization should be thrilled to see he’s back on track health-wise.

Thairo Estrada, B

Like Harris, Thairo Estrada was nipped by the injury-bug this summer. The 22-year-old played in just 18 games with Tampa and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before injuries sidelined him for the year.

Back in the Arizona Fall League for a second consecutive season, the Yankees’ No. 15 prospect played in 19 games for Glendale. He sported a .238 average with seven RBIs, four strikeouts and 15 walks.

He started to find a groove at the plate in the second half of the fall league. Ten of his 19 hits were accounted for in his last 10 games.

Estrada earns a ‘B’ grade because of his ability to get hot at the dish as the league progressed, but also because what he did with the glove. What he can do in the field is what he’s known for, but he proved in Arizona just why he’s so highly-regarded in the Yankees system.

There was some concern whether the injuries he suffered from — including a gunshot wound from the off-season — were still nagging him. He put those concerns to rest seeing how fluent he moves and works at the shortstop position. There were several highlight-reel plays he made in Arizona.

Primarily viewed as a shortstop, Estrada also spent a little bit of time at second base with the Desert Dogs. The Yankees don’t have a wealth of middle-infield depth in their system, so you wonder if getting him accustomed to second base only helps his path to Yankee Stadium.

Estevan Florial, C

With the Justus Sheffield trade on Tuesday, Estevan Florial is now the Yankees’ top prospect, though that title didn’t mirror the numbers Florial owned in the Arizona Fall League.

Back for a second consecutive fall league stint in Arizona, the 20-year-old batted .178 in 21 games, totaling just four extra-base hits and eight RBIs. He walked 12 times and punched out 29 times in 73 at-bats. For those keeping score at home, that’s striking out at a near-40 percent clip (39.7).

So, yes, strike-outs remain a part of Florial’s game. He punched out in 29.5 percent of his at-bats this summer at Advanced-A Tampa.

It’s known at this point that he’s going to strike out. That, until something drastic changes, is going to come with him wherever he goes. If he’s able to limit them, though, it’s obvious why he’s the best prospect in this New York organization replete with talent.

He certainly packed his rocket-like arm and 70-grade speed in his suitcase and showcased it with the Desert Dogs.

He hosed San Diego’s Buddy Reed — also a terrific runner — with a strike from left field in one game when Reed attempted to stretch a single into a double. He also hit a triple in the Fall Stars Game that saw him just effortlessly make his way to third base.

Oh, that ball was hit into the left field corner, too. He still ended up on third base, though.

Florial, too, battled injuries in 2018, but he clarified that they were not still bothering him this fall.

He was the best prospect the Yankees sent, but unfortunately didn’t perform as many expected him to. Thus, he left Arizona with a ‘C’ grade.

Steven Sensley, C

Steven Sensley arrived in Arizona as the lesser-known position player the Yankees had sent, joined by top prospects like Estrada and Florial.

He began play hitting safely in five of the team’s first seven games, but his bat cooled down severely as the league advanced.

The 23-year-old ended with a .197 average in 21 games. He had 15 hits, four going for extra-bases, with nine RBI. He struck out 26 times in 76 at-bats at a 34 percent clip. He also walked four times.

Sensley’s known as a guy with prolific power, but that was absent in Arizona. After homering 17 times this summer, Sensley didn’t do it once with Glendale. That, he told me, was something he was actively working on all fall: Finding a way to get the ball in the air a bit more.

Because he’s established himself as a middle-of-the-lineup bat, there was an emphasis this fall to make Sensley more of a complete defender. Typically an outfield in the New York system, the Baton Rouge native played first base for Glendale.

It was a position he had grown up playing — being left-handed, he said, limits you a tad — so the transition to first base was not all that strange.

And really, he looked great. The full-time transition from the outfield looked seamless. He looked more comfortable each time out.

Like Estrada, this is likely a positional change to make Sensley a more complete, flexible player to move around in the lineup.

But because of the dull batting average, Sensley earned a ‘C’.

Kyle Zurak, C

Kyle Zurak was an arm to keep an eye on in Arizona after consecutive productive seasons in his first two years in the Yankees system.

Although with the Desert Dogs, the 23-year-old grappled with dispatching AFL hitters.

He pitched in nine games, spanning 9.1 innings allowing 12 runs on 16 hits. He surrendered three home runs, walked 10 and struck out three. Opponents hit .381 against Zurak, en route to a 11.57 ERA.

The inflated ERA was really because of the start he had to the league, in which he yielded eight earned runs while recording five outs in his first four outings.

Zurak settled into a little groove in his last three appearances however, courtesy of a stretch of 3.2 scoreless frames.

Considering the early success he’s enjoyed in his professional career has come in the lower levels of the minor leagues, pitching against premiere hitting prospects in the Arizona Fall League was going to be a huge test for Zurak. It was, and that’s likely the biggest reason he struggled: These are hitters knocking on the doorsteps of the major leagues.

But, nonetheless, it was great experience for Zurak, who owns a 2.71 ERA in the organization since being drafted in 2017.

Jordan Foley, C

Prospects come to this league either to a) make up for lost time from the previous summer or b) implement/experiment something new to their game.

Jordan Foley spent six weeks in Arizona for the latter. Typically used as a reliever in the Yankees organization, the 25-year-old was in the starting rotation for the Desert Dogs.

He made seven starts, laboring through 19.2 innings spanning 20 runs on 20 hits. He struck out 20, too, and also walked 19 to make for a 9.15 ERA.

Foley permitted an earned run in each of his starts. It’s unclear whether this experiment will be drawn out into the future, but he’s enjoyed plenty of success in recent years coming out of the bullpen.

Strikeouts were in abundance — at one point he owned the best K/9 rate in the AFL — but free passes stood out like a sore thumb, too.

His final two outings saw him deliver eight innings of three-run ball, but he did walk seven in that span.

The rollercoaster of a fall Foley endured secured a ‘C’ grade.