Arizona Fall League Update: Week 4

Salt River Rafters v. Mesa Solar Sox
Photo by Chris Coduto/MLB Photos via Getty Images

More of the same in the desert, as Caleb Durbin headlines the Yankee prospects playing fall ball.

The Arizona Fall League is in its homestretch. With four weeks of action in the books, it’s time to check in on the farmhands New York sent to the desert.

This week started the same way the previous ones went for infielders Caleb Durbin and Ben Cowles. Monday, the former manned the keystone and led off, while the latter played shortstop and hit fifth. And the two were integral to a rare win for Mesa, who are languishing at 9-14 through four weeks.

Durbin reached base three times, stole two bases, and scored a run. Cowles, meanwhile, scored and drove in a run, and snagged a base of his own. The two youngsters kept it going throughout the week’s action, teaming up again Friday night. After Durbin knocked a go-ahead single in the seventh inning of a 2-2 game, Cowles followed with a two-run single of his own.

With only two weeks remaining, Durbin has walked twice as often as he’s struck out (12 to 6), ranks fourth in the league with 11 stolen bases, and his 1.082 OPS is second on the Solar Sox. Durbin, who came over in the trade where the Yankees sent Lucas Luetge to Atlanta, has almost certainly opened eyes this fall. Cowles meanwhile, has put together a .970 OPS and, while he’s striking out too much (15 K in 46 AB), he’s showing a keen eye at the plate, with nine walks.

It has continued to be a rough fall season for Nelson Medina, however. Through four weeks, he’s managed a total of four hits, while striking out at a ghastly rate – 16 strikeouts in 27 AB. He did come through when it mattered Friday night. After Durbin and Cowles gave Mesa a three-run lead, Medina stepped to the dish the next inning and drove in two more runners.

It was an up-and-down week for hurler Matt Sauer. Tuesday night, he entered the game in the ninth with a three-run lead. He tossed a perfect frame to seal the Mesa win, and in the process picked up his first save of the fall. Unfortunately, he did not have anywhere near that level of success when he next appeared on Saturday. He came in with the contest tied at three. A double, a walk, and a home run later, however, and Mesa was in a three-run hole they could not overcome and Mauer took the loss.

That rough inning inflated his ERA but his WHIP (1.15), opponents’ BA (.156) and high strikeout rate (15 K in 8.2 IP) all show signs that Sauer is throwing the ball well overall. The Athletic’s Keith Law, scouting the fall league, noted that Sauer has been sitting 94-97 with the fastball, and an above-average (55 on the 20-80 scale) curveball in action this fall.

Sauer was not the only one to pitch in Saturday’s game. Trystan Vrieling started for Mesa and tossed three innings of one-run ball, striking out five. Like Sauer, Vrieling lays claim to an unsightly ERA (5.87). Unfortunately, the peripherals are also not great for the former third-round pick. He’s given up four home runs in 7.2 innings and his WHIP is flirting with two baserunners per inning (1.96). At the end of the day though, these are valuable developmental innings for Vrieling against some quality competition.

Baron Stuart entered in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game. He threw two frames, allowing one run and striking out three. Thus far this ball, the free pass is Stuart’s biggest blemish. He’s walked seven in 10 innings, so even though he’s allowing less than a hit per inning, his WHIP sits at an elevated 1.60.

Kevin Stevens continues to pitch well out of Mesa’s bullpen. He relieved Mesa’s starter in the fourth inning of Thursday’s game, one Mesa held on to win. In his sole inning of relief, he did not allow a base runner and whiffed two of the three batters he faced. He’s now allowed one lone run in 5.2 IP over seven outings, with eight strikeouts.

Nolberto Henriquez’s struggles proceed unabated this fall. In extremely limited action, the righty has been lit up. Nine hits and four walks in 4.2 innings for Mesa have contributed to a 2.79 WHIP and .429 opponents’ BA.

There are only a couple of weeks left of Arizona Fall League action, so the eight Yankee minor leaguers toiling for Mesa are running out of time and reps. To this point, Durbin’s, Cowles’, and Sauer’s performances have to be considered successes from a performance standpoint. While the results elsewhere are more mixed, the competition is tough and guys like Vrieling should be well-served going against some of baseball’s top prospects.

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