Despite running concurrently with the MLB playoffs, the Arizona Fall League draws a lot of eyes from the prospecting community every year. It’s a unique environment- all players invited tend to be at least mid-range prospects, and come from a range of levels, making it a unique scouting opportunity. This year, the Astros assigned a larger than average group of eight players- 5 pitchers, and 3 position players- to the Mesa Solar Sox roster alongside prospects from the Orioles, Yankees, A’s and Cubs. Here’s a rundown of their portion of the roster:
Zach Dezenzo, 3B, AA - Much has been written both here and elsewhere about Dezenzo’s huge 2023 campaign, during which he hit .304/.383/.531 to solidify himself as a top 5 prospect in the system thanks to some adjustments to his swing and approach. As strong as the season was, he was limited to 94 games by injuries and he was particularly hot at the end of the year, finally finding some more consistent loft, translating to 11 HRs in his last 33 games. In the AFL, he’ll have a chance to build on that late season momentum while replacing some of the reps he lost midseason.
Kenedy Corona, OF, AA - Another 2023 riser, Corona is one of the better raw power/speed threats in the system, and showed that off with 22 HRs and 32 SBs this past season. He is capable of playing all over the outfield as well, giving him several avenues to produce. The question mark in his profile is the hit tool- he struck out 136 times in 2023, and he was especially rough in this regard down the stretch. The hope is that he’ll be able to find another step in the contact department allowing his other tools to really shine, and some extra work could help him toward that goal.
Miguel Palma, C, A+ - Palma has put together a couple of solid seasons across the A-ball levels, maintaining a steady .340 OBP with good contact rates, but not much in the way of power. An undersized backstop at 5’8”, 170, he shows receiving ability but has struggled to hold runners, catching just 24 out of 225 base stealers in his career to date. His profile is generally solid across the board, but nothing about it really pops just yet. He has a chance to develop into a backup catcher type if he can develop defensively, and some more experience receiving high quality stuff should help him down that path.
Miguel Ullola, RHP, A+ - Ullola was dominant, albeit wild, in 2022, showing some of the best stuff in the system, but backslid in 2023. He still struck out a lot of batters, but was far more hittable and didn’t make much progress with his strike throwing. On a good night, he’ll show a plus-plus fastball with both velocity and bat missing movement as well as a strong breaking ball, but he hasn’t been able to rein it in yet. He’s trending towards the bullpen, but even in that case he needs to find more strikes. Getting him as many reps as possible in the meantime makes sense.
AJ Blubaugh, RHP, AA - A 7th rounder in 2022, Blubaugh has missed a lot of bats in his climb up the minor league ladder thus far, and was successful in his first taste of Double-A to end the season. His arsenal is fastball dominant, but his heater has the traits to hold up to high usage. He’ll also show a solid slider, and his strike throwing ability is not too far off. He has a chance to help the bullpen within the next couple of years.
Ray Gaither, RHP, AA - A fun story in the system in recent years, Gaither was signed as an undrafted free agent out of pitching factory Dallas Baptist in 2021. His performance in college was solid but unspectacular, and he struggled to stay on the field early in his pro career, though he showed well when he was able to take the mound. His health held up in 2023, and strong performance followed, as he struck out 88 batters in in 74 innings across High-A and Double-A. It makes a lot of sense to keep Gaither on the mound while his health is cooperating after two largely lost seasons, and he should be a fun follow.
Tyler Guilfoil, RHP, A+ - Another 2022 draft pick, Guilfoil had a highly successful first full season in pro ball, striking out 123 batters against 37 walks in his 84 innings of work. His delivery creates a difficult angle for hitters to deal with, and he shows a legitimate three pitch mix with good strike throwing ability. He is on the older side for his level at this point, but has shown the bones of a starting profile, and has a chance to further demonstrate that in the most difficult competitive environment he has faced to date this fall.
Jaime Melendez, RHP, AA - Melendez burst onto the scene with a phenomenal campaign in 2021, but stagnated a bit in 2022 and only managed 9.2 healthy innings this past season. The 5’8” righty has an explosive fastball that plays up thanks to its low approach angle, and he shows a variety of secondaries that he can mix effectively. His strike throwing needs some work, and his pitch mix probably needs to be focused a bit, but he has major league ability if he can stay healthy and take some strides. The AFL offers him an opportunity to make up for some lost time, and at just 22, there’s time for him to round out his profile- though he is also Rule 5 eligible this winter.