Big Hype Prospects: Merrill, Marte, Davis, Yorke, Winn

Big Hype Prospects remains focused on the Arizona Fall League. A general note before we dive in – I’m relaxing the definition of “big” so we can continue to cover different active players.

Five Big Hype Prospects

Jackson Merrill, 19, SS, SDP (A)
AFL: 73 PA, 1 HR, 2 SB, .308/.356/.431

Merrill was the 27th overall selection in the 2021 draft. One of the youngest players in the AFL, he’s held his own in Arizona after a promising regular season split between the complex and Low-A. He’s now arguably the top prospect in a Padres system that traded the likes of MacKenzie Gore, Robert Hassell III, CJ Abrams, and James Wood.

Merrill has the look of a throwback shortstop. He’s smaller than many of the current crop of shortstops and has a swing geared more for all-field contact than generating power. He appears to be a high-probability future big leaguer. It’s possible he’ll top out as a utility guy if certain aspects of his game – such as first-step quickness in the field – don’t age well. His defensive aplomb will go a long way toward determining his future role.

Noelvi Marte, 21, SS, CIN (A+)
AFL: 58 PA, 2 HR, 1 SB, .208/.345/.333

Marte hasn’t been particularly effective this fall – possibly a sign that he’s out of gas after a 520 plate appearance regular season split between Seattle and Cincinnati’s High-A affiliates. Marte has also been prone to streaks this year so he still has plenty of time to turn things around with a couple big games. Encouragingly, he’s recorded more walks than strikeouts. He recently hit a titanic 461-foot home run, showcasing his premium power upside.

Henry Davis, 23, C, PIT (AA)
AFL: 53 PA, 1 HR, 3 SB, .256/.415/.462

One of two exciting, near-Majors catching prospects in the Pirates system, Davis managed just 236 plate appearances during the regular season due to injuries. He’s mostly in Arizona to work on his defense. If he doesn’t improve in all defensive facets, he could eventually move to first base where his bat should still play – just a lot less excitingly. He’s shown more than his characteristic plate discipline this fall. While one home run seems disappointing for a player with premium raw power, he’s also hit five doubles.

Nick Yorke, 20, 2B, BOS (A+)
AFL: 76 PA, 1 HR, .328/.434/.492

Yorke was one of a few players with more to prove than most in the AFL. He’s mostly succeeded. Yorke currently leads the league in plate appearances and doubles (7). He also has 15.8 percent strikeout and walk rates. The Red Sox undoubtedly hope Yorke can fit in as a future leadoff hitter, and he’s filled that role ably this fall. Lately, it’s been shared that Yorke played through nagging injuries which might have led to his poor performance at High-A. Occasionally, the “nagging injury” card is played to distract from the real reasons for a lousy season. A healthy 2023 campaign could do much to restore confidence in Yorke’s future role in Boston.

Masyn Winn, 20, SS, STL (AA)
AFL: 52 PA, 1 HR, 6 SB, .300/.462/.375

Winn is an up-and-coming prospect. At present, the tools are more obvious than the actual statistical outcome. He’s a plus runner who has the capacity to hit for power. Scouts have noted that his game approach doesn’t always tap into those tools – as if he’s selling out for contact at the expense of power. Given that he’s a Cardinals prospect – a system that has long valued discipline and contact – this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Should Winn access more in-game power next season, he could climb onto Top 10 prospect lists. In the AFL, he has just one extra-base hit, though he’s otherwise performed well including 12 walks to just eight strikeouts.

Five More

Ronny Simon, TBR (22): Simon currently leads the AFL with 18 RBI. He’s the sort of player the Rays system tends to produce in bulk. He can play second or third base. During the regular season, he hit 22 home runs with 34 steals over 473 plate appearances. He spent the bulk of the season at High-A. Rule 5 eligible, Simon might not be doing enough to claim a 40-man spot with the roster-crunched Rays. If so, we could see him in the Majors next April as a Rule 5 draftee.

Connor Thomas, STL (24): The Cardinals will have a difficult choice with Thomas. He is also Rule 5 eligible. A ground ball machine who worked to a 5.47 ERA in 135 Triple-A innings this season, Thomas should find himself on a 40-man roster before long. While he didn’t succeed at preventing runs during the regular season, the 5’ 11’’ southpaw features plus command of a four-pitch repertoire. He’s arguably the top-performing pitcher in Arizona, posting a 1.53 ERA with 24 strikeouts and four walks in 17.2 innings. His slider in particular looks like it could play up in a relief role.

Evan Reifert, TBR (23): Reifert is the AFL’s top-performing reliever. He has 15 strikeouts with just one walk and no hits allowed in 7.2 innings. Acquired in the Mike Brosseau trade with the Brewers, Reifert has an upper-90s fastball and a two-plane, borderline elite slider. The right-hander has historically struggled with command, though he’s mostly avoided walks this year. He’s on pace to debut next season.

Zach Daniels, HOU (23): Daniels recently hit the longest home run of the 2022 AFL season – a 481-foot moonball to center field. It was his first home run in an otherwise poor showing in Arizona. He’s addressed his biggest demon – a sky-high strikeout rate – by punching out just five times in 26 plate appearances. However, he’s batting only .130/.231/.304. Power hitters of this profile tend to be volatile.

Zach Britton, TOR (23): Yet another catching prospect in the catcher-rich Blue Jays system, Britton is a highly disciplined left-handed hitter roughly in the mold of Cavan Biggio. Britton isn’t nearly as maxed out on fly ball contact which should help him to hit more consistently than Biggio. Britton should receive more attention from prospect outlets next season as he approaches a Major League debut. He’s currently second in the AFL in OPS with a .457/.524/.686 (1.210 OPS) triple-slash in 40 plate appearances.

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