Top prospects take stage for Fall League title

Twins' Lewis leads Rafters against Nationals' Garcia, Saguaros

In their third pro season, Royce Lewis and Luis Garcia both reached Double-A. (Buck Davidson/Getty Images)

By Kelsie Heneghan / MiLB.com | October 25, 2019 1:30 PM

Autumn might be in full swing, but it's time to crown a fall champion.

The Surprise Sagauros (17-11) and Salt River Rafters (16-11) will square off in the Arizona Fall League Championship Game at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. The contest, which will be streamed live on MLB.com, is a rematch of the 2011 title game, won by the Rafters.

The Saguaros feature prospects from the Rangers, Yankees, Royals, Orioles and the NL champion Nationals, highlighted by No. 69 overall prospect Daniel Lynch (Kansas City) and No. 91 overall Luis Garcia (Washington). Heading into the final day of the regular season, Surprise hitters topped the circuit in walks (130) while their pitching staff sat first in ERA (3.00), runs allowed (91) and innings (249 1/3).

Led by No. 9 overall prospect Royce Lewis, the Rafters bested every other lineup in average (.268), hits (253), runs (140), triples (9), doubles (50) and total bases (381) with representatives from the Twins, D-backs, Rays, Marlins and Rockies systems. Along with Lewis, Salt River boasts Top-100 prospects in Vidal Brujan (No. 39) and Shane Baz (No. 94) from the Rays and Seth Beer (No. 96) of the D-backs.

Offseason MiLB include

"That's what we came here for, to get a ring," Lewis told MLB.com. "I remember [Salt River manager Keith Johnson] saying Day 1, as soon as we got here after our meeting, 'Congrats for being a champion.' And we were all like, 'What are you talking about?' and he was like, 'You're the champions.'

"So that was our goal from Day 1 and we've been working real hard as a team. ... Now we're getting after it, and that's exciting."

Below is an interesting player from each organization who could see game action on Saturday.

Salt River Rafters

Royce Lewis, SS, Twins
Lewis was already one of the biggest names to come to Arizona, with only Jo Adell (Angels) ranked higher in MLB.com's Top 100. Then he posted monster numbers to back it up. The 20-year-old shook off a down season offensively and -- through the penultimate game -- hit .354/.413/.573 with three homers and 19 RBIs, earning Fall Stars MVP along the way. He also showcased his plus-plus speed with five swipes in six attempts. Lewis worked on his versatility as well, taking reps at third and in the outfield. No matter where he plays, the California native is sure to be in the center of the action in the big game.

Royce Lewis gets doused after leading the East to a 4-2 Fall Stars victory. (Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Vidal Brujan, 2B, Rays
It was tough keeping Brujan off the bases this fall as the switch-hitter reached in 20 of his first 21 games for the Rafters. Following a Minor League season in which his strikeout rate climbed and his walk rate plummeted, Brujan was able to show patience in the AFL, working 13 walks, which was second only to Zack Short (Mesa) and Jared Oliva (Peoria). Brujan's pop improved with Salt River, too, as he left the yard twice compared to four times during the entire regular season. And once the 21-year-old gets on the basepaths, he's even more dangerous. Like Lewis, Brujan features a 70-grade speed tool, which garnered 55 steals to place second in the Minors this year as well as an AFL-leading four triples.

Seth Beer, 1B/OF, D-backs
Although he reached Double-A in his first full season, Beer thinks fatigue may have set in as he had trouble clicking in the second half following a trade from the Astros at the deadline. But once he got to the AFL, Beer hit the reset button and heated up. After turning 23 on AFL Opening Day, the left-handed hitter batted .315 through 19 games while striking out less often than he did during the MiLB regular season as he focused on slowing down the game. With the Clemson product's strength and plate discipline, along with his recent postseason experience with Jackson, he could have some enthralling at-bats on Saturday.

Ashton Goudeau, RHP, Rockies
Goudeau has been untouchable in the Fall League as the 6-foot-6 hurler has not allowed a run through 13 innings for the Rafters. In six appearances, Goudeau held foes to four hits and zero walks with 18 strikeouts for an 0.95 opponents' average. While the 27-year-old is not highly ranked and has been in the Minors for eight seasons, 2019 has been his year as he's posted the best numbers of his career. Following stints in the Royals and Mariners systems, Goudeau has been rejuvenated with the Rockies, and the championship game could be the perfect cherry to his comeback.

Jerar Encarnacion, OF, Marlins
Encarnacion finished the Minor League regular season with a tough stretch, collecting just 14 hits in his final 20 games. But as soon as he got to Arizona, he was ready to roll. The 22-year-old -- who celebrated his golden birthday on Tuesday -- went 3-for-5 with a home run in his first game. While Encarnacion didn't quite keep that pace, he put his raw power on display to all fields with two more long balls to tie Lewis for the team lead. And he can take away runs, too. With a plus arm as his best tool, be on the lookout for Encarnacion to nail runners at the plate.

Surprise Saguaros

Luis Garcia, SS, Nationals
At 18, Garcia reached Double-A in his second pro season, and at 19, he's the second-youngest player in the AFL (just 16 days older than Glendale's Ivan Herrera). With plus hit and speed tools, the left-handed batter led Surprise with two triples while tying Kyle Isbel and Brandon Wagner with four doubles. Garcia tallied 13 knocks in his first seven games and kept rolling en route to a Fall Stars nod. The New York City native turned it on with runners on base as his average jumped 55 points in those situations. The No. 2 hitter is sure to get things going early for the Saguaros.

Kyle Isbel, OF, Royals
Isbel got stung by the injury bug this season, battling a ball to the face, a hamstring strain and a hamate injury, all of which contributed to poor numbers when he was actually on the field. But in the Fall League, Isbel has reminded people why the Royals took him in the third round out of UNLV in 2018. Hitting leadoff, the left-handed batter paced Surprise in hits (23), total bases (32) and walks (13) while sharing the doubles lead. Isbel also showcased his wheels with six swipes in seven attempts to tie Jax Biggers atop the squad.

Brandon Wagner, 1B, Yankees
This season, Yankee fans became enamored with Mike Ford, and now they'll get to know another big, left-handed-hitting first baseman from Princeton, New Jersey. Shaking off a terrible campaign in which he hit .177 at Double-A, Wagner has figured out how to contribute when the hits aren't falling. The 24-year-old bumped his walk rate to 15.3 percent with 11 free passes and led the team with 21 RBIs. Wagner thrived in the clutch, with eight of his 15 hits coming with runners on even though only a third of his at-bats were in those situations. His campaign was highlighted by a seven-RBI performance on Sept. 29 in which he fell a triple shy of the cycle while also working a walk.

Bubba Thompson, OF, Rangers
When Thompson is hot, he's really hot with his five multi-hit games coming in bunches. The 2017 first-rounder drilled three homers through his first 13 games while also showing restraint with a five-game walk streak. Thompson slid into a 2-for-20 slump toward the end of the AFL campaign, but that just means the 21-year-old could be due in the postseason. While Thompson doesn't shy from the long ball, he's another big threat on the bases, so small ball could be the key for Surprise to break through in this heavyweight matchup.

Dean Kremer, RHP, Orioles
While Kremer's first full season in the Orioles system since being a part of the Manny Machado trade was delayed due to an oblique injury, he had a pretty decent year. And Baltimore's No. 3 pitching prospect only continued that trend in the AFL. Utilizing a plus curveball, the 6-foot-3 hurler held foes to one run or fewer in his first five outings. Outing No. 6 proved to be a little trickier, but in all, Kremer finished the campaign 1-1 with a 2.37 ERA, 23 strikeouts and just four walks in 19 innings. His days to pitch have aligned and hopefully the stars will too to get this potential future ace on the mound for the big game.

Kelsie Heneghan is a reporter at MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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