SCOTTSDALE, Arizona – The 2021 Arizona Fall League season is officially on the books, and there have been dozens of outstanding performers throughout the campaign. For years, the AFL has presented a performance-based award, the Joe Black MVP Award, as well as the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award. This year, the league added several awards to the list: pitcher of the year, hitter of the year, breakout player of the year and defensive player of the year. Here are this year’s winners:
MVP: Nelson Velazquez, OF, Cubs
The Cubs’ No.28 prospect seriously exploited his run production potential, leading the AFL with an OPS of 1.191 and a slugging percentage of 0.712, finishing with a slug line of 0.385 / 0.480 / 0.712, nine circuits and 24 RBIs. He easily topped the league in total goals (74) and also led all hitters with 16 more hits. Whole story “
Pitcher of the Year: Owen White, RHP, Rangers
In a league hitter friendly, White’s dominance really stood out. The No.28 Rangers prospect made the most of his league-leading 28 1/3 innings, compiling a 1.91 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 0.202 batting average. The right-hander also struck out just over one batter per inning and pitched in the fifth inning in all but one of his six starts. Whole story “
Hitters of the Year: Juan Yepez, 1G, Cardinals; JJ Bleday, OF, Marlins
Yepez went from a surprise addition to the Cardinals’ Wild Card roster to a fall sweep. The organization’s # 26 prospect finished with an OPS of 1.028 and a .302 / .388 / .640 slash line. He was third in total goals (55) and tied for second in extra base hits (15) while finishing second in RBI (26). Bleday, No.5 in the Marlins’ Top 30 and No.71 in the Top 100, carried over the success of a solid end to a grueling Double-A regular season. The outfielder was tied with Velazquez with 24 RBIs and had a line of .316 / .435 / .600, landing just ahead of Yepez with 57 total goals and tying with him for XBH, not counting the long home run he hit in the Fall Stars Game.
Relief of the Year: Graham Spraker, RHP, Blue Jays
A 31st round pick from Quincy University in 2017, Spraker made his second visit to the AFL (his first was in 2019) really counting, registering 11 1/3 innings of shutout relief. He allowed just four hits (0.111 BAA) and two walks while striking out 17 and registering three saves. Spraker used a fastball that sits in the 90s and hits 95 mph with solid spin rates to accompany a powerful knife to come out of exits. He was not added to the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster, so he is eligible for the teams in the Rule 5 Draft next month.
Breakout Player of the Year: Elijah Dunham, OF, Yankees
Dunham continued to show that maybe teams should have taken him in the 2020 five-round draft. After a solid first full season on two A-ball levels, the No.24 Yankees prospect looks set for the higher levels after hitting 0.357 / 0.465 / 0.571 in 23 Fall League games. His 1.037 OPS placed him fourth in the league and he led the loop with 11 interceptions in 12 tries.
Defensive Player of the Year: Jackson Cluff, SS, Nationals
No.19 among Nats prospects, Cluff showed why he received a 60 on the screening scale of 20 to 80 (that’s more) for his arm and a 55 (above average) for his. overall defense. He made just one mistake in 22 shortstop games and displayed an arm capable of throwing the diamond in the ’80s.
Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award: Logan O’Hoppe, C, Phillies
The Phillies’ No.11 prospect not only had good numbers (.299 / .440 / .519), but also stood out with his continued work ethic, leadership and ability to work with pitchers. He put himself on the card as a prospect in 2021 and certainly upped his profile among Minor League receivers with how he produced and how he fared in the AFL. Whole story “