(Photo credit to SaltRiverFields.com)
The Salt River Rafters represent players from the Milwaukee Brewers, Baltimore Orioles, Miami Marlins, Colorado Rockies, and Arizona Diamondbacks.
The 2017 Salt River Rafters will look to bounce back this season, after missing out on the Arizona Fall League playoffs last year, when they were narrowly edged by the Mesa Solar Sox by a half game in the West Division.
Brewers outfielder, and former Louisville Cardinal, Corey Ray (Third ranked Brewers prospect on MLB.com Pipeline, 59th among all Major League prospects) headlines the list of players for Salt River in 2017.
Ray was drafted fifth overall by Milwaukee in the 2016 draft, and although he hasn’t played exceptionally well in the minor leagues, hopes are still high for the speedy outfielder. In 172 games at the Single-A level, Ray carries a .238/.310/.368 slash line, to go along with 12 home runs and 65 RBIs. He stole 24 bases in 34 chances last season for the Carolina Mudcats.
Ray has a chance at stealing 40 bases a season once he reaches the Major League level, while also having the potential for 15-20 home runs. Having an outfielder with a serious power-speed combo would be tremendous for the Brewers. The Brewers do have outfielders Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips on the cusp of the Major Leagues, so Ray may have to slot in at either left field or right field when he reaches the majors.
Another fellow Brewer who should have a tremendous impact on the Rafters season is infielder Lucas Erceg (10th MIL prospect on MLB.com Pipeline). Erceg, who played college ball at UC Berkeley before transferring to Menlo College, was the highest NAIA draft pick in 15 years when the Brewers selected him with the 46th overall pick in 2016. Menlo College is located two miles from the University of Stanford.
In his final collegiate season with the Menlo College Oaks, Erceg hit 20 home runs, which set the school record for home runs in a season, and he only struck out 18 times in 227 at bats. Additionally, he made 11 effective appearances on the mound for the Oaks, as he finished with a 1-1 record, six saves, a 0.78 ERA and 32 strikeouts in just 23 innings.
Erceg has progressed well through the Brewers’ farm system, spending most of his time with the High-A Carolina Mudcats last season. He projects to be a middle-of-the-lineup hitter in the MLB, which could occur as soon as the 2018 season. He has struggled with left-handed pitching however, and if he can’t fix that issue in the minors, we may not see Erceg on the Brewers until 2019.
Orioles Shortstop Ryan Mountcastle (3rd BAL prospect on MLB.com Pipeline) joins the Rafters after a very strong 2017 campaign. Mountcastle was formerly Baltimore’s first round pick (36th overall) in 2015, as he was drafted out of Paul J. Hagerty High School. He has performed well at the plate, but has struggled defensively in his professional career.
Mountcastle played the majority of his 2017 season at the Advanced-A level with the Frederick Keys before progressing to play for the Bowie Baysox in Double-A. He slashed .287/.312/.489 with 81 runs, 18 home runs and 62 RBI, while also tacking on eight stolen bases.
The 20-year-old played shortstop for the Keys, and had 13 errors in 82 games. When he was promoted to the Baysox, Mountcastle played 37 games at third base and committed six errors. Cleaning up his defensive game will take his value to the next level.
Another top-five prospect for his respective team that will play for the Rafters is Marlins pitcher Dillon Peters (4th MIA prospect on MLB.com Pipeline). Peters was originally drafted in the 20th round to the Cleveland Indians in 2011, but he decided to attend college instead and played his college ball at the University of Texas at Austin. During his junior season he underwent Tommy John surgery, and even with the injury the Marlins still drafted him in the 10th round of the 2014 draft.
From rookie ball to Double-A, Peters holds a 22-13 record and a 2.40 ERA across 48 starts. The Marlins promoted him to the MLB level following a nine start stint with Double-A Jacksonville. The success didn’t translate to the Marlins however, as he is 1-2 with a 5.17 ERA in six starts at the major league level.
Outside of these four standouts, there are a handful of players that should produce well for Salt River in the AFL.
The Diamondbacks will be represented by pitchers Yoan Lopez and Colin Poche.
In 30 2/3 innings of work for Advanced-A Visalia, Lopez struck out 56 batters and only allowed three earned runs en route to a 2-0 record and 0.88 ERA. Poche pitched for both Single-A Kane County and Advanced-A Visalia, and combined for a 3-1 record with a 1.25 ERA, while striking out 81 batters in 50 1/3 innings.
Baltimore pitcher Tanner Scott (Sixth ranked Orioles prospect on MLB.com Pipeline) throws some serious heat, but is very erratic on the mound. His fastball often goes north of 100 MPH, but often times the hitter doesn’t have to swing the bat to reach base.
Scott pitched for the Peoria Javelinas in each of the past two Arizona Fall League seasons, where he compiled an 0-3 record with a 4.74 ERA. He struck out 27 batters in 24.2 innings, but also walked 12.
In his 2017 minor league season, Scott pitched in 24 starts for Double-A Bowie where he struck out 87 batters, but also allowed 46 free passes in 69 innings. The 11.3 K/9 is tremendous, but the 6.0 BB/9 is very worrisome.
An important player to watch in the Fall League is Baltimore Orioles’ infielder Steve Wilkerson, who is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this season if the Orioles do not place him on their 40-man roster.
Wilkerson was an eighth round selection by the Orioles in the 2014 draft out of Clemson, and has produced at a proficient level so far. At Clemson, Wilkerson was a three-time Second -Team All-ACC selection and finished with a career slash line of .291/.362/.415 with 11 home runs, 115 RBI and 29 steals in 216 games.
His performance at the Arizona Fall League could very well be an unofficial “tryout” to see if the Orioles want to keep him in the organization.
At Advanced-A Frederick, Wilkerson had a .323 batting average with a .407 OBP in 180 plate appearances before being moved up to Double-A Bowie. The next level of pitching slowed him down a little, but in 71 games he still managed to hit .294 with a .354 OBP, to go along with six home runs, 30 RBI and six steals. To help his cause, he made appearances at first base, second base, shortstop, third base and right field to prove his versatility in the field.
The Salt River Rafters will kick off the new slate against the Surprise Saguaros on October 10th.