The Arizona Fall League begins tonight out in the greater Phoenix area. We’ve know for a little more than a week now now which prospects would be heading out to join the league for the next seven weeks, and I even wrote about each of the eight Cincinnati Reds prospects when the list came out. With the league kicking off tonight, I’m checking back in to share some additional information.
One reason that teams may choose to send some players to the Arizona Fall League is that they will be Rule 5 draft eligible in December if the team does not add them to the 40-man roster. While the Reds may not have made their decision based on that, two of the players they are sending to Arizona will be Rule 5 eligible this year if left off of the 40-man roster.
Jayvien Sandridge may be an answer to a trivia question that you thought was a trick question. He was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 2018 out of high school. The lefty then signed with the Orioles and pitched in two seasons for them in the Gulf Coast League. He was then released in 2020. Here’s the twist: Sandridge then went and played college baseball for Lynn University in 2021. If you’re wondering how that’s possible, you aren’t alone. But there’s a little known, and little used rule where a player maintains some eligibility to play division two or NAIA after signing a professional contract. The player loses one year of eligibility for each year they play professionally.
Sandridge signed with Cincinnati on June 9th of 2021 spent the remainder of the season with the ACL Reds. In 2022 he split his season between Daytona and Dayton, then this past season he spent most of it in Dayton and then got a late season, 4-game call up to Chattanooga. As noted in the earlier write up, he struggled to find consistency with the strikezone as he walked 51 batters in 63.0 innings. But when he threw strikes, guys didn’t do much with it as he allowed 44 hits and had 91 strikeouts.
With the control concerns you could see where he’s a bit of a coin-flip decision on whether to add him to the roster in November to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. But if he takes the mound out in Arizona and performs well, and throws a few more strikes, it could make the decision easier to add him as teams would likely be more inclined to consider drafting him if he were available.
The other prospect that will be in Arizona for the Reds who will be Rule 5 eligible if left off of the 40-man roster is Jacob Hurtubise. The outfielder had a breakout season in 2023 and was one of the best performers in the entire organization.
Hurtubise hit .330/.479/.483 in 119 games this past season. In 83 games in Double-A with the Chattanooga Lookouts he put up a .945 OPS and stole 33 bases. He also spent 36 games in Triple-A with the Louisville Bats and hit .390/.537/.460 – good for a .997 OPS – and he stole another 12 bases. Hurtubise also walked 77 times and had just 63 strikeouts.
There were a few things that really boosted his production, but the biggest one is that he went from a guy with 20-grade power to a guy who pitchers had to respect a little bit more because he started showing enough pop to keep them honest. In the first 165 games as a pro he hit 14 doubles, 5 triples, and 1 home run. This past season he had 11 doubles, 10 triples, and 7 homers.
Hurtubise certainly had a heck of a season. But he will also be 26-years-old when spring training begins in 2024 and he’s only got a little over a month of time above Double-A. It was a heck of a “little over a month” given that he hit .390 and walked more than twice as often as he struck out in that time, but when it comes to teams selecting players in the Rule 5 draft, that is something that could be working against him.
There is limited data available to the public when it comes to Hurtubise and Statcast because that is only available for Triple-A and the Florida State League. That leaves a sample size of batted ball data at 90 batted balls during his time with Louisville. He had five bunts in that time. Removing those from the data leaves the average exit velocity on the other 85 batted balls at 82 MPH. There were 401 big leaguers who had at least 100 batted balls in 2023. All of them had a higher average exit velocity than the 82.0 MPH Hurtubise had. Esteury Ruiz was last in the big leagues at 82.8 MPH.
A low average exit velocity isn’t necessarily a “can’t hit enough in the big leagues” kind of thing. It certainly doesn’t bode well, but you only have to get past the bottom five players in 2023 before you get to Jake Fraley, who had an 84.5 MPH average exit velocity this past season, and also was an above-average hitter (109 OPS+).
What can be more important than the overall exit velocity is how hard you hit the ball in that top 15-20% of your plate appearances range. Hurtubise topped 90 MPH 27 times out of his 85 non-bunts. But he also only topped 100 MPH once – with a 102 MPH single. His lone home run in Triple-A had an exit velocity of 93.3 MPH. Of the 273 homers that I have exit velocity data on for the farm system in 2023, that was 271st. You don’t see many baseballs hit over the fence with an exit velocity that low.
With teams paying more and more attention to this kind of data, this is another thing that could make the decision a little more of a debate than would initially meet the eye when just looking at a guy who hit .330 in the upper minor leagues. That, alone though, doesn’t tell you all the things Hurtubise can do offensively. He is very fast, steals bases, provides additional value as a baserunner even when not stealing, and he can play center. What he does out in Arizona likely isn’t going to change much from either the Reds perspective, or opposing teams perspectives on him.
Other AFL Notes
Last year we started to get more than just a few games across all of the Arizona Fall League streamed online so that we could watch. This year we’re getting that again, with a bunch of games throughout the next five weeks. The Reds prospects will be playing with the Surprise Saguaros this year and eight of their games will be streamed according to the list of games. Here’s the current schedule for Surprise games that will be streaming:
|Date||Game Time||Home Team||Away Team|
|5-Oct||9:30pm ET||Salt River||Surprise|
|12-Oct||9:30pm ET||Salt River||Surprise|
|20-Oct||5:30pm ET||Salt River||Surprise|
The schedule could see games added, but that’s where things are at for now. They will be streamed for free through MLB.com and should be accessible through the schedule link above.
Goodyear Ballpark, the home of the Reds out in Arizona, will host a tripleheader on October 14th. That game, along with just two other games for Surprise (unless something has changed from past years), will feature pitch/hit tracking data. The other two games will be on October 5th and October 20th when the club is in Salt River.