D-backs prospects Ivan Melendez, Blake Walston to play in Arizona Fall League

Sep 23, 2023, 10:45 AM

Blake Walston...

Blake Walston #87 of the Arizona Diamondbacks poses for a portrait during photo day at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on February 22, 2023 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

Torey Lovullo, Arizona Diamondbacks manager …
12 minutes

Major League Baseball announced rosters for the upcoming Arizona Fall League season on Friday, and eight Diamondbacks prospects will take the field for the Salt River Rafters.

The group includes left-hander and 2019 first-round pick Blake Walston, 2021 second-round infielder Ivan Melendez and Arizona’s Minor League Player of the Month for August, catcher Caleb Roberts.

The other five are outfielder A.J. Vukovich and pitchers Carlos Meza, Christian Montes De Oca, Austin Pope and Jake Rice.

Melendez is the highest regarded D-backs prospect on the team via rankings by MLB Pipeline (No. 8) and FanGraphs (No. 13 entering the year).

The Rafters have players from the Braves, D-backs, Pirates, Rockies and Tigers. The AFL will showcase 10 top 100 prospects on MLB Pipeline‘s rankings, six in the top 60:

17. SS Colson Montgomery – Glendale Desert Dogs (CWS)

19. SS Carson Williams – Peoria Javelinas (TB)

31. LHP Ricky Tiedemann – Surprise Saguaros (TOR)

39. C Harry Ford – Peoria Javelinas, (SEA)

54. RHP Jackson Jobe – Salt River Rafters (DET)

58. 1B Kyle Manzardo – Peoria Javelinas (CLE)

Ivan Melendez headlines D-backs’ hitting prospects

Melendez put up a 30-home run season in 96 games across High-A Hillsboro and Double-A Amarillo. The corner infielder was named a Northwest League All-Star for his time in Hillsboro, where he slashed .270/.352/.593 in 58 games. He broke the Hops single-season home runs record with 18.

The “Hispanic Titanic” produced a .923 OPS this year before landing on the seven-day injured list on Sept. 6. Playing in the AFL will make up some of the lost reps.

Something to watch with Melendez going forward will be his strikeout rate, as he punched out in 34% of plate appearances.

Melendez was a Golden Spikes Award winner in 2021 for Texas after blasting 32 home runs.

Roberts, a left-handed hitting catcher and outfielder, was also a 2021 draftee out of North Carolina and has spent the entire season at Double-A Amarillo.

His .905 OPS this year ranks No. 10 in the Texas League among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances.

Vukovich is Arizona’s No. 10 prospect on Pipeline and has also spent the year in Amarillo. His 24 home runs tied for third in the Texas League, and he also stole 20 bases.

Amarillo had a game in June in which Vukovich slammed three home runs in the first four innings.

Drafted in 2020 out of high school, the 22-year-old has played third base and outfield with the Sod Poodles.

Blake Walston

The D-backs took Walston with their second first-round pick in 2019 after outfielder Corbin Carroll. Arizona had the pick because 2018 first-rounder and current Cincinnati Reds infielder Matt McLain did not sign.

The southpaw was considered a top five prospect in the farm system by Pipeline entering the season and a top 100 prospect in the game by Baseball America entering 2022. He now sits at No. 27 in Arizona on Pipeline.

He’s limited runs in hitter-haven Triple-A Reno — not that Amarillo isn’t also very offense friendly — with a 4.52 ERA. However, he’s walked a lot of hitters (93) and has not struck out many (104) in 149 innings.

Walston is still only 22 years old and will be for most of next season.

The other four arms are relief pitchers, Meza being the youngest at 22 years old. Pope is the only one to pitch in Triple-A, where he has a 2.33 ERA in 19.1 innings.

Salt River Rafters roster

Who did not get picked?

A notable omission is outfielder Kristian Robinson, who recently reached Double-A but has only played in 65 games this season. The D-backs’ No. 11 prospect did not play minor league ball since 2019 entering the season.

No. 2 prospect outfielder Druw Jones won’t be in the AFL, either. The plan was for Jones to join the Instructional League, farm director Josh Barfield said last month. Injuries held Jones to 29 games at Single-A Visalia, but he heated up down the stretch with a 1.204 OPS in his final eight games.

D-backs who recently played in AFL

Last year, shortstop Jordan Lawlar and reliever Justin Martinez played for the Rafters before making their MLB debuts in 2023. In 2021, outfielder Dominic Canzone (traded to the Mariners), pitcher Slade Cecconi and infielder Buddy Kennedy (designated for assignment) played in the AFL before reaching the bigs in Arizona.

Arizona Fall League schedule

The first evening of games is Oct. 2, and Salt River will face the Glendale Desert Dogs at 6:30 p.m. from Salt River Fields.

The Fall Stars Game is set for Nov. 4 at Sloan Park and the title game on Nov. 11 at Scottsdale Stadium.

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