Scottsdale, Arizona – After the completion of the final week of play, the Arizona Fall League has announced its seasonal award winners for the 2021 season.
Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award: Peoria Javelins C Logan O’Hoppe (PHI)
This award has been given out annually since 2004 to honor the memory of Dernell after his tragic passing during the 2003 AFL season. This special honor is presented to the player who exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership – much like Dernell demonstrated during his time with the Fall League. Logan exhibited these qualities during the 2021 season, opening the eyes of fans, teammates, coaches, and staff, making him this year’s well-deserved Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award recipient.
Joe Black MVP Award: Mesa Solar Sox OF Nelson Velazquez (CHC)
Joe Black rise in Major League Baseball was unlike many others throughout baseball history. After his call-up to the eventual National Champion Brooklyn in 1952, Black secured 15 wins and 15 saves earning himself the Rookie of the Year Honors and a place in baseball history as the first Black pitcher to record a World Series win. The AFL player with a similar meteoric rise was Solar Sox outfielder Nelson Velazquez. The Chicago Cubs prospect finished the season with an incredible slash line of .385/.480/.712, including a league-leading 1.191 OPS and nine home runs. After one of the most dominant seasons in AFL history, Velazquez earned himself a spot on the Cubs 40-man roster.
Hitters of the Year: Mesa Solar Sox OF JJ Bleday (MIA) & Glendale Desert Dogs 1B Juan Yepez (STL)
JJ Bleday carved out a phenomenal AFL season, hitting .316 with five home runs and 24 RBI. Among the top-five leaders in walks and hits, Bleday also finished with a top-five OPS of 1.035. For his part, Yepez hit for a .302 average with 15 extra base hits, including seven round-trippers while driving in 26 runs and finishing the season with a top-10 OPS of 1.028.
Pitcher of the Year: Surprise Saguaros RHP Owen White (TEX)
Owen White pitched his team to a championship berth with a 5-0 record and 1.91 ERA over a league-leading 28.1 innings thrown. In Friday’s championship clinching win, White struck out six batters and gave up three earned runs over five innings. He finished the AFL season third overall with 29 strikeouts.
Reliever of the Year: Mesa Solar Sox RHP Graham Spraker (TOR)
Graham Spraker never allowed a run over his 11.1 innings pitched and struck out 17 batters in Mesa’s route to a championship berth. He only allowed four hits all year, and was the last man standing on the mound as he closed out the championship victory for the Solar Sox.
Breakout Player of the Year: Surprise Saguaros OF Elijah Dunham (NYY)
Coming off a hot finish to his first MiLB season, Dunham continued to produce in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .357 with 11 extra base hits and an OPS of 1.037. He finished the Fall League tied for 2nd in hits while leading the league with 11 stolen bases.
Defensive Player of the Year: Surprise Saguaros SS Jackson Cluff (WSH)
Cluff logged 184 innings at shortstop for the Saguaros and only committed one error this fall. He led all position players (excluding catchers) in Fielding Chances and turned a league-leading 24 Double Plays.
2021 Arizona Fall League Champions: Mesa Solar Sox
Congratulations to the 2021 Arizona Fall League Champion Mesa Solar Sox. In a dominant game that Mesa led from start to finish, the Solar Sox showed a great combination of pitching and offense. Caleb Killian put together one of the best performances in AFL history, tossing six PERFECT innings and capturing the championship game MVP. The offense put together six runs off the bats of Spencer Horwitz, Jonah Bride, JJ Bleday and Logan Davidson. The Solar Sox bullpen would go on to only allow one hit the rest of the game with Reliever of the Year, Graham Spraker, slamming the door on the Surprise Saguaros season.
From Rangers PR staff reports