Arizona Fall League 2022 Week 3 award winners

Zach Britton and Connor Thomas each had strong starts to the Arizona Fall League, but in Week 3, the Salt River Rafters teammates hit another level.

Britton, a Blue Jays prospect, was named the AFL’s NFP Hitter of the Week, and Thomas, a Cardinals southpaw, was named NFP Pitcher of the Week.

“It was definitely a fun week for all of us,” Britton said.

Britton’s bat shines amid transition

Britton knows the Fall League campaign is short, so he wants to take advantage of every game he gets to play in.

And so far, it’s all gone according to plan. The outfielder went 9-for-13 with two extra-base hits and nine RBIs in four games last week. The strong showing boosted Britton’s season slash line to .500/.553/.750 through the first half.

“I’m really just looking for a good pitch to hit over the middle,” he said. “No matter what the count was, no matter what the pitch was, just getting something over the middle and try to do damage.”

The Blue Jays selected Britton in the fifth round of the 2020 Draft out of Louisville as a catcher. But the 24-year-old has spent the last two seasons transitioning from behind the plate to the grass. In the AFL, Britton is continuing to work on his defense, playing seven of his first 10 games in right and the other three in left.

“Obviously, catching actually helps see some more pitches throughout the game, just get used to the speed of the pitches and the flow of the game,” the left-handed batter said. “But being in the outfield definitely takes some stress off the body, just allows you to go up there and hit.”

And while he’s not involved with every pitch anymore, Britton is still thinking like a catcher as he stays locked in throughout the game.

“I’m always thinking what pitches are going to be called, reading guys’ swings, trying to see where they’re going to hit the ball so I can position myself the best on the field,” he said.

Thomas soars to new heights

The Pitcher of the Week was just about locked up on the first day when Thomas struck out 10 in four innings for Salt River. The Cardinals’ No. 24 prospect became just the sixth AFL pitcher to reach double-digit punchouts since game records became available in 2005. The others are Kyle Zimmer (2014), Phil Hughes (2008), Tommy Hanson (2008, twice), Jered Weaver (2005) and Bill Murphy (2005).

Although he is not typically known for strikeouts – reaching 10+ just twice in 69 Minor League games, Thomas utilized a three-pitch mix to rack up the swings and misses. The 5-foot-11 hurler kept hitters off balance with his sinker, slider and cutter.

Thomas — a 2019 Draft pick out of Georgia Tech — went 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA, 17 strikeouts and four walks in 12 2/3 innings across three starts with the Rafters in the first half.

Making the grade: Orioles, Astros, Padres represented on honor roll

The AFL named ninth-ranked Orioles prospect Heston Kjerstad, Astros prospect Matt Ruppenthal and No. 18 Padres prospect Tirso Ornelas to the Week 2 honor roll.

Kjerstad, an outfielder and the No. 2 overall pick of the 2020 Draft, was 7-for-17 on the strength of two huge games for the Scottsdale Scorpions. On Monday, he homered during a four-hit performance. On Friday, he doubled during a three-hit showing. He entered Week 4 with a .373/.403/.661 slash line, leading qualified hitters in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS. He was also in a three-way tie for the home run lead with four, while pacing the circuit with 15 home runs.

Working out of the Surprise Saguaros bullpen, righty Ruppenthal struck out seven over four innings, allowing a hit, issuing one walk and hitting a batter. The 2017 17th-rounder also picked up a win — his first AFL decision — and dipped his autumnal ERA to 1.29 over seven innings across four appearances.

Ornelas posted multiple hits in three of the four games he played for the Peoria Javelinas, including a two-double showing against Mesa on Friday. Signed out of Mexico in 2017, the outfielder entered Week 4 with a .324/.390/.405 over 10 AFL games.

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