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Walston & Pope Leads Present & Future Aces into Arizona Fall League Season

October 2, 2023

RENO, Nev. – Reno Aces standout left-handed starter Blake Walston and breakout reliever Austin Pope will headline a group of talented Arizona Diamondbacks prospects starring for the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League. Walston, 22, is coming off a steady, durable campaign with the Aces as the former

RENO, Nev. – Reno Aces standout left-handed starter Blake Walston and breakout reliever Austin Pope will headline a group of talented Arizona Diamondbacks prospects starring for the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League.

Walston, 22, is coming off a steady, durable campaign with the Aces as the former 1st-round pick made a career-high 30 starts, which topped his previous professional high with 149 ⅓ innings. The Wilmington, NC native posted a 4.52 ERA and struck out 104 Pacific Coast League batters despite being an average of 5.3 years younger than his Triple-A counterparts. The 22-year-old ranked second in the league in ERA behind Round Rock’s Robert Dugger.

Reno made its late-season surge due to timely hitting, sturdy starts, and an elite bullpen that featured Pope, 24, who became a pivotal weapon late in games for manager Blake Lalli. Hailing from New York and attending a small Division I school as a 15th-round selection, Pope has worked tirelessly to the top of the system. The right-hander punched out 84 in 66 ⅔ innings across AA and AAA and struck out 29% of batters he faced in the PCL. Pope paired his mid-90s fastball with a hammer slider and curve combo during the breakout campaign.

Iván Melendez, A.J. Vukovich, and Caleb Roberts are all candidates to play for the Aces in 2024, as the trio will head to Arizona straight from their Texas League Championship run with Amarillo. Melendez, 23, delivered his 2nd-round selection from 2022, smacking 30 home runs in less than 100 games between High-A Hillsboro and Double-A Amarillo this season. The 2022 Golden Spikes Award winner at Texas ranks eighth among Diamondbacks prospects by MLB Pipeline and has played at both infield corners, bringing a powerful approach to the plate.

Vukovich signed with the D-backs as a 4th-round selection in the shortened 2020 draft, forgoing a potential basketball career for the diamond. Vukovich, 22, was a finalist for Mr. Basketball as a high schooler in Wisconsin, and his athleticism still sticks out on the baseball field. Vukovich rocked a career-high 24 homers in 115 games for the Sod Poodles while driving in 96 runs and posting an .818 OPS. The right-handed Vukovich made strides with his plate discipline this season, raising his walk rate from 4% (2022) to 9% (2023).

Roberts, 23, had a monstrous year at the dish for the Soddies. The left-handed former 5th-round pick out of North Carolina hit .278 with a .906 OPS and 23 doubles, eight triples, and 17 homers in 97 games. Roberts posted professional career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, homers, and RBI. The Swiss army knife appeared at four positions for Amarillo this season in addition to designated hitter, including catcher, first base, left field, and right field.

The Diamondbacks will also send RHP Christian Montes de Oca (Amarillo), LHP Jake Rice (Amarillo), and LHP Carlos Meza (Amarillo) to round out their portion of the Salt River Rafters roster.

With Opening Day set for October 2nd, the Arizona Fall League enters its 31st season as the premier off-season baseball development league. The season will last six weeks, including a Fall Stars Game on Sunday, November 5th, and a Championship Game on Saturday, November 11th.

All 30 MLB clubs are represented in the six-team league. This season, the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, and Pittsburgh Pirates represent Salt River Rafters. The club will play all their home games at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the Spring Training home of the D-backs and Rockies.

Fans can watch current and future Reno Aces as Mlb.com will stream 18 Salt River Rafters games throughout the season. For more information about the Salt River Rafters and the Arizona Fall League, visit www.mlbfallball.com.

Season Memberships for the upcoming 2024 season are on sale via RenoAces.com, texting “MEMBER” to 21003, or calling (775) 334-7000.

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