Twins' Paul takes AFL Hitting Challenge title

Twins' Paul takes AFL Hitting Challenge title

MESA, Ariz. -- Pitted against some of Minor League Baseball's best up-and-coming hitters at Saturday night's Arizona Fall League Hitting Challenge, Minnesota Twins prospect Chris Paul walked away with bragging rights -- and a little spending money.

The Twins' sixth-round pick in the 2015 Draft, Paul came in first place in the fifth-annual event with a score of 2,750, narrowly defeating Mets No. 9 prospect Tomas Nido, who finished atop the National League side with 2,600 points. Brewers No. 2 prospect Corey Ray and White Sox catching prospect Seby Zavala both finished at 2,100, good for second place in the NL and AL, respectively.

AFL Hitting Challenge Winners
2016  Bradley Zimmer  Indians
2015  Jacob Scavuzzo  Dodgers
2014  Hunter Dozier  Royals
2013  Peter O'Brien  Yankees
Year   Hitter Team

The showcase, a unique twist on the standard home run derby, allows each participant two minutes in a batting-practice setting to hit targets scattered around the field, all of which are worth various point totals.

"It's pretty exciting," Paul said. "I was just coming out here to have some fun and hit some balls. Now I'm a winner and I guess I get some money out of it, too."

Paul wins AFL Hitting Challenge

Twenty-seven Major League Baseball teams were represented in the challenge. And while Paul isn't on Minnesota's Top 30 Prospects list, he bested the 26 other players, 20 of whom are on their organizations' lists. Three of the participants -- the Indians' Francisco Mejia (No. 13), Ray (No. 58) and the Red Sox's Michael Chavis (No. 92) -- are also on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list.

AFL Hitting Challenge: Mejia

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound right-handed-hitting Paul said he had no strategy coming into the day.

"I don't really think there is a strategy to it," Paul said. "A lot of guys hit well and just didn't hit a target. You kind of just get lucky."

Paul was an All-Star for the Fort Myers Miracle in the Advanced-A Florida State League in 2017, hitting .328/.380/.471 in 61 games with 18 doubles and 32 runs batted in.

Ray, Milwaukee's first-round pick in 2016, said the experience of being at the event was just as important as winning.

"It's huge," Ray said. "Just to come out and compete and get something. Take home some hardware that I can put up and remember forever. It's a situation I can use to help myself become a better baseball player."

Ray spent this last season in the Advanced-A Carolina League with the Carolina Mudcats. In 112 games, he batted .238/.311/.367 with seven home runs and 48 RBIs. He has struggled in the early going in the Fall League, mustering just two hits in 29 at-bats for a .069 average.

AFL Hitting Challenge: Ray

The high-profile prospect gave praise to Zavala, who also played in the Advanced-A Carolina League this year.

AFL Hitting Challenge: Zavala

"He hit a bunch of home runs," Ray said. "That's always exciting at an event like this, to just hit a bunch of home runs, and he was doing it, and it looked like he was doing it with ease."

Ray on his second place finish

Ray was only outdone on the NL side by Nido, who is coming off a breakout 2017 campaign. The Mets' 2012 eighth-round pick was named to the Double-A Eastern League All-Star Game while playing with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies in addition to participating in the 2017 Futures Game, where he went 2-for-2. He capped his big year by making his Major League debut in September.

Nido on hitting challenge win

2017 Arizona Fall League Bowman Hitting Challenge Finalists

American League:
Chris Paul, Twins, 2,750
Seby Zavala, White Sox, 2,100
Thairo Estrada, Yankees, 2,000

AFL Hitting Challenge: Estrada

National League:
Tomas Nido, Mets, 2,600
Corey Ray, Brewers, 2,100
Blake Trahan, Reds, 1,550
Josh Naylor, Padres, 1,550

AFL Hitting Challenge: Naylor

Perry Cohen is a journalism student at Arizona State University. This story is part of a partnership between MLB.com and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.