The 2015 Major League Baseball regular season is in the history books, but baseball is far from over. The playoffs lie ahead, and the various off-season leagues will follow close behind – or in some cases, run coincidentally.
One of that latter category – the Arizona Fall League (AFL) – will begin its 24th season October 13, with play continuing through the championship game November 21.
Many of today’s top stars have played in the Arizona Fall League, which has gained the reputation as a “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, Kris Bryant, and many other current MLB stars once showcased their skills against other talented youngsters in the AFL.
The astute Fantasy manager – in particular dynasty league owners – will pay close attention to what happens during Arizona Fall League play – for it’s here that the future stars of the game hone their craft to a razor’s edge.
I’ll be there in person for much of the short season and will be providing scouting reports and photos from this year’s Arizona Fall League, so be sure to check back regularly for all the latest news.
What is the Arizona Fall League?
The AFL is made up of six teams, with each squad consisting of players from five different major league organizations. Each MLB team is required to send six players – who must meet certain eligibility criteria – to the AFL; the resultant teams compete against one another in a traditional league-style format, with the aforementioned championship a rather highly sought-after prize. There is even an All-Star Game – the Fall Stars Game – which will celebrate its 10th anniversary this season on Saturday, November 7. This game is nationally televised, and it’s a can’t-miss event for off-season prospect watchers.
Let’s have a look at the six Arizona Fall League teams and profile some of the top players who will adorn this year’s rosters. You might notice that hitters seem to outnumber pitchers among the top prospects; that’s due in no small part to many of the game’s best young hurlers having already reached their innings limit this season. This typical shortage of elite arms in the Arizona Fall League has led to the AFL garnering a reputation as a hitter-friendly league.
Glendale Desert Dogs
The Desert Dogs are composed of players from the Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates’ organizations.
- Phillies shortstop J.P. Crawford, the No. 5 prospect on MLB.com’s Top 100 list, doesn’t wow you with any single tool, but he’s solid across the board. The 20-year-old batted .288/.380/.414/.793 with six homers and 12 steals between High-A and Double-A this season.
- Pittsburgh outfielder Austin Meadows is No. 22 on the Top 100 list; the ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft batted .310 with 21 steals between High-A and Double-A this season.
- Slugging Houston first baseman A.J. Reed (No. 92 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list) slashed .340/.432/.612/1.044 with 34 homers and 127 RBIs between High-A and Double-A this season.
Mesa Solar Sox
The Solar Sox are comprised of players from the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Miami Marlins, Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays.
- Oakland acquired pitcher Sean Manaea from Kansas City in the Ben Zobrist deal, and the big lefty definitely raised some eyebrows with his 6-0 record, 1.90 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 42.2 innings at Double-A Midland.
- Tampa Bay Rays infielder Daniel Robertson (No. 80 on the Top 100 list) missed a big chunk of the season due to a broken hamate bone, but he still batted .270-4-41 with a .363 OBP in 78 games at Double-A as a 21-year-old.
- Tampa Bay’s Jake Bauers batted .276-5-36 in 69 games at Double-A as a 19-year-old last season. I’ve seen Bauers in person, and I love his swing, but he probably needs to develop some home run pop to enhance his chances for a trip to The Show.
The Javelinas, featuring prospects from the Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners.
- Cincinnati Reds pitcher Nick Travieso missed about seven weeks due to being hit by a line drive, but the 2012 first-round pick fashioned a tidy 2.70 ERA in 19 starts for High-A Daytona. Travieso allowed only four homers in 93.1 innings this season; I saw him pitch in person back in mid-August, and was quite impressed with his stuff.
- Seattle Mariners outfielder Tyler O’Neill crushed 32 homers and plated 87 RBIs for High-A Bakersfield this season, but he’ll need to improve his contact rate (.260 average, 137 strikeouts in 106 games) if he hopes to climb rapidly through the system.
- Shortstop Alex Blandino was one of the Reds’ two first-round draft picks in 2014, and he smacked out a .278-9-53 line with a .364 OBP and nine steals between High-A and Double-A this season
Salt River Rafters
The Rafters are comprised of prospects from the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals.
- Shortstop Trea Turner is Washington’s No. 2 prospect, and he ranks 11th on the Top 100 list. Turner was the 13th overall pick in the 2014 draft, and he continued on a fast track to a regular job in the majors by batting .322/.370/.458/.828 with 29 steals across three minor league levels.
- Colorado catcher Tommy Murphy smacked 20 homers and posted a .804 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A; his powerful bat landed him in the majors at season’s end.
- Arizona catcher Oscar Hernandez missed time due to a broken hamate bone, but the former Rule 5 pick could be in the mix for a starting job as soon as the 2016 season.
- Toronto first baseman Rowdy Tellez owns not only an awesome name, but also a pretty decent left-handed power stroke. Tellez, who is the Jays’ No. 8 prospect, batted .289-14-77 in 103 games between A and High-A this season.
- The Nationals’ Wilmer Difo is the team’s No. 4 prospect, and he swiped 30 bases and batted .286 between High-A and Double-A in 2015.
The Scorpions are comprised of players from the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins and San Francisco Giants organizations.
- Cleveland’s No. 2 prospect Clint Frazier was the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft, and the 21-year-old outfielder pounded out a fine .285/.377/.465/.842 slash line with 16 homers and 15 steals for High-A Lynchburg. Frazier is ranked No. 35 on MLB Pipeline’s list of Top 100 prospects. Note: The Tribe’s top prospect, Bradley Zimmer, was scheduled to play in the AFL, but a foot injury will prevent him from participating.
- The San Francisco Giants’ No. 2 prospect Christian Arroyo batted .304 with nine homers and 28 doubles in 90 games at High-A San Jose. The 20-year-old Arroyo was the 25th overall pick in the 2013 draft.
- Minnesota Twins outfielder Adam Brett Walker mashed 31 homers and plated 106 RBI at Double-A last season; the big man swings and misses – a lot – but his raw power potential is prodigious indeed.
The Saguaros are made up of players from the Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers organizations.
- Brett Phillips, the Brewers’ No. 3 prospect and No. 32 on the MLB Top 100, batted .309-16-77 with 17 steals across three levels of the minors in 2015.
- St. Louis sent two of their top pitching prospects to the AFL this year: MLB’s No. 16 prospect Alex Reyes forged a 2.49 ERA and fanned 151 batters in 101.1 innings in a season that ended with eight starts at Double-A.
- The Cards’ No. 8 prospect Luke Weaver fashioned a 1.62 ERA and 1.11 WHIP while fanning 88 batters in 105.1 innings at High-A Palm Beach.
- Texas’ Lewis Brinson, MLBPipeline.com’s No. 66 prospect, slashed .332/.403/.601/1.004 with 20 homers and 18 stolen bases across three minor-league stops in 2015.
- Infielder Jurickson Profar has seen his promising career derailed by injuries, but he is still only 22 years old. Profar played just 12 games this season, and the Rangers hope that he can recapture the form that once made him one of baseball’s brightest prospects.
That will wrap up this quick Arizona Fall League preview; I’ll be in Arizona for about three weeks covering the action, so be sure to keep an eye out for my photos and first-hand scouting reports.
- Arizona Fall League Wrap-Up - November 25, 2015
- 2015 Arizona Fall League Report: Updates on Bubba Starling, J.P. Crawford - November 12, 2015
- Arizona Fall League Report: Early November Edition - November 5, 2015