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Future Tense: The Arizona Fall League


Hello, and welcome to the first edition of Future Tense, RotoBaller.com’s new column covering the minor leagues. I’m your host, Mark Haverty. It’s been a little while since I’ve covered this beat, having done so for years both on my own ventures and for Sporting News, along with fantasy baseball in general for FOX Sports, before spending a few years covering my childhood love, comic books, for Wizard magazine, then taking a few years off to focus on the needs of the beautiful young girl we adopted through foster care.

The fine folks at RotoBaller have dragged me out of retirement (the fools, Mark cackles ominously…), and I can’t be happier to be back.

With that out of the way, the Arizona Fall League will begin next week, so let’s kick things off there!

 

The Arizona Fall League

Founded in 1992, the Arizona Fall League is the best showcase for prospects outside of the Futures Game. Well, sort of. Ideally, one gets to see the best and brightest there, but the picture is a little cloudier than that. It stems from how the teams are put together in the first place.

The Arizona Fall League consists of six teams, with each team representing five major league teams. For example, the Mesa Solar Sox this year have players from the Chicago Cubs, the Oakland Athletics, the Miami Marlins, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Orange County, California, United States, or whatever they are calling themselves today. The Los Angeles Angels of Another General Manager Stuck with a Manager They Can’t Fire That Will Ignore Them – there, let’s go with that.

From there, teams hold a draft to see which positions that they will be able to send players from, which is where the “sort of” qualifier comes from two paragraphs ago. If an organization’s top ten prospects consists primarily of middle infielders, but the organization only gets corner infielders and outfielders to choose from for their AFL slots, then you are either going to not see those prospects or you are going to see one of them learning a new position. That new position might be for the best anyway, if the organization really is that top-heavy at one position, but it’s also just as likely that they are playing there just to get in at-bats at the AFL but they will go back to their usual position in the spring.

Further compounding things is how much a player has been used in the just-completed season. Pitchers with already high pitch counts won’t go, regardless of their prospect status. What you will also see though is that far more wins will be racked up by relievers rather than starters because pitchers are not staying in the game long, due to pitch counts and their respective organizations’ rules for how they can and cannot be used, and the restrictions on pitchers, along with the lack of the best pitchers and a hitting-friendly environment, makes it far more likely that the pitching “duels” you see will be of the Coors Field variety.

That said, you will see the occasional stud. They usually make their way to Arizona due to a low innings count from an injury or late-season signing. This is the reason why James Paxton is in the AFL this year, despite having been pitching in the majors each of the last two seasons. (Then again, it could also be because the Mariners’ system is lousy, but we’ll rip on them later.) The Giants’ Adalberto Mejia is pitching this fall due to the innings he lost in June after testing positive for stimulant use.

With all those caveats out of the way, there are still plenty of reasons to watch the Arizona Fall League. While someone might not be the top prospect in their organization, a spot in the AFL does mean that the organization clearly sees something that they like, and they want a closer look at that player.

Most of the players are also very close to the majors, as the majority are from Double-A and Triple-A, with organizations only being allowed to choose two players below that level for the regular roster (although organizations are also allowed to add players to a taxi squad that can only be used on Wednesdays and Saturdays). Just from last year’s AFL, we’ve already seen Francisco Lindor, Jace Peterson, Rusney Castillo, Robbie Ray, Corey Seager, Trea Turner, and Zach DaviesTim Anderson and Roman Quinn are a couple more names to watch in 2016.

Next time around, we will start breaking down the rosters for the names to know in this year’s Arizona Fall League, starting with the Glendale Desert Dogs.

 

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