The time has come to prepare for the various Winter Leagues that take place across the globe. Obviously, the majority of these leagues call the warmer climates home with the Domincan Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Australia, and Venezuela all hosting leagues. There is one more league out there though, and this one is stateside.
The Arizona Fall League takes place every October/November at five spring training complexes in the Phoenix, Arizona area. It's a full blown league where they have an all-star game (Fall Stars), play-offs, and even a Military Appreciation Night. In many circles the AFL is seen as the last step for prospects before being called up to the majors. Some even refer to it as a "finishing school" of sorts. Many current stars made a pit-stop in the Arizona Fall League, including 12 MVP's, four Cy Young winners, 25 Rookies of the Year, over 200 all-stars, and a handful of no-doubt Hall of Fame players like Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, and Mike Trout.
Entering the 2014 AFL, nearly 58% of the 3,900+ players to play in the Arizona Fall League reached the MLB in some capacity as a player. It's not just the players that go on to bigger and better things either. The AFL has been a stepping stone to 34 future MLB managers, 46 MLB umpires, and over 80 administrators in the offices
For a quick overview of more specifics about the league, this is directly from their press release -
The six-team league, owned and operated by Major League Baseball, will play six days per week (Monday-Saturday) in five Cactus League stadiums in the Phoenix area — Camelback Ranch-Glendale (Glendale Desert Dogs), Cubs Park (Mesa Solar Sox), Salt River Fields (Salt River Rafters and Surprise Saguaros), Peoria Sports Complex (Peoria Javelinas) and Scottsdale Stadium (Scottsdale Scorpions). While Surprise Stadium is being renovated, the Saguaros will play their home games at Salt River and will not host any games in Surprise. Daily start times are 12:35 p.m. and 6:35 p.m. (consult league schedule for exceptions).
Roster size is established at 35 players per team. Each major-league organization is required to provide seven players subject to the following eligibility requirements:
• All Triple-A and Double-A players are eligible provided they are on Double-A rosters no later than August 15.
• Each organization is permitted to send two Class A Advanced-level players in addition to the current allowance of two "A-exempt" players (who are under contract as of August 15). Foreign players are allowed as long as the player is not on his native country’s primary protected player list.
• No players with more than one year active or two years total of credited major-league service as of August 31 (including major league disabled list time) are eligible except a team may select one player picked in the most recently concluded Major League Rule 5 Draft.
• Each team is allotted 20 pitchers but only 15 are designated "eligible" each game day.
Glendale Desert Dogs
Afffiliations - Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates
Notable 2014 players - RHP Francellis Montas, RHP Chris Bassitt, RHP Tyler Wagner, SS Tim Anderson, SS Corey Seager, 2B Devon Travis, RF Steven Moya, and CF Tyrone Taylor.
Last year the Desert Dogs finished one game out from reaching the Championship game, but also finished one game under .500 with a 14-15 record in the West Division. While the 2014 squad was stacked with middle infield talent, the talent this year is more spread out around the diamond. On the bump, keep an eye out for southpaw Steven Brault (PIT), as well as right hander JB Wendelken (CWS).
Behind the plate the Desert Dogs will have Reese McGuire (PIT) and Andrew Knapp (PHI) throwing down signs along with Kyle Farmer. McGuire has the pedigree, but Knapp has been an absolute monster in the second half of the Eastern League schedule. The corner infielders the Astros are contributing, 1B AJ Reed and 3B JD Davis, could anchor middle of the lineup. JP Crawford (PHI) carries the torch as the stud SS after Seager and held that title last year. The outfield could be very dangerous as well, with a trio of former first round picks consisting of Austin Meadows (PIT), Derek Fisher (HOU), and Courtney Hawkins (CWS). Just spitballing, but a line-up of Crawford leading off followed by Meadows, Reed, Davis, Fisher, Hawkins, and one of McGuire or Knapp is VERY potent, albeit very left handed.
Afffiliations - Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners
Notable 2014 players - RHP Miguel Almonte, RHP Tyrell Jenkins, RHP Sam Tuivailala, C Justin O'Conner, SS Raul Mondesi, and 3B Hunter Dozier.
Former MLB veteran catcher Rod Barajas will take the helm of the Peoria Javelinas this year, and has an interesting group of players to work with. The Javelinas made it to the championship game by one thousandth of a percentage point, and fell 14-7 to Salt River. Left hander James Paxton (SEA) will be on the squad trying to make up for some lost time to injury, as are righties Lucas Sims (ATL), RHP Nick Travieso (CIN), and Daniel Winkler (ATL). While Paxton, Sims, and Travieso missed only a handful of time, Winkler has been out all year with Tommy John.
The big star behind the dish is 20 year old Chance Sisco (BAL). He's flanked by Joseph Odom (ATL) and AFL returnee Chad Wallach (CIN). In the infield, corner infielder DJ Peterson (SEA) also makes a return appearance, joined by 2014 first round pick SS Alex Blandino, SS Tyler Smith (SEA), and 3B Gabriel Quintana (SD). Roaming the pastures of the outfield will be an interesting mix of speed with a little thump. Three players have stolen at least 30 bases - Phillip Ervin (CIN), Travis Jankowski (SD), and Connor Lien (ATL) - and Tyler O'Neill has stolen 16 while also hitting 30 homers. A potential line-up of Jankowski, Sisco, O'Neill, Peterson, Blandino, and Ervin is solid but not something to evoke fear.
Afffiliations - Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants
Notable 2014 players - RHP Tyler Glasnow, RHP Clayton Blackburn, RHP Nick Kingham, RHP Hunter Strickland, 1B Greg Bird, 1B Josh Bell, 3B Eric Jagielo, OF Aaron Judge, OF Brandon Nimmo, and OF Roman Quinn.
While score is being kept, and teams are given wins and losses, the standings don't mean much in the AFL as the development of players is the main goal. The Scorpions were grateful of that last year as they finished last in East Division with a 12-20 record. Scottsdale won't have anyone with the package of Glasnow, but will have one of the hardest throwing pitchers in all of baseball, RHP Ray Black (SF). Fellow Giant right hander Clayton Blackburn returns for the second time while a host of hard throwing relievers like Nick Burdi (DET), Jeff Ferrell (DET), Jake Reed (MIN), and Adam Ravenelle (DET) join Black in what looks to be a stout bullpen. RHP Austin Kubitza (DET) will try to bounce back from a rough 2015 campaign, and LHP Adalberto Mejia (SF) will look to make up for lost time.
Mitch Garver (MIN), Stuart Turner (MIN), and Jeremy Lucas (CLE) will handle the catching duties with each having a rough 2015 campaign. Garver and Lucas turned in very promising seasons just a year ago, but none have topped the .700 mark in OPS this year. The Scorpions will host some interesting infield options with SS Christian Arroyo (SF), SS JaCoby Jones (DET), 1B Sam Travis (BOS), and 3B Yandy Diaz. Arroyo has lit up the California League as a 20 year old while Jones has shown a little more pop after being dealt to the Tigers and jumping to the AA Eastern League. Travis has seen time at both infield corners while handling the midseason jump to AA in impressive fashion. The relatively unknown Yandy Diaz has shown more power in his second pro season while maintaining an incredible eye at the plate with a 78/65 BB/K. The outfield for Scottsdale could be a special collection of players. There are two first round picks from the Indians in Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer. Then there is the AA Southern League HR King, Adam Brett Walker II (MIN), who brings as much swing and miss as he does raw power, and breakout outfielder Mike Gerber (DET). Scottsdale can put together a lineup to hang with anyone in the league, I just don't see enough pitching for them to get far.
Mesa Solar Sox
Afffiliations - Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Miami Marlins, Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays
Notable 2014 players - RHP CJ Edwards, SS Addison Russell, SS Daniel Robertson, 1B Matt Olson, 1B Dan Vogelbach, OF Dalton Pompey, and OF Dwight Smith Jr.
While the 2014 iteration of the Mesa Solar Sox was light on pitching, you can't say the same about the 2015 squad. They finished 2.5 games behind Salt River last year, and are surely looking to improve upon their team ERA last year of 4.36. Led by southpaw Sean Manaea (OAK) and right hander Pierce Johnson (CHC), the Solar Sox have a vicious 1-2 combo at the top of their rotation. Other notable names on the staff include RHP Hunter Wood (TB), RHP Trevor Williams (MIA). RHP Corey Black (CHC), and RHP Buddy Borden (TB).
Donning the tools of ignorance will be Willson Contreras (CHC) who has seen his stock soar with a great season with AA Tennessee. Cael Brockmeyer (CHC) is the only other catcher on the roster with real prospect potential (apologies to Angels C Stephen McGee). The infield has some prospect star power with SS Daniel Robertson (TB) who is back for his second stint in the AFL, 1B Casey Gillaspie (TB), and 3B Matt Chapman (OAK). They also have a pair of breakout players in SS Chad Pinder (OAK) and 3B Jeimer Candelario (CHC). In the outfield, CF Chad Hinshaw (LAA) makes his second appearance in the AFL, and is flanked by RF Mark Zagunis (CHC) who can also serve as an emergency catcher, and Jake Bauers (TB) who is making the transition from first base to the outfield. RF Caleb Adams (LAA) has had an excellent first full season and is one to keep an eye on. While the Solar Sox don't have as stacked a lineup as last year, it still has the potential to make a deep run with a plethora of well rounded players.
Salt River Rafters
Afffiliations - Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays, Washington Nationals
Notable 2014 players - RHP Archie Bradley, RHP Mark Appel, RHP Anthony DeSclafani, RHP Vincent Velasquez, C Peter O'Brien, 3B Brandon Drury, 3B Rio Ruiz, SS Trevor Story, OF Byron Buxton, OF Eddie Rosario, and OF Max Kepler.
The 2014 AFL Champs are likely to have a tough time repeating due to the fact they were utterly stacked last year. Their pitching staff in particular looks to be a weak point with LHP Kyle Freeland (COL) and RHP Yoan Lopez (AZ) being the only two pitchers with any star power, a stark contrast to last year's squad that featured Archie Bradley, Mark Appel, Vincent Velasquez, and Anthony DeSclafani.
While the pitching staff may represent the achilles heel of this team, the offense should be potent. C Tom Murphy (COL) has some serious thump behind the dish and he will be backed up by Rule 5 selection Oscar Hernandez (AZ), and C Spencer Kieboom (WAS). Out in the dirt, 1B Rowdy Tellez (TOR) brings the thunder from his massive 6-foot-4, 245 pound frame. Fellow 1B Dominic Smith (NYM) enjoyed a nice bounce back year while org-mate SS Gavin Cecchini has vaulted up prospect lists. SS Wilmer Difo (WAS) and SS Jack Reinheimer (AZ) will also provide a solid middle infield in addition to the younger Cecchini brother. Things get real interesting in the outfield as the headliner is easily CF David Dahl (COL). RF/1B Daniel Palka (AZ) has some thump (29 HR) while RF/1B Jordan Patterson (COL) and his 74 extra base hits make for an interesting pair.
Afffiliations - Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers
Notable 2014 players - RHP Nick Howard, 3B Patrick Kivlehan, 3B DJ Peterson, SS Trea Turner, OF Hunter Renfroe, OF Mallex Smith, OF Nick Williams, and OF Jesse Winker.
Thanks to the Cardinals contingent of players, Surprise is going to run out an impressive top of the rotation featuring flamethrowing RHP Alex Reyes and former 1st round pick RHP Luke Weaver. Two members of Milwaukee's return in the Carlos Gomez trade, LHP Josh Hader and RHP Adrian Houser, will join Weaver and Reyes in the rotation. It appears this will be a strong point for Surprise, unlike the 2014 squad.
Yankees C Gary Sanchez will be the primary backstop with Mike Ohlman (STL) serving as the number two option. Ohlman will be making his third consecutive appearance in the AFL and surely hopes to repeat his 2013 performance where he hit .290/.476/.774. SS Jurickson Profar (TEX) has had the last two years scratched due to shoulder surgeries, but will begin his road back in the AFL. 3B Eric Jagielo (NYY) has always been able to bring the thunder, and SS Aledmys Diaz (STL) has had a breakout in his second pro season after coming over from Cuba. The Saguaros outfield is absolutely stacked. There's really no other way to put it as any outfielder on the roster could start. CF Brett Phillips (MIL) and CF Lewis Brinson (TEX) are the top 100 studs that are flanked by LF Ryan Rua (TEX), CF Bubba Starling (KC), and CF Michael Reed (MIL). Rua has MLB time already in a utility role, Starling has the defense to be a lock as at least a 4th outfielder, and Reed has all the skills to be a top of the order catalyst. The lesser known names are CF Dustin Fowler (NYY), unrelated to Cubs CF Dexter Fowler but oddly enough went to school in Dexter, GA, and CF Charlie Tilson (STL). Tilson and Fowler are similar players with good contact and speed, but both lack patience.
So there you have it folks. All the notable players on the initial Arizona Fall League rosters. Throughout the AFL, the rosters will change due to injury or the whims of the front office's, but for now this is what we got.