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Arizona Fall League: Final round-up

Professional baseball in Arizona ended this afternoon. Next stop, spring training!

Jared Miller, via Instagram

It was an exciting finish to the Arizona Fall League. Going into the final day of play on Thursday, five of the six teams had a shot at reaching today’s championship game at Scottsdale Stadium. Unfortunately, one of the trio eliminated in the last game was the Salt River Rafters. If they had prevailed in just one of their final three contests, they would have made it, but lost them all, including a two-run blown lead in the 10th inning on Tuesday. The D-backs’ leftie reliever, Gabe Speier, took the L on Thursday, being charged with three runs (two earned) while recording just two outs.

Even with that, Salt River still had a shot as their rivals, the Mesa Solar Sox, trailed 6-4 in the bottom of the eighth - a loss there would still have sent the Rafters in. But the Solar Sox scored twice to tie things up, and sneak into the title game. There, they will face the Surprise Saguaros for the AFL title; the game will be televised on the MLB Network if you want to see the last professional baseball game of the year in the continental United States [I’m never quite sure about Puerto Rico’s status!]. After today, there’s only staring out the window and waiting for spring...

But let’s see how all the D-backs taking part finished their 2016 campaigns. As usual, we’ll begin with fulsome praise for Jared Miller who completed his Arizona Fall League shutout with 18.1 scoreless innings. I found stats for the AFL going back to 2005, and wasn’t able to find a single pitcher who threw as many frames without allowing a run, earned or unearned. The closest in that time was 2007, when some n00b, fresh out of the draft as the fifth-round pick by Baltimore, threw 16 scoreless innings for the Phoenix Desert Dogs, in his first taste of pro ball after signing late. That scrub’s name? Jake Arrieta.

Miller allowed just six hits, holding opposing batters to a microscopic .103 average, and seemed to get better as he went on. Over his final six appearances, this was his line:
Jared Miller: 11.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 16 SO
Our reliever finished with a K:BB ratio of 30:4, which meant only one starting pitcher in the AFL had more strikeouts - and it took Austin Gomber 33.2 innings, fifteen above Miller. As Jared said to Gomber on Twitter, after the latter fanned seven in his final outing to take top spot by three: “Couldn't have just settled for 4 punchies yesterday & called it a year!?” There’s no question Miller was the AFL’s breakout star, as far as the Diamondbacks’ prospects were concerned, and I’m keen to see where he goes in 2017.

But Joey Krehbiel put up some solid (if inevitably less spectacular than Miller!) numbers, also working out of the Rafters’ bullpen. He threw 13.1 innings at a 2.70 ERA clip, and the six hits allowed works out to a very impressive .136 average against. He also struck out 20. Starter Josh Taylor led the Rafters in innings pitched (22.2), posting a solid 20:5 K:BB ratio with a 3.57 ERA, and two earned runs over his last 12 IP. And finally among the pitchers, despite losing that final game, Gabe Speier had a sub-four ERA (3.97), though a K:BB of 6:3 in 11.1 innings was relatively low compared to his team-mates.

All pitching numbers in the Arizona Fall League are actually more impressive than they look, because the league continues to be hitter friendly. Teams this year averaged 4.78 runs per game - as a yardstick, that’s exactly the same rate as was posted for 2016 in the Pacific Coast League, which was the highest pace across the Double-A and Triple-A levels. On the other hand, this inflates hitting numbers, and bearing this in mind it must be said, the Arizona position players in the AFL posted disappointing lines. Dawel Lugo had the highest OPS, and that was only .633, putting him 11th among the 16 players on the Rafters’ roster. He did finally draw one walk in over ninety PAs, though waited until his penultimate time up of the season, so perhaps he was trolling us.

Two spots further back, we find Jamie Westbrook, at .233/.303/.300 for a .603 OPS. As you can tell, the average was the main problem, though he seems to have been the victim of a bad BABIP, which looks (AFL stats don’t list HBP or SF, so I can’t be sure) to have been around .245. He did walk as many times as he struck out, which is a good sign in a league where the average K:BB was 2.18. Finally, in 14th, there’s Kevin Cron, whose .570 OPS came through a sub-Uecker average of only .188, though BABIP wasn’t his friend either. His power did show throw on occasion - Travis Demeritte was the only Rafter with more home-runs - but for obvious reasons, any first-base prospect in the Arizona system will have a difficult route to the majors in the foreseeable future.