SnakePitFest: Tuesday November 7th
First things first. SnakePitFallLeagueFest this season will be taking place during the AFL game at Salt River Fields on the evening of Tuesday November 7th. This was an easy date to pick, as it’s the only evening game the rest of the way at SRF! It sees the Salt River Rafters - including the D-backs prospects we’ll be discussing in a bit - taking on the Scottsdale Scorpions, with a first pitch at 6:35 pm. It’s very much a casual affair, since it’s all general admission seating: show up as and when you want! We typically hang out somewhere behind the Rafters dugout, so hope to see some folks there. We’ll remind you nearer the time.
Salt River Rafters
With almost two weeks of the AFL in the books, it’s proving to be an extremely even race so far, with each of the six teams within one game of .500. Indeed, there’s a triple tie for the lead in the East division, with all three sides - Mesa, Scottsdale and Salt River - sitting exactly at .500. After winning their opener 4-3, the Rafters dropped five of their next six games, including thumpings by scores of 12-1 and 8-9. However, they seem to have turned a corner in the second half of the week, and have won the last three in a row. On Wednesday, they edged Mesa 6-5, and followed that up with home and away wins over Glendale by scores of 5-1 and 10-4, to move back into contention.
The team has been struggling overall, and is probably lucky to be at .500 thus far, since Salt River currently sits last of the six teams in the AFL for both hitting and pitching. Through ten games, they have a collective triple-slash of .251/.309/.355 for an OPS of .664. That’s 68 points below any other side. Power and plate discipline have been weaknesses, with just four HR in 335 AB and 25 walks. Their ERA is also last in the league, at 5.04, but at least the margin there is much smaller, with the best team (Glendale) sitting at 4.14. The 83 strikeouts recorded by Salt River pitchers is tied for second, so perhaps that’s something on which they can build.
The usual warning about small sample sizes here certainly applies. No-one has had more than 25 at-bats or thrown more than 6.1 innings, and the AFL is much more about the process than the statistics. But Jack Reinheimer, who had a cup of coffee with the big-league team this year, has been solid. The infielder (mostly - versatility is one of his strengths) is hitting .273, with almost as many walks (3) as K’s (4), leading to a .748 OPS. Outfielder Victor Reyes is tied for the Rafters’ lead in stolen bases, having gone 3/3 so far. Catcher Michael Perez is off to a bit of a slow start, hitting .188 with a .528 OPS, though has always been more of a defense-first player.
On the mound, Yoan Lopez threw three scoreless innings, but has been removed from the roster due to right shoulder soreness. The latest injury isn’t seen as a concern, Mike Hazen saying Arizona “don’t think it’s overly serious. But this time of year you don’t take any risks.” However, it’s the latest problem (both on- and off-field) for the Cuban prospect since signing in Jan 2015. Before his departure, Keith Law said Lopez had “legitimately improved,” adding, “He gave up more hard contact on the fastball than you’d like to see, so I’m not sold on him as more than a middle reliever, but this is better than he was in 2015-16.”
Across the rest of our pitchers, Ryan Atkinson has seen most action, starting two games and going 1-1 with a 4.26 ERA and K:BB ratio of 4:3 over 6.1 innings. He’s another one of Arizona’s signings out of independent ball. Left-handed relievers Kirby Bellow and Colin Poche have also been working out of the Rafters’ bullpen. Bellow has looked particularly impressive, allowing one run over his six innings, while striking out eight and walking none. Poche’s line has been hurt by walks. He has held opponents to two hits in 4.2 innings, but has also walked four, which have helped lead to three earned runs on his record.
Of course, this isn’t the only winter league, with Caribbean + Latin American leagues under way. Socrates Brito has been playing in the Dominican Rep, and is batting .333 so far, with half his hits going for extra bases. In Mexico, Jorge Flores has an interesting line: an OBP of .405, but a SLG of only .290, thanks to five walks and no extra-base hits. Best numbers among our pitchers belong to Kaleb Fleck, who is wintering in Venezuela with Leones del Caracas, where he has tossed 7.2 scoreless innings in relief. And Carlos Bustamente, who had a 0.31 ERA across three levels in our low prospects, has opened his winter in Mexico well, putting up five zeroes for Mayos de Navojoa.