The Arizona Fall League is currently taking place at a number of locations around the Phoenix area. It’s a little different this year, with the season having started considerably earlier. Indeed, it was under way more than a week before even the regular MLB season ended. The first game this year was September 18, three weeks earlier than the Opening Day in 2018, which was October 9th. As a result, the AFL is already well into its second half, having had its All Star Game last weekend, and the championship takes place a week on Saturday. Also this year, there have been games against guest teams from the Mexican Baseball League, including Mexicali, Hermonsillo and Los Mochis.
As usual, the Diamondbacks’ prospects taking part are on the Salt River Rafters squad, out of Salt River Fields. They have been joined there this year by the Scottsdale Scorpions, due to a $50 million renovation project which is taking place at Scottsdale Stadium. Similarly, the Surprise Saguaros are playing at Peoria due to upgrades there, alongside the Javelinas. The Glendale Desert Dogs, who play at Camelback Ranch, and the Mesa Solar Sox, out of Sloan Park, complete the six-team league.
With seven games left on the schedule, the Rafters are in position to reach the title game. Despite being only 5-5 over their last ten games, they are still two up in the East Division on their co-habitee Scorpions, and don’t have to face them the rest of the way. Their most likely opponents are the Surprise Saguaros, who hold a comfortable four-game lead in the West Division, over the defending champion Javelinas. If they make it, the Rafters wouldn’t have to travel, with the championship game taking place at Salt River Fields on October 26. In previous years, that has often been shown on the MLB Network, so that’s something to keep an eye on.
There are three position players and four pitchers from the Diamondbacks taking part this year. All the hitters are doing well, with OPS’s better than .800. [As a yardstick for the league, Salt River’s team OPS of .767 is best in the league, with the other teams between there and Glendale’s .654] Leading the way is Brute Squad favorite prospect, Seth Beer (above). He is batting .353 with a .911 OPS. He’s one of the players received from the Astros in the Zack Greinke trade, and was ranked #96 overall on MLB.com’s prospects list. While the left-handed hitter was an outfielder, he looks to be transitioning to first-base, and does appear to need more work on his defense there.
Also impressing is shortstop Geraldo Perdomo, especially because he’s still only a teenager - he won’t turn 20 until next Tuesday. That hasn’t stopped him from batting .313, and his nine walks are second-most on the Rafters, reflecting discipline also seen in the minors this year. In previous years, he likely wouldn’t have been considered for an AFL spot, but he is one of half a dozen teenagers there this year. Both he and Beer were selected to the AFL All-Star Game. Finally, there’s outfielder Jake McCarthy (below), whose batting average matched Perdomo’s, though has just one walk over his 14 games to date. He was limited to 53 games this year due to an ankle injury, so the games here will be a welcome bonus.
On the pitching side, reliever Matt Brill has perhaps been the standout, bouncing back after struggling following his promotion to Double-A in May. He has thrown 7.2 shutout innings and allowed only four hits, holding opposing batters to a .167 average. However, his K:BB ratio has been only 3:2, so he has been quite reliant on the defense behind him. Joining him in the Rafters bullpen is Miguel Aguilar, whose three saves leads the team. He has a gaudy K:BB ratio of 12:1, giving up two runs across 8.2 innings, on seven hits. The final Arizona reliever is Emilio Vargas, though he has only appeared in a single game, pitching a scoreless inning last Friday.
Last but not least is starter Cody Reed, a second-round pick by the D-backs out of high school in 2014. After two scoreless innings out of the bullpen in his AFL debut, Reed was roughed up a bit in his first pair of starts, allowing four runs on nine hits across four combined innings. But his most recent outing, on October 11, was significantly better, as he struck out seven in three frames, allowing a run on four hits and a walk. That brought his AFL ERA down to 5.00, and he has good peripherals, having struck out 14 over nine innings, with just a pair of walks. Having managed only 13 innings since 2017, apparently due to an elbow injury (though information is oddly lacking), it’s good to see him apparently healthy.
Sadly, it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to get to a game this year, we just have too much going on. But it’s a uniquely Arizonan baseball experience, which I recommend to anyone: you’ll get to see some of the game’s top prospects in a thoroughly relaxed and informal setting, for about the price of a movie ticket. Depending on the park, you might even get to see roboumps in action!