The Arizona Fall League got under way this afternoon when the Salt River Rafters took on the Peoria Javelinas at Salt River Fields. For those new to the Fall League, it is a developmental winter league played here in Arizona. There are 6 teams, with the rosters comprised of half a dozen or so top prospects from every major league organization.
The league is using a pitch clock this year, and at Salt River Fields only, automated balls and strikes, (robo ump). In the other parks there are no robo umps however. Infield shifts are not allowed. And somewhat intelligently, relievers are checked for sticky stuff as they come into the game, not after they’ve pitched. (Starters are checked after their inning however) .
Tickets are $9 and you can sit anywhere. Get there early and claim your spot behind home plate, sitting elbow to elbow with scouts charting pitches. You’re only 30 feet behind the umpire, and can get a real sense of what a 97 MPH fastball followed by a 86 MPH slider actually look and feel like.
Slade Cecconi got the start for the River Rafters. (Player names in Red link to Baseball Reference Page). Taken by the Diamondbacks with the 33rd pick in the 2020 draft, Cecconi impressed with his power stuff at the alt site 2020 as documented by Nick Piecoro at AZ Central. In July James Attwood profiled him in an update on the top arms in the system, at which point he was throwing mid 90’s heat and a “wicked slider” to go with a developing changeup.
Unfortunately he came down with a sore elbow in early August and had to be shut down for the final two months of the minor league season. One wouldn’t have guessed it looking at his final two starts for Hillsboro A+, in which he threw 13 innings, walked just one, and struck out 16.
Today he threw just two innings, 45 pitches, and struggled with his command, as just 22 were for strikes. His fastball sat mostly 93-94 in the first, and dropped to 91-92 in the 2nd. He walked 4 batters, but only gave up one hit, a bloop single to right. He used an effective and somewhat surprising curveball to work out of trouble . Between the velocity being down, and the command being suspect, it was not an impressive outing, but he didn’t allow any runs. Hopefully he is just knocking off some rust and regaining strength.
His counterpart, MacKenzie Gore of the Padres was a good deal more impressive. Firing fastballs at 97, with an 82 MPH Changeup and 86 MPH slider, Gore threw strikes, walking only one batter and hitting one. He went 5 innings, allowing 2 runs on 6 hits, throwing a surprising 88 pitches, 56 for strikes.
Shumpei Yoshikawa , a 26 year old right hander from Japan pitched 22 innings across 4 levels this year in the Arizona system, posting a 8.72 ERA. He got into the game in the 4th. That inning went well, needing just 12 pitches to set the side down in order. He was inducing soft contact with his 90 MPH Fastball and low 80’s off speed stuff. He seems to hide the ball well, but by his second inning of work he was not as effective, walking a batter and giving up an RBI double. In the 6th inning he gave up a three run homer, a 429 foot blast to the berm in right by Zach Deloach of the Mariners. He was lifted from the game 3 batters later with runners on 2nd and third and his team down 5-2. His line:
2.2 IP, 4H, 4ER, 3 BB, 2 SO, 1 HR allowed.
Dominic Canzone got the start in right for the River Rafters. The 23 year old out of Ohio State exploded for over a 1.000 OPS in 145 PA when he was promoted to the AA Amarillo Sod Poodles this year. The left handed batter struggled a bit in his first two at bats against the tough lefty Gore, grounding out softly to 3rd and flying to to left on a “can o corn” But he ripped a double down the right field line in the 6th inning, advancing a runner to 3rd who later scored. Then with runners on the corners and two outs in the 7th he hit a slicing line drive to right but was held to a single as the right fielding did a good job cutting the ball off. Somehow the runner on first came all the way around to score, and Canzone had himself a 2 hit, 2 RBI day. That tied the game at 5. He got a chance to be the hero again in the 9th, coming up with a man on 2nd with the score still tied. But with the base open he drew the walk.
Mitchell Stumpo impressed in his inning of work, a scoreless top of the 9th. He started off with 95 MPH fastballs, then went cutter/slider heavy. He worked around a double to deep center that was misplayed by the outfielder, to strike out the other 3 batters he faced swinging. It was the very definition of swing and miss stuff.
Cooper Hummel got into the game as a defensive replacement behind the plate in the 7th, He roped a line drive to left in the 8th but right at the outfielder for an out. Then in the 9th he drew a 4 pitch walk with the bases loaded to walk off the Javelinas 6-5.
It should be noted that the umpires were not enforcing the pitch clock, and with multiple pitching changes the game took 3:32 to play. Mercifully it did not go extras ;)