The AFL continues to be one of Arizona's hidden gems. I use the term "hidden" on the basis of tonight's crowd at Camelback Ranch being maybe 300. So it still appears the secret has not got out. Still, it's nice not to have to queue to buy tickets, queue to get into the park (metal detectors? Clear bag policy? Get outta here with your security theater!), or even queue for concessions. I think I would probably attend more major league games if the attendance was only a few hundred. Though I did notice an odd dollar casually added to the ticket price, even though we were buying them at the stadium box-office... Still, at $9 including that (hey, senior discount!), I'm not going to complain.
As ever, that gets you any seat you want. We met Jack Sommers just inside the gate (thanks for the beer!), and we ended up a few rows back of the visiting dugout behind the Rafters. Michael McDermott was already there and we were joined shortly afterward by imstillhungry95. There were two Diamondbacks prospects in the starting lineup for the Rafters on the night: Jordan Lawlar was batting second and playing short, while Deyvison De Los Santos manned first base and hit seventh. I was obviously particularly excited to see Lawlar. MLB.com ranked him the team's #3 prospect, behind Corbin Carroll and Druw Jones, and the #12 across all baseball.
However, he did not look like a top prospect on the evening. As Jack facetiously suggested, perhaps he was tired by the long trip around the 101 from Salt River Fields (which is several time-zones over from Camelback Ranch). Lawlar went 0-for-4 with a pair of K’s, though did draw a walk with one out in the seventh. He is still batting .265 for the AFL, with a .986 OPS, and his 11 walks is tied for the league lead. Perhaps of more concern was the defense. Most obviously, leading off the second inning, he was charged with two errors on the same play, making three in the AFL. He bobbled a groundball allowing the runner to reach base, then threw wildly to first, the ball sailing into the crowd (or would have, save for the extended netting), allowing the runner to take second.
His other plays at short were competent enough without being spectacular. The questions raised about his arm strength remained unanswered. Lawlar didn't exhibit a cannon, but to be honest, he didn't need to, in order to retire the batter. He did apply a nice tag on an SB, and was the pivot man on a nicely turned double-play in the sixth inning. The latter was probably his best action of the night. De Los Santos had a bit better results, going 1-for-4 with two strikeouts. He singled to left field in the fourth, though the teenager is still struggling, batting just .160 with a .500 OPS. He almost made a nice play of a foul pop-up, snagging the ball, before the umpire called it as having grazed the net on its way down before the catch.
No Arizona pitching prospects got into the game, though considering almost all bar Kyle Backhus have struggled, their absence might have been for the best. The two unearned runs resulting off Lawlar's errors proved decisive. The Rafters went into the bottom of the eighth 4-2 up, and Rockies prospect Blair Calvo K'd the first two he faced, with nasty stuff. But he never got the third out, lifted after five consecutive Desert Dogs reached on two hits, two walks and a hit batter, scoring three. As ish95 observed in his Twitter thread, "One of the best parts of the Fall League is how close to the action you are. Like just now when a batter got “hit” by a pitch, didn’t notice it, but it got called anyway. We heard the pitcher loudly announce “how can you call that?? He didn’t even know he was hit!!”"
Lawlar fittingly made the final out, grounding to third to complete the 5-3 defeat. The Rafters sunk to a 5-10 record, though that's a rebound considering they started the season 0-8. This one took place in a crisp 2:41, aided by the presence of the pitch-clock. Speaking of rule changes, although the ability to appeal ball-strike calls, as seen in the Triple-A championship game, is available in the AFL, it appears to be in play mostly at Salt River Fields. That would have been fun to see live. Still, despite the result, it was a thoroughly pleasant evening. The weather was near-perfect, the company excellent - thanks to everyone who came out- and the smack talk up to the expected level!
There are many worse places to be than watching the Arizona Fall League in late October. It runs through November 10th, with two days of playoffs thereafter. Go check it out.