The Arizona Fall League is one of the hidden joys of living in this state. While the price gap between spring training and major-league games is now close to negligible, the AFL gives you the chance to see some of the best prospects in the game, from the best seats in the house, for less than the cost of a movie ticket. For example, the 2019 All-Star Game included no less than 43 players who had appeared in the AFL. You just have to remember their names down the line. :) All 30 teams send 6-7 players, with them being combined into six rosters. Arizona’s men will play on the Salt River Rafters. operating - as you’d expect! - out of Salt River Fields. Here are the prospects you can expect to see.
Kyle Backhus, LHP
This is an interesting one, for Backhus went undrafted out of college, but signed a deal with the D-backs on July 14 last year. His time at Sam Houston State had been nothing special, until his final year, climaxing in a complete game on two days rest in the Southland Conference Tournament. After signing, he made his way up from A through A+ to Double-A, but transitioned into a reliever this year. There, he threw a total of 52.1 innings, with an impressive 78 strikeouts, and just one home-run allowed. He did walk 26, so that will need to come down, but with the D-backs bullpen needing all the help it can get, Backhus definitely isn’t blocked.
J.B. Bukauskas, RHP
Likely a name you recognize, as Bukauskas appeared in 21 games for the D-backs last year. It is unusual for players with major-league experience to appear in the AFL. However, another way the AFL is used is to give extra work to players who missed time due to injury, and that certainly applies here. J.B. missed the start of the season, going on the 60-day IL during spring training, with a Grade 2 tear of the teres major muscle in his right shoulder. He consequently didn’t get into action until almost the end of June, and has thrown less than twenty innings in total. The numbers at Reno have been good (a 2.87 ERA), but it makes sense to get him additional work beyond what AAA can provide.
Deyvison De Los Santos, 3B/1B
Possibly the man of the future for Arizona at the hot corner? Admittedly, that future is likely some way off, with De Los Santos having only turned 19 in June. Given he’s still a teenager, it’s impressive he is finishing the season with a short stint for Double-A Amarillo, where he is more than five years younger than the average player. He has not disgraced himself, going 9-for-37 there to date. All told, across three levels, Deyvison has a line of .307/.347/.501, for an .848 OPS. Ranked our #6 prospect by MLB.com, they said he “may already have more raw power than any other prospect in Arizona’s system...The power bat will ultimately be De Los Santos’ ticket to the Majors, where he profiles as a middle-of-the-order slugger.”
Jackson Goddard, RHP
A third-round pick in 2018, Goddard still hasn’t appeared above the High-A level. I’m presuming some kind of significant injury was involved, though I have not been able to find any details. He didn’t appear at all in 2021, a double-whammy after the 2020 minor-league season was also lost. He also missed close to two months this season and only threw 23 frames, so is another case where the AFL will help deliver those necessary innings. Clearly, the team still thinks there is potential here. In 2019, he had been a starter with Kane County, and had a 2.89 ERA in A-ball. But this year, he worked out of the bullpen for High-A Hillsboro, and posted a 4.09 ERA with a K:BB of 26:16.
Cooper Hummel, C
I’ll confess, this one is a bit of a head-scratcher. Hummel has not just appeared in the majors, he’ll be losing his rookie status at the end of the season. Admittedly, he has been the backup, but between the Aces and D-backs, has still accumulated over 300 PAs (though the Reno effect has shown up, in a 377-point difference in OPS for Hummel between AAA and MLB). He will turn 28 in November, which has to make Cooper one of the oldest participants in the AFL - almost eight and a half years older than teammate De Los Santos. This selection perhaps speaks to a dearth of catching in the Arizona farm system, with none of MLB’s top 30 prospects playing that position.
Jordan Lawlar, SS
And now, someone who likely needs no introduction, as one of the D-backs top prospects - typically ranked behind only Corbin Carroll and Druw Jones. With shortstop being an area of weakness for the major-league Diamondbacks this year, the arrival of Lawlar probably can’t come soon enough. I’d not be surprised to see him in the majors next season, getting ready to take over the every-day shortstop’s job in 2024, after Nick Ahmed’s contract expires. He appeared at four levels this year, though his Rookie appearances were the result of a rehab appearance, finishing his season at Double-A Amarillo. It has been a bit of a stretch there, Lawlar batting .220 in AA with a .667 OPS, but given he’s still only 20, it’s far from a disaster. The AFL will test him further, and help determine when he’ll be ready for prime-time.
Chad Patrick, RHP
Patrick was a fourth-round pick by Arizona in June 2021, becoming the first player out of Purdue Northwest ever taken in the MLB draft. He will be the only starting pitcher the D-backs are sending to the AFL. He had a 3.67 ERA over 10 starts between A-ball in Visalia and High-A Hillsboro, with a K:BB of 47:15 over 41.2 innings in those outings. He turned 24 last month, and managed to break his wrist during spring training this year, after falling over during pitcher’s fielding practice! That delayed his first game until July, and likely explains his AFL presence. Below is footage of Patrick’s first game for Hillsboro, where he struck out seven over four innings of one-hit ball.
The AFL season gets under way on Monday, October 3rd, with games most days bar Sunday until the Championship game on Saturday November 12. Of particular note, is a triple-header at Chase Field on October 15, and another one the following Saturday, at a location to be determined. The schedules can be found here: oddly, it looks as if the Salt River Rafters spend most of the first half at home, and then hit the road in the second half of the schedule. I hope to get to a game or two this year - my work isn’t letting me carry forward holidays, so I’ve got to use it or lose it! The games potentially of most interest include Wednesday October 19 and Thursday October 27, both @ Glendale, if anyone is interested?