Searching for baseball treasures in the Arizona Fall League

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 13, 2013 - 7:32 AM

Top farmhands gather to compete each fall in Arizona.

hide

The seats at Arizona Fall League games typically are mostly empty, save for the scouts, who can take in multiple games in one day.

Photo: Photos by Dave Cruz • Special to the Star Tribune,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

 

– The World Series had ended two days earlier, and that ultimate goal loomed large in the minds of players at Salt River Field. As the pitcher looked in for a sign, it wasn’t difficult to imagine these same young players, potential All-Stars and maybe a future Hall of Famer or two, reaching their sport’s biggest stage someday soon.

In fact, they are all wearing major league uniforms, save the obscure hats, giving this matchup between a soon-to-be Diamondbacks pitcher and Reds hitter a sheen of stars-in-waiting, of ... wait a minute, what’s all the commotion?

“Joyce! Joyce! We’re over here!” a booming voice bellowed from just behind the visitors dugout, breaking the silence and interrupting the concentration. The pitcher stepped off the rubber and glared while fielders relaxed a moment as two members of the night’s sparse crowd connected across the diamond. “And get some nachos!”

OK, where were we?

“Yeah, the surroundings are all big-league here,” laughed Jeff Smith, manager of the Glendale Desert Dogs. “But at the same time, you get reminders that you’re not there yet.”

No, but the Arizona Fall League, even with its unique combination of highly concentrated talent and laid-back atmosphere, can be a huge step in the right direction. For more than two decades, some of the best prospects in baseball — Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are among the alumni — have gathered in Phoenix each October to wear the uniforms of the Desert Dogs or the Saguaros or the Solar Sox, and extend their season by six weeks, an extra audition for those closest to the Show.

“It was designed to be sort of a finishing school for guys headed to the majors,” said Mike Radcliff, Twins vice president of player personnel, who fills notebooks with observations about players from behind home plate. “It was the last stop for a lot of guys. Like one final test against the closest thing you can find to major league competition.”

Yet competition isn’t really what it’s about, and that lack of intensity gives the AFL its odd mixture of pressurized significance and easygoing indifference. The 210 minor leaguers are here to play well and develop skills that will help them win — someday. But like spring training, winning each day’s game is more a byproduct than a goal.

“I don’t think anyone is looking at the standings, if that’s what you mean,” Radcliff said. “The stats, yeah. But not the standings.”

Extra work

Those statistics are closely tracked, however, by the dozens of scouts — sometimes as many as 50 — who are already in their seats during batting practice, and who usually troop to two games a day, one of the afternoon games and the daily night game, a schedule designed to accommodate as much baseball viewing as possible.

“It’s really a scout’s dream,” said Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, who spends a week here each fall. “There’s no travel,” since all six teams are based in Phoenix-area spring camps, “all the guys you want to see are here, and the schedule makes it easy.”

Each AFL team is required to take batting and infield practice at least twice a week, all players start at least two games a week, and everyone gets Sunday off.

For the players, shortening their winter for some extra exposure is a trade-off they are happy to make. They are put up rent-free in condos near their home ballpark, absorb extra training from some new coaches, get regular days off, and even earn a little more than minor league salaries.

And more than that, “it’s just a real honor to be chosen,” said Max Kepler, the 20-year-old Twins outfield prospect from Germany. “It means they want you, they believe in you.”

Some players are sent to Arizona to work on new skills; Kepler, for instance, is learning to play first base to increase his versatility. Some are assigned here to get more work, such as righthander Alex Meyer, the Twins’ top pitching prospect, who missed nearly two months because of a sore shoulder. A few players go to Arizona to refine a skill, such as infielder Eddie Rosario and his footwork around second base, or righthander Trevor May, who is mastering a changeup. Some simply benefit from exposure to the high-quality level of play, such as relief prospect A.J. Achter.

The 30 major league teams send seven players apiece, with five organizations forming a team. There is an abundance of pitching, since innings are strictly limited after a full season, and at least five players from each organization must have played in Class AA or AAA. In forming the Glendale Desert Dogs along with the Reds, Dodgers, Marlins and White Sox, the Twins sent four pitchers — Meyer, May, Achter and Zach Jones — plus position players Kepler, Rosario and Byron Buxton, their highest-rated prospect who missed the AFL’s final eight games because of a shoulder strain.

  • related content

  • Chart: About the Arizona Fall League

    Saturday November 9, 2013

    about the leagueFounded: 1992Location: Arizona spring-training complexes in greater Phoenix (Glendale, Surprise, Scottsdale, Mesa).Season: 32 games in October and November,...

  • Rules to protect catchers will be on GMs' agenda

    Saturday November 9, 2013

    Terry Ryan also will be talking instant replay, trades.

  • Twins pitchers and catchers will report to Fort Myers on Feb. 16

    Saturday November 9, 2013

    Fans who make the trip to Fort Myers will also see the results of a $48.5 million renovation to the Lee County Sports Complex.

  • Twins prospect Max Kepler has primarily been an outfielder in the minors, but he is getting experience at first base in Arizona.

  • Twins prospect Eddie Rosario signed autographs. Besides scouts, autograph hounds are also found in plentiful numbers in the AFL.

  • 10/30/2013 - Empty stands with mostly scouts filling the seats. Arizona Fall League - Glendale Desert Dogs playing at Camelback Ranch in Phoenix, AZ Photo By Dave Cruz

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions
Final123456789RHE
Minnesota000000000040
Detroit «00100002X340
@Ballpark Replay
Preview | Matchup | Lineup | Log | Wrap | Box
W:D.Price(15-12) L:K.Gibson(13-12) S:J.Nathan (35)
HR: MIN- None DET- I.Kinsler (17)

ADVERTISEMENT

San Francisco - M. Bumgarner 7:07 PM
Pittsburgh - E. Volquez
Minnesota 10/2/14 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Dallas
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Denver
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Seattle 10/6/14 7:30 PM
Washington
Washington 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Carolina 6:00 PM
Columbus
Pittsburgh 6:30 PM
Detroit
Montreal 7:30 PM
Chicago
Arizona 8:00 PM
Edmonton
Fla Atlantic 10/2/14 6:00 PM
FIU
UCF 10/2/14 6:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 10/2/14 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Syracuse
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Army
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Maryland
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Eastern Mich 10/4/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Texas 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Indiana
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Texas
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Clemson
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Colorado
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rutgers
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rice
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Kentucky
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Virginia
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Winnipeg 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Edmonton 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Is Paul Molitor the best choice to manage Twins?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close