There are six teams in the Arizona Fall League: the Scottsdale Scorpions, Mesa Solar Sox, Salt River Rafters, Glendale Desert Dogs, Peoria Javelinas and Surprise Saguaros. These club names were picked by Major League Baseball as reflective of the Southwestern desert traditions in the state.
The teams are broken into two divisions, East and West. Each Major League Baseball team sends six top prospects to the Arizona Fall League, 180 players in all. The games are played in the Spring Training stadiums used by the Giants, Mariners, Padres, Cubs, A's, Royals, Rangers, D-backs and Rockies.
How good are the players in the Arizona Fall League? The 2013 All-Star Game in New York featured 36 AFL alums, including five starting position players on each team and the American League's starting pitcher, Max Scherzer.
Each August, Major League clubs hold a position draft to determine the players who will go to Arizona. Most are Double-A and Triple-A Minor League players. Each club can opt to send one player considered a Class A player.
The roots of the Arizona Fall League go back several years, when the Major Leagues wanted to create an easily accessed offseason league. A concern was that some of the best ballplayers left to play winter ball out of the country, such as in the Caribbean and there was no way to monitor them.
If Major League Baseball created a league that it could govern and monitor, it would be better organized. If a player was injured, proper care and treatment would be on hand. With the Arizona Fall League, managers, coaches, scouts and league officials could participate.
"That was the beauty of this," says Steve Cobb, AFL executive vice president, "and that seemed to be one of the unifying factors for all the clubs. They created a Fall League where all of their personnel would be involved, with reduced travel and immediate accessibility on the part of scouting."
"There's a two-pronged mission to the AFL," Cobb says. "One is for the players to accelerate, and hopefully jump a classification. The other is for the managers and umpires to develop. For those who aspire to be Major League managers, this is a place to gain additional experience. The AFL provides employment opportunity to enhance managers' and coaches' skills ... Dusty Baker is a good example of a field manager who had not had managerial experience until he had managed here in '92 for some seasoning. Then he became the field manager of the Giants for a decade before joining the Cubs. And he was the National League Manager of the Year three times -- 1993, 1997 and 2000.
"The umpires come from the Umpire Development Program," says Cobb. "And again, this league is for their development as well.
"We've had considerable success with working through (college) sports management programs," Cobb adds. "People have gained some baseball experience here in the Phoenix market, from working in the AFL. We have been able to enhance many interns' careers. The Arizona Fall League is unique in the industry."
Given the top prospects who play here, every game in the AFL is like a future All-Star Game. It's a definite destination for baseball fans and families who want to see great action on the diamond. "These are all the Spring Training sites, first-class facilities," Cobb says. "The playing surfaces are outstanding."
A day or night at a game is affordable: $7 for an adult and $6 for kids and seniors, and you can sit anywhere you want. Group tickets for 20 or more are available for just $4 apiece. The AFL sells individual season passes ($75 for seniors, $85 for adults), and a family pass (for up to six people, $115). That means you can go to as many games as you'd like.
Another benefit of the Arizona Fall League is that all six stadiums are within a short driving distance. Most stadiums are within minutes of each other. "It is very condensed," Cobb says. "That's one of the beauties of Arizona versus Florida, quite honestly. Florida has some wonderful ball parks, but there's some pretty lengthy driving in between."