Rising Stars ready to shine bright
Seventeen first-round selections playing in third annual AFL showcase
The Arizona Fall League is generally considered the circuit in which baseball's elite prospects meet in October and November to hone their already considerable skills. The best prospects square off against one another in what can often resemble a daily All-Star game at any one of the parks in and around Phoenix.
That said, the Rising Stars Showcase takes that notion just a bit further. It features current AFL participants selected by scouting and Minor League directors from every organization, along with input from AFL Executive Director Steve Cobb. The 50 players chosen to represent the newly realigned and renamed National and American Divisions will come together on Friday night at Surprise Stadium.
Each of the 30 Major League teams will be represented in the third annual showcase event. Mesa's Tommy Hanson, who was MLB.com's choice for Atlanta's Organizational Pitcher of the Year and has already earned an AFL Pitcher of the Week Award, will get the nod for the American Division. He'll go up against New York Yankee Phil Hughes, who is currently pitching for the Peoria Javelinas. Game time is 7:15 p.m. MST.
The coaching staffs of the two teams who were leading their respective division as of Oct. 17 were named to lead each squad. Peoria Saguaros manager Ron Warner (St. Louis) and his staff will manage the American Division team while Peoria Javelinas skipper Darren Brown (Seattle) and his staff will guide the National Division team.
"It's an honor just to be invited to the league itself," said Toronto catcher J.P. Arencibia, who will form quite a potent duo behind the plate with Baltimore's Matt Wieters for the National Division. "To be invited and looked on as one of the rising stars is a great accomplishment. I'm excited to get the chance and be part of it.
"I was excited when I found out because you get to see first hand all the hard work you and your coaches and coordinators have put in paying off. I'm thankful to be playing in the game with those types of players."
One of the pitchers that Arencibia was looking forward to catching was Milwaukee's young fire-baller Jeremy Jeffress, who was also named to the National Division team. However, Jeffress was replaced on the roster by fellow first-round pick Ross Detwiler after being diagnosed with shoulder fatigue.
"There are a lot of good players here who I didn't get to play against in the Eastern League," Arencibia said. "If anyone has really stuck out, it's been the pitcher from the Brewers, Jeremy Jeffress. He touches 100 [on the gun]. That's the hardest fastball I've ever faced. The ball looks like a blur."
Arencibia is just one of 17 first-round selections who will be playing. Hughes, Wieters, left-hander Brian Matusz and Cincinnati's Drew Stubbs are among the other first-round selections on the National Division squad. Gordon Beckham, the White Sox's top pick this year, and Brett Wallace, the Cardinals' top choice this year, will highlight the first-rounders on the American Division team.
Arizona infielder Rusty Ryal wasn't a first-rounder, but he was chosen based on the strength of the year he had in Double-A Mobile.
"It's definitely a privilege to be in the same category with the names on that list," said Ryal, who was hitting .111 through 27 at-bats with Phoenix. "I'm also glad that it's based on the regular season and not the current stuff, because I'm struggling. My first reaction was that if they based it on the stats from the Fall League then someone got gypped.
"But I was voted in by different player personnel so that makes all the time I've put in worth while. I've put in a lot of hard work and this is an accomplishment. I appreciate everyone voting for me."
The Mets and the Marlins have the most players participating, with each organization placing three of its prospects on the American Division roster. Among the three New Yorkers is utility man Daniel Murphy, who spent much of the second-half in the Major Leagues putting up surprising numbers.
Murphy hit .315 in the Minor Leagues this season (mostly at Double-A Binghamton) and then hit .313 in 131 at-bats with the Mets. He was hitting .379 through 29 at-bats for the Saguaros, including a four-hit game against Surprise on Oct. 13.
Perhaps Murphy can help inject some offensive life into the affair, because the first two Rising Star games have been dominated by the pitchers. The teams combined to score only nine runs in the first two games while the pitchers struck out 46 and allowed only 29 hits in 19 innings.
Still, it should make for an interesting affair ... one that has Cobb beaming.
"The Fall League is proud to field six teams -- stocked with the top prospects in baseball -- six days a week for six years now," Cobb said. "Friday, we narrow the focus to 50 players who have been selected to participate based upon evaluations of baseball professionals at the team level. We take pride in what the future holds for these young men."
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.