Clubs form informal fall league
Farm directors create opportunity for non-AFL prospects
With Hawaii Winter Baseball no longer an option to send young Minor Leaguers this fall and a proposed "Junior Arizona Fall League" likely a year away, a group of farm directors took matters into their hands to provide a good development opportunity for their players.
Eight teams with facilities located largely in the West Valley of Phoenix have come together to form an unofficial co-op league to give some of their players an additional chance to compete. It's so informal, it doesn't really have an accepted name, with some calling it the "Advanced Instructional League," others calling it the "Arizona Parallel League."
"The day it was announced there wasn't going to be a junior league -- we had been counting on it -- that day, I started calling the other farm directors," said Royals assistant general manager for scouting and player development, J.J. Picollo, whom many give credit to for driving this effort. "We threw out some ideas to the directors, but it's a very loose format."
In general, here's how it works. Games will take place in four complexes where instructional league play was already occurring: Surprise, Peoria and the two new facilities in Glendale and Goodyear. In each case, two teams share the complex and will feed players into a shared team. In Surprise, the Royals and Rangers are partners; in Peoria, it's the Padres and Mariners; Cincinnati and Cleveland share the Goodyear team, with the Dodgers and White Sox over in Glendale.
Each organization will provide 10 players each to the roster, which can be fluid and will likely change frequently. Picollo and Rangers farm director Scott Servais have a good relationship forged over the years since both teams moved their Spring Training (and instructional) homes to Surprise, and they discovered they had a good fit in terms of personnel. Each will send five players and five pitchers. There will be eight position players who will basically play every day.
There will be two catchers. Every team can design things their own way, but the Royals and Rangers will have their individual catcher behind the plate when their pitcher is on the mound. And when there is a Royals starter on the mound, for example, all the relievers will be from the Kansas City system, as well.
This alternative league will begin play on Sept. 24 and continue through Oct. 16. There will be four games per week -- every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Games will start at 12:30 p.m. MST and will be played in the main stadium of each facility whenever possible. The schedule allows for the best of all possible worlds for teams participating.
"We get to bring in an additional 10 bodies to give them a chance to play," Dodgers farm director De Jon Watson said, pointing out that a guy like Trayvon Robinson, who is on the taxi squad for the Peoria Javelinas in the AFL and thus can only play on Wednesdays and Saturdays, can go to this other league early to get locked in to some game action.
Teams were also thrilled about the idea that any players playing can still get morning workouts in at instructs -- something most feel is key to development -- before heading over and playing in these games. The games, in turn, will provide something a little more upscale than regular instructs games. It's been estimated that the league will cost $30,000-35,000 to operate.
"We'll have umpires, it'll be a more competitive environment," Picollo said. "We'll play nine innings, there won't be any rollover innings."
Games will be open to anyone who wishes to attend. And they might get to see some pretty good talent, with teams sending players from a variety of levels, most coming from Class A or Double-A. The Royals are focusing on more advanced pitchers and guys who will likely be heading to Double-A in 2010. Kansas City's fourth-round pick from the June 2009 Draft, LHP Chris Dwyer, will be among those representing the Royals in the league.
Rosters are far from official and league-wide stats will not be kept, but those who decide to check it out might see Indians first-round pick Alex White, Mariners outfielder Greg Halman or their second-round pick Rich Poythress and Padres infielder Matt Antonelli or outfielder Jaff Decker. Dodger fans might get a glimpse of Midwest League MVP Dee Gordon and perhaps slugging oufielder Kyle Russell.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.