Arizona Fall League set to begin 20th season
Bryce Harper, Mike Trout among top MLB prospects competing
When the Arizona Fall League kicked off its inaugural season back in 1992, the world was a lot different.
The Internet had barely been invented, with e-mail seemingly only used by those in scientific fields. There was no Facebook, and the only tweeting done was by birds.
The league itself wasn't the same. There was a Sun Cities Solar Sox, a Grand Canyon Rafters and a team in Chandler, Ariz. Facilities in Surprise and Salt River, Ariz., the newest AFL host, weren't even a glint in some developer's eyes.
A byproduct of this information age, of course, is that the prospects on this year's rosters are a whole lot better known than the Class of 1992. Sure, players like Troy Percival and Mike Piazza came out of that debut season, but they weren't truly household names until after they had ascended to the big leagues.
Back then, the Arizona Fall League was an experiment that didnt register on anyone's -- fans and players included -- radar. Now, everyone knows a vast majority of Fall Leaguers go on to play in the Majors and make contributions. Case in point: 41 Major League All-Stars this past July cut their teeth in the Arizona Fall League.
"Obviously, that's in the back of my mind," Royals prospect Wil Myers said. "It's cool to be out here in the Fall League and knowing what happens to guys who come out here. But I don't want to focus on that. I just want to come here, do my thing and whatever happens, happens."
What will happen is that Myers and his Surprise Saguaros will open their season against the Scottsdale Scorpions, perhaps the most loaded team in the Fall League. These days, baseball fans know plenty about the incoming AFL class and are well aware of the talent in Scottsdale's outfield. That's where Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, the Nos. 1 and 2 prospects according to MLB.com's Prospect Watch, will roam. Throw in No. 44 prospect Gary Brown of the Giants, and it's hard to imagine a more talented outfield.
"That's a good outfield," said Myers, himself the No. 15 prospect at season's end. "I think we can put our outfield up against them, too. They have bigger names. We match up with them [on Tuesday] so we'll see what happens."
Myers is joined on that Surprise squad by fellow-Top 50 player Matt Dominguez of the Marlins (No. 35). The outfielders he's referring to? The best joining him might be Mikie Mahtook, who will be making his unofficial professional debut as a first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Rays this June.
That's been a recent phenomenon in the Arizona Fall League, another component that sets it apart from its 1992 counterpart. Teams have more frequently sent recent Draft picks to the AFL to get their careers going. Most -- Harper is the glaring exception -- are advanced college players who are believed to be quick-to-the-big-leagues types. With the Draft signing deadline moved to mid-August a few years back, the Fall League provided a place to get their feet wet and perhaps put them on a fast track.
Stephen Strasburg did it two years ago. Last year, Harper was on the taxi squad. Gerrit Cole is making it three No. 1 overall selections in a row on an AFL roster. The Pirates' top selection will pitch for the Mesa Solar Sox. Mahtook will have Braves first-rounder Sean Gilmartin with him, while Giants first-round pick and shortstop Joe Panik joins that star-studded outfield in Scottsdale. The No. 2 overall selection, Danny Hultzen of the Mariners, will pitch for Peoria.
Many of these players will be seen together on one field at the annual Rising Stars Game -- an All-Star exhibition of sorts -- on Nov. 5 at Surprise Stadium. And the two teams that win each division will meet in the championship game on Nov. 19 at Scottsdale Stadium.
From Opening Day until that final contest, today's Fall League's players will use the technology that didn't exist for Percival, Piazza et al, to give fans a first-hand look at what the AFL experience is like.
There are a total of 60 AFLers on Twitter and a number of the players are contributing to an AFL Prospects blog, which is already off and running. Myers is one of those, and he'll be checking in regularly about how his Saguaros measure up as he tries to make up for lost time from the regular season.
"I missed about a month and a half with the injury to my knee, so it's good to come out here and come back strong for the Fall League," Myers said. "I'm feeling good now, I'm ready to get going [on Tuesday]."