By Mark Carlisle
Those looking to watch their favorite baseball team’s up-and-coming prospects in the Valley this fall may need to look in a different spot than last year.
The Arizona Fall League has finished its annual round of musical chairs and last week unveiled which five MLB teams will be affiliated with the six AFL teams for the 2018 season. The league also unveiled the schedule and each teams’ manager and coaches last week.
The list below shows which five MLB teams were associated with each AFL team last season and which will be grouped together for the upcoming season that starts Tuesday, Oct. 9. Rosters have yet to be announced. Last year, they were released in late August.
The six teams play at six of the 10 Cactus League spring training facilities. The 10 MLB teams that play spring training home games at those six facilities remain affiliated with the same AFL team each year. The other 20 teams in the league can switch from team to team each year.
(Underlined MLB teams play spring training home games at that facility and never rotate AFL teams.)
(Peoria Sports Complex)
• Atlanta Braves
• Milwaukee Brewers
• San Diego Padres
• Seattle Mariners
• Tampa Bay Rays
Glendale Desert Dogs
(Camelback Ranch-Glendale, Phoenix)
• Baltimore Orioles
• Chicago White Sox
• Cleveland Indians
• Los Angeles Dodgers
• New York Yankees
• Kansas City Royals
• Pittsburgh Pirates
• St. Louis Cardinals
• Texas Rangers
• Toronto Blue Jays
Salt River Rafters
(Salt River Fields, Scottsdale)
• Arizona Diamondbacks
• Colorado Rockies
• Miami Marlins
• Minnesota Twins
• Washington Nationals
• Cincinnati Reds
• Houston Astros
• New York Mets
• Philadelphia Phillies
• San Francisco Giants
Mesa Solar Sox
(Sloan Park, Mesa)
• Boston Red Sox
• Chicago Cubs
• Detroit Tigers
• Los Angeles Angels
• Oakland Athletics
Each team plays 30 games before the championship game at 1:08 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17 at Scottsdale Stadium, where the champion of the West Division — Peoria, Glendale and Surprise — will face the champion of the East Division — Salt River, Scottsdale and Mesa.
Two other key dates during the Fall Stars Game at 5:08 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 3 at Surprise Stadium and the Bowman Hitting Challenge at 6:35 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13 at Sloan Park in Mesa.
To view the league’s full schedule and to see which stadiums teams play at click here.
To view each team’s manager and coaches, click here.
The (future) stars come out
Each MLB team will send six or seven of its top minor league players to play on the AFL team, joining players from the other four MLB clubs associated with the team.
The league is not exactly a minor league All-Star league, though, as not every team sends its best prospects. Teams decide which player to send based on which players they would like to see get more work — players who missed chunks of the regular season due to injury, for example — and based what positions the AFL team needs filled.
Still, there is some tremendous talent that passes through the league. While most fans won’t know a lot of names on this year’s rosters, they’ll know plenty of them in the near future.
Derek Jeter, Mike Piazza, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Albert Pujols, Max Scherzer, Roy Halladay, Jake Arrieta and Brandon Webb are just a handful of the current and former greats who played a season or two in the Fall League before breaking into the majors.
It’s less common to see the some of the best pitchers of tomorrow in the league, because managers are careful not to put too many innings on a young pitcher’s arm. The exception is usually if a pitcher needs to make up for time lost to injury.
Don’t just look on the field for future noteworthy names either. Big league managers like Dusty Baker, Terry Francona, Mike Scioscia and Ron Washington all managed or coached in the AFL before being promoted to the majors, as well.
Often, the Fall League can be one of a player’s last stops before called up to the Big Show. Last year’s Arizona Fall League MVP Ronald Acuna has made a splash in the majors this year as an outfielder for the Braves. Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres won the award in 2016. Dodgers first baseman and 2017 National League Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger also played in the AFL in 2016. Former league MVP’s include Kris Bryant (2013) and Nolan Arenado (2011).
Who takes the trophy?
Last year, the Peoria Javelinas defeated the Mesa Solar Sox 8-2 in the championship game. While it’s silly to make any predictions before the rosters come out, some foresight can be gained by looking at the talent pools available to each team.
Peoria will likely be the favorite again, retaining the top two farm systems in baseball — the Padres and the Braves — according to MLB Pipeline. The Javelinas boast three of the top five systems, swapping the fifth-ranked Blue Jays for the fourth-ranked Rays from the Surprise Sahuaros.
The Glendale Desert Dogs are the only other team with three teams in MLB Pipeline’s top 10: the White Sox (3), Dodgers (8) and Yankees (10). The Scottsdale Scorpions have two: the Reds (7) and Astros (9). Surprise, with the fifth-ranked Blue Jays, and the Salt River Rafters, with the sixth-ranked Twins, each have one. The Solar Sox, last year’s East Division winners, don’t have any teams with a top-10 minor league system.