The Arizona Fall League began play yesterday. The league was founded back in 1992 as a way to give young minor league players a way to extend their season without playing in winter ball or traveling long distances. It is often described as a “finishing school” giving a bevy of young players not only an opportunity to extend their seasons but compete against elite players and continue to work on the skill set that they were developing during the 2018 season.
The league itself is owned and operated by Major League Baseball and includes top young players from all of the 30 MLB teams. It is a two-division, six team league with the Mesa Solar Sox, Salt River Rafters and Scottsdale Scorpions in the East Division and the Glendale Desert Dogs, Peoria Javelinas and Surprise Saguaros in the West Division.
Dodger fans will be most interested in the Glendale Desert Dogs of the West Division which has representatives chosen by five MLB teams including the Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, and the New York Yankees. Each Major League team provides seven players who together fill out the 35-man rosters of the six teams. Additionally, teams may elect to send taxi squad players who are only eligible on Wednesdays and Saturdays and most useful with pitchers.
MLB teams also provide managers, coaches, and trainers for the six teams. Justin Viele is the hitting coach for the Glendale Desert Dogs coming off his championship season with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes of the High-A California League. Former Dodger, infielder Dave Anderson, is the manager of the Desert Dogs.
The eligibility rules to compete in the AFL are relatively simple:
- All Triple-A and Double-A players are eligible, provided the players are on at least a Double-A level roster no later than August 1.
- One player below the Double-A level is allowed per Major League team.
- One foreign player is allowed, as long as the player does not reside in a country that participates in winter ball, as part of the Caribbean Confederation or the Australian winter league.
- No players with more than one year of credited Major League service as of August 31 are eligible, except a team may select one player picked in the most recently concluded Major League Rule 5 Draft.
- To be eligible, players on Minor League disabled lists must be activated at least 45 days before the conclusion of their respective seasons.
As a side note, the league has its own Hall of Fame that was established in 2001. Former Dodger Mike Piazza is a member of the initial HOF class from 2001. To date he is the only member of the AZL Hall of Fame to become a member of the MLB Hall of Fame.
This year’s Dodgers minor leaguers selected to participate in the AZL are an interesting mix including pitchers Ben Holmes, Andre Scrubb, Jordan Sheffield and Nolan Long, catcher Keibert Ruiz, infielders Jared Walker and Errol Robinson along with outfielder Cody Thomas.
Holmes was signed by the Dodgers in early July after he had been released by the Jupiter Hammerheads of the Advanced A Florida State League. After a stop with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in which he posted a 1.06 ERA over 17 innings he was assigned to the Tulsa Drillers and became a significant piece in their championship run. With the Drillers he pitched 38.1 innings with an ERA of 2.82 and a WHIP of 0.97. The interesting part of his selection to the Glendale Desert Dogs is that he is now 27 years old but may well be a late blooming left-hander given new life in the Dodgers organization.
He no doubt will be working on continuing his adjustments made since joining the Dodgers organization.” I think it’s all really been an adjustment for the past month,” Holmes said. “I’ve learned how to be a brand-new pitcher since coming over from the Marlins. It’s been one big constant adjustment, but it’s been a lot of fun. I’m learning a lot and meeting a lot of really cool guys.”
Scrubb is a 6’4”/265-pounds right-hander who was selected by the Dodgers in the eighth round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of High Point University. On the season he posted a 2.86 ERA along with a 1.25 WHIP. He struck out 72 in 63 innings pitched while walking 32 with time split between the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and Tulsa Drillers. The 23-year-old native of Woodbridge, Virginia most likely needs to cut down on his walks to progress to the next level and look to get on the Dodgers 40-man roster.
Long was selected by the Dodgers in the 16th round of the 2015 First Year Player Draft out of Wagner College on Staten Island in the state of New York. He had previously been picked in the 38th round of the 2012 draft by the San Francisco Giants after his senior season at Waterford High School.
The 24-year-old right-hander has completed four seasons in the Dodgers organization. His 2018 season had two chapters. The first with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes was one of dominance in which he posted a 1.03 ERA over 35 innings pitched along with a 0.86 WHIP. In a like number of innings with the Tulsa Drillers the 6’10”/255-pound Long saw his ERA balloon to 5.05 yet he had a fairly good WHIP at 1.21 and on the season gave up only 44 hits in a total of 70.2 innings. His difficulty seemed to be pitching well with runners in scoring position.
Sheffield, 23, was selected by the Dodgers in the competitive balance round in 2016 and 36th overall out of Vanderbilt University. The 5’10”/190-pound right-hander has found the going rough throughout his three-year minor league career. During the 2018 season with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes he posted a 6.32 ERA and a 1.68 WHIP over 37.1 innings pitched. To be fair he missed the entire months of June and July as well as one-half of May, so the 2018 season is perhaps not a good barometer of where he can go. Upon his return in 2018 he made nine relief appearances allowing no runs in seven of them. His role as a relief pitcher was either to ease him back into action or was a change in direction from starting to relief. The AFL will afford him the opportunity of getting in some additional meaningful work
Ruiz is currently ranked second on the Dodgers Top 30 Prospects list so he needs little introduction. Just turning 20 in July he played the entire 2018 season with the AA Tulsa Drillers. On the season he hit .268 along with 12 home runs and 47 runs batted in. In August the 6’0’/200-pound switch hitter hit a robust .341 with three home runs and 17 runs batted in. In the postseason he hit .333 with two home runs and eight runs batted in over eight games. One of his hits was a walk off single. On the season behind the plate he made but four errors in 783 total chances for a .995 fielding percentage. The AFL provides him with an opportunity to handle more elite pitching behind the plate.
Robinson was selected by the Dodgers in the sixth round of the 2016 June Draft out of the University of Mississippi. During the 2018 campaign with the Drillers he hit .247 with 10 home runs and 50 runs batted in. Not noted for his power the 10 home runs were a bit of a surprise. Noted for his defense the 6’0’/180-pound shortstop is considered to be the best infield defender in the Dodgers minor league season. Now 24, the right-handed hitting Robinson also played some second base and third base with the Drillers.
Although he was selected by the Dodgers way back in the 2014 Amateur Draft in the sixth round he is still only 22 and has developed the power that perhaps was expected when he was drafted out of high school. On the season between Great Lakes and Rancho Cucamonga the left handed hitting Walker hit .255 with an OBP of .365 along with 25 home runs and 75 runs batted in. His .980 OPS with the Quakes would have been league leading if he had enough at bats to qualify. At one point with the Quakes he homered in five consecutive games. Initially a third baseman, the 6’2”/195-pound native of Powder Springs, Georgia has transitioned primarily to first base where he posted a .990 fielding percentage in 2018.
Thomas, who just turned 23 on October 8, was selected by the Dodgers in the 13th round of the 2016 Amateur Draft out of the University of Oklahoma. The left-handed hitting outfielder, who throws right-handed, hit 19 home runs with the Quakes along with 35 doubles. His 87 runs batted in were second most in the league. The 6’4”/211-pound Thomas led the league in total bases with 248 while finishing second with 82 runs. On the year he hit .285 with an OBP of .355. He has hit at least 19 home runs in each of his three minor league seasons. We can expect Thomas, or perhaps Jared Walker, to represent the Glendale Desert Dogs in the Bowman Hitting Challenge on October 13.