2012 Arizona Fall League Preview
The 20th season of the Arizona Fall League (AFL) gets underway today. This means that top prospects and potential near future Major League players from every organization will get a chance to hone their skills against some of the top competition in the minors. Most importantly, it gives every player a chance to show off their abilities to tons of baseball executives and scouts from every organization over a seven week period of games.
The AFL originally started back in 1992 as an alternative to some of the offseason leagues in the Caribbean. MLB teams created the AFL to provide a more easily accessible offseason league so teams could better monitor their minor league players and give the players an option to continue playing baseball stateside in the offseason.
By having a league that is governed and monitored by MLB it helps ensure players are used appropriately and that any injuries to players are handled correctly. MLB teams provide all of the managers, coaches and training staff in order to help ensure players get the best care and instruction. The creation of the AFL also helped reduce costs for teams with regard to travel for offseason leagues and provide better scouting opportunities.
The AFL is not just for the players as it is also a great development opportunity for coaches and managers with big league aspirations, and it allowed umpires in the Umpire Development Program to get more experience as well. But in the end it is still almost all about the players.
Five MLB organizations make up each of the six AFL teams and each MLB team sends seven players to their AFL team for a total of 35 players per team. The Indians are partnered up with the Angels, Yankees, Pirates, and Giants to make up the Scottsdale Scorpions roster. While each team has 35 players, only 30 players are active. The other five players are deemed “taxi-squad” players, which are players that are only eligible to play on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
As to who is selected to go, Major League teams hold a position draft in August to determine who goes and who the priority players will be at each position on each team. Most of the players that are sent are considered near Major League ready options or players that a team wants to see play in a more competitive environment.
There are some specific rules that apply in regard to who a team can send to the AFL, though at times there are exceptions made to these rules. The rules are as follows:
- 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 1st.
- Only 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 31st 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.
The eight players that the Indians are sending to the AFL this year are right-handed pitchers Shawn Armstrong and Trey Haley, left-handed pitchers T.J. House and Matt Packer, catcher Alex Monsalve, shortstop Ronny Rodriguez, and outfielders Tyler Holt and Carlos Moncrief.
Here is a quick capsule on each of the eight players the Indians are set to send to the AFL.
Armstrong, 22, is a right-handed reliever who just finished his first full season in pro ball with a 1.60 ERA, 2.88 FIP, and 10.4 SO/9 in 67.2 innings between Lake County, Carolina, and Akron. One might think that Armstrong had a disappointing season since he was picked in the 18th round of the 2011 draft, five rounds ahead of another reliever, Cody Allen, who has already made it to the majors, but that would be wrong. Not many players make it to the AA-level in their first season and Armstrong is on the fast track to Cleveland as one of the high profile relievers in the system.
Haley, 22, is one of the best arms in the Indians organization. If only he had any command. Between rookie ball, Carolina, and Akron, Haley struck out 49 batters in 38.2 innings in 2012, but walked 19, hit seven batters, and uncorked 11 wild pitches. More often than not, Haley managed to get out of trouble (2.33 ERA), but that wildness is something he needs to work on. The good news is Haley is exactly the sort of impact arm that the Indians need and he may still find his way into the starting rotation. For now, though, Haley will see if he can strikeout some of the best hitters in the minors at the AFL.
Holt, 23, does not have the greatest tools out there, but he is certainly one of the hardest working players in the Indians organization. He is a defense-first, light-hitting centerfielder, but Holt knows how to get on-base and set the table for the middle of the order. Holt also has the speed to steal bases, though he needs to get his success rate (70.7 percent in 2012) closer to his 2011 rate (85.0 percent) so he can more efficiently help his team. There is no denying Holt has enough talent and work ethic to succeed and he will get a chance to show what he can do in front of plenty of scouts in the AFL.
House, 23, enjoyed one of the best bounce-back seasons in the Tribe's organization this year. He struggled mightily in 2010 and 2011, leaving doubt that he would ever be able to put it all together. For once, though, the "best shape of my life" storyline actually helped things, as House showed up to Spring Training in great shape and posted a 3.56 ERA, 3.54 FIP, and 2.32 SO:BB in 149.1 innings between Carolina and Akron. The left-hander does not have the greatest stuff and he may end up in the bullpen long-term. The Indians will get a preview of what that will look like as he will be pitching as a reliever in the AFL.
Moncrief, 23, might have the most raw tools in the Indians organization, though he is still learning to harness them. This was only Moncrief's third season as an outfielder, as he originally was a pitcher. That rawness shows itself in Moncrief's strikeout total (126 in 101 games), but his overall line at Carolina this year (.249/.339/.465 slash line, 15 HR, 53 RBI, 17 SB) gives a glimpse of what he is capable of becoming. Moncrief may not start the AFL on time after breaking his hamate bone in August, but since he has not been removed from the roster yet, there is a chance he will play later in the season.
Monsalve, 20, is the Tribe's only catcher in the AFL. He started the season repeating in Lake County but he was promoted to Carolina later in the season to take Jake Lowery's spot. Monsalve could have had a better season at the plate (.256/.311/.373 slash line, 8 HR, 21 2B, 42 RBI in 107 games), but there is still plenty of projection and power left in his bat. There is also plenty of room for Monsalve to grow defensively, as he has only played the position for a few years. Monsalve is does not have a high floor, but if things break right, he could be one of the rare power hitting defensive catchers in baseball.
Packer, 25, will be the Tribe's only starting pitcher in the AFL. He was supposed to go to the AFL last year, but the Indians pulled him out due to workload restrictions. There should be no such limits on Packer this season as he did not pitch until late June due to a shoulder injury. The left-hander could have had a better season once he got to the AAA-level (5.50 ERA, 5.36 FIP, 1.64 SO:BB in 34.1 innings), but his overall season between rookie ball, Carolina, Akron, and Columbus could have worse (3.70 ERA, 4.13 FIP, 2.94 SO:BB in 65.2 innings). Like House, Packer does not have great stuff, but he makes up for it with control and command.
Rodriguez, 20, came into the season as IPI's ninth-best prospect. After the year he had in High-A Carolina, Rodriguez will likely be ranked even higher. Rodriguez posted a .264/.300/.452 slash line, hit 19 home runs, drove in 66 runs, and scored 67 runs in 2012 and is one of the numerous high-end shortstops the Indians have in their system. It is no small feat to hit 19 home runs in the Carolina League - especially at the Mudcats' home stadium - and Rodriguez now has 30 home runs in his first 224 games at a full season affiliate. That power could be the final tool that makes Rodriguez a five-tool player going forward and he an important one to watch in the AFL.
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