The Arizona Fall League has concluded it’s always entertaining season for yet another year, with Surprise surprising everyone and winning by pitching after having spent the previous twenty-five games hammering opponents into submission with their bats. On a day when the Solar Sox’ starter Dallas Beeler was plenty sharp (possibly earning himself a look by the pleasantly busy Cubs, who appear to be rolling in their prospect riches), giving up just one run on two hits and a walk through five innings, it’s a good thing for the Saguaros that they happened to bring their pitching game on Saturday. After scoring in excess of six runs per game on average throughout the AFL circuit heading into the championship, Surprise was expected to give the Solar Sox and their league-best 3.24 ERA an excellent strength vs. strength matchup; the potent Sags offense versus the dominant Sox starters. As is often the case with a championship on the line (even one that doesn’t come with a trophy) the long statistical game of baseball changes dramatically when reduced to a single game. AFL MVP and top dreamy-eyed prospect Kris Bryant went 0-4 with two Ks, the first game in the circuit that he failed to reach base. Orioles prospects came out of the woodwork after posting fairly lackluster numbers through the short season. One-and-done Games, man…
Closing their season with a nigh-heroic seven game win streak, the Salt River Rafters marched dominantly into second place to close the AFL season after never quite challenging the also surging Mesa Solar Sox, winning six of their own in a row to keep their half-game lead. It was a tenuous week for fans of either team but a truly awful outcome for the players and fans of the Rafters, who did nothing but win and ‘couldn’t catch a break.’ It seems as if the Rafters were destined to lose, or if one looks at it positively, the Solar Sox were destined to win. This obviously isn’t true; the Sox’ team of top prospects played slightly better baseball earlier in the season and therefore are obviously deserving of their placement in the championship game against the hard-hitting Surprise Saguaros, but the point that I am laboriously making is that it was only slightly.
With three games left in the Arizona Fall League, you could be forgiven for expecting the players to be showing a bit more fatigue. With many of the roster spots going to prospects who played the entire regular season in the minors, it would be understandable to see less hustle and less highlight catches, it must be harder to focus and get the big hit toward the end of such a grind. Watching yesterday’s games play out around the AFL, if there were any tired players out there I would need to have them pointed out.
Today, the Salt River Rafters will head to Glendale to play the Desert Dogs in the first part of a two-game tilt that could very well decide the fate of the season of either team.
In basketball the athletes chosen in the first round are expected to contribute immediately, meaning that a draft can change the chances of success for a team with a shrewd first round selection. This is not usually the case in baseball, where it often takes a year or two before a draftee is even mentioned amongst an organization’s top prospects, even in weaker minor league systems. The development of pitching and the difficulty of hitting said improving pitching necessitates a slow and gradual build toward the crescendo of the Major Leagues. Cubs 3B Kris Bryant still appears to be waiting for that challenge to present itself, despite the fact that he’s been facing live pitching since January. In the Arizona Fall League last night, Kris Bryant got a single hit in the Solar Sox’ contest against the Surprise Saguaros, bringing his AFL wRC+ up to a Miggian 213. He also kept alive a streak that has reached 20 games spanning back into the regular season, including each of the 17 AFL games he’s played in, where he’s reached base safely.