So, what actually is the Arizona Fall League anyway?
The morning after the last out of the World Series is recorded, reality begins to set in: There's no baseball for four more months. In one sense, that is true. We do have to wait until February to see the 30 Major League teams back in action at Spring Training. But we don't have to wait nearly as long for high-quality baseball that is worth our attention -- in fact, we don't have to wait at all!
The Arizona Fall League has already been underway for a few weeks, with six teams comprised of some of the best prospects in all of baseball competing for a Fall League title. The championship game between the teams with the best records in the East and West divisions will be played on Nov. 17 in Scottsdale.
So what exactly is the Arizona Fall League? Here's a quick FAQ to get you up to speed on the best baseball league you might know nothing about.
What is the purpose of the Arizona Fall League?
Think of it like prospect graduate school. If the Minor League regular season is undergrad where all players are challenged across several levels, the AFL is a chance for a select group of prospects to add to their resume and compete against greater competition before entering the real world known as Major League Baseball. This concentration of elite Minor League talent is rivaled only by the All-Star Futures Game, which is only one exhibition game in the middle of the summer. The AFL offers a full schedule of games for prospects to test themselves against fellow near-big league ready talent.
In addition, the AFL is also an opportunity for Minor League managers, coaches and even umpires to develop their skills as they themselves to try climb the baseball ladder and make it to the Majors.
Why are there only six teams?
With each Major League team only sending between 6-8 players, each AFL team is made up of prospects from five different organizations -- and which MLB teams are matched up with the AFL teams can change each season. This year, for example, the Scottsdale Scorpions feature players from the Reds, Astros, Mets, Phillies and Giants, whereas last year, the Red Sox played for the Scorpions instead of the Phillies.
These ever-changing combinations of teams result in six mini Minor League All-Star teams competing for a whole month. And sometimes, the stars align and you get two uber-prospects on the same team, like when Mike Trout and Bryce Harper played together for Scottsdale back in 2011.
How long has the AFL been a thing?
This is the 27th year of the AFL, with the first season taking place back in 1992.
Who is playing in this league right now that I should care about?
You may have heard a little something about a young third baseman named Vladimir Guerrero Jr. over the last year or so -- he's playing for the Surprise Saguaros. Through Wednesday's game, not-so-little Vladdy has recorded the most hits thus far in the entire league with 25 and has only struck out three times in 66 at-bats. He also did something in the Fall Stars Game that very few big leaguers did all season -- hit a ball 117 mph:
It isn't just Vlad Jr. who is down in Arizona putting on a show. Top Brewers prospect Keston Hiura is crushing it to the tune of .352/.405/.592 with four home runs. 21-year-old Astros right-hander Forrest Whitley, the top pitching prospect in all of baseball, has struck out 23 batters in 17 strong innings. Fourteen other Top 100 prospects are also competing in the AFL.
But really, any league that features Vlad Jr. is a league worth watching.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., my goodness. pic.twitter.com/ux6qOJyPGC- Josh Norris (@jnorris427) October 11, 2018
How can I watch the Arizona Fall League?
While most games are not televised, you can follow every AFL game pitch-by-pitch on Gameday and rediscover the joy of "In play, (runs)." The Fall Stars Game took place last Saturday and was broadcast on MLB Network, and featured the kind of action you would expect to see in a game jam-packed with elite talent. Blue Jays prospect Nate Pearson's fastball touched 103 mph -- and Mets prospect Peter Alonso had no trouble hitting it out of the park:
Rays shortstop prospect Lucius Fox showed off some slick defense:
There was even late-inning drama, as the West came back in the bottom of the ninth and walked it off courtesy of Meibrys Viloria and his epic bat flip:
On Nov. 10, the Military Appreciation Game between Salt River and Mesa will also be broadcast on MLB Network and MLB.com at 9 p.m. ET. The championship game on Nov. 17 will also be televised.
This sounds awesome! Why don't more people pay attention to this?!
That's a great question! Not having the games televised may make it hard to get properly invested the AFL action, but history shows that those who get good grades in this prospect graduate school have a great chance to become household names at the Major League level. A year ago, a young outfielder named Ronald Acuna Jr. was blowing away the competition in the AFL in front of a few hundred fans a night. Less than a year later, there he was in the postseason, hitting a dramatic grand slam against the Dodgers:
Now, you don't want to get too caught up in AFL statistics. One of the very few slumps of Mike Trout's entire career was his month in the AFL, where he hit .245/.279/.321 in 106 at-bats. Players sometimes struggle with fatigue as they play into November, and that must always be considered when evaluating AFL performance.
But by and large, starring in the AFL is a strong indicator of future big league success. Acuna Jr. won the AFL MVP. Kris Bryant won the award in 2013. Nolan Arenado won it in 2011.
The next perennial All-Stars might be playing right now in the Arizona Fall League. Now's the time to jump in so you can say you knew these players before they were cool.
Anything else I need to know about the AFL?
Yes. This video!