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When Young Jr. thinks AFL, he thinks slams

Mets outfielder hit two grand slams, including an inside-the-parker, in 2008

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Eric Young Jr. remembers it clearly even now, six years later: Bases loaded, two outs. Ball in the gap. The center fielder dove for it. Couldn't reach it. Ball rolled to the wall. Everyone came around to score.

Inside-the-park grand slam.

"That's why I remember it real well," Young said, grinning.

For Young, that October 2008 memory was the highlight of his time in the Arizona Fall League, coming five days before he launched another slam -- this time more conventionally over the fence -- in a sensational month that boosted his prospect status. At the time a 23-year-old Rockies prospect known more for his family tree -- Eric Sr. was a big league star -- than his own statistics, Young hit .430 that autumn for the Phoenix Desert Dogs with five home runs, 20 steals and a .504 on-base percentage in 31 games. And all that despite stiff competition from highly rated Major League hopefuls scattered across the metro Phoenix landscape.

The Arizona Fall League typically pits the game's upper-level top prospects together for a month's worth of games in a low-stress environment, or as low-stress as possible with scouts watching their every move. Recent Mets alumni of the program include second baseman Daniel Murphy (2008), outfielders Kirk Nieuwenhuis (2010), Juan Lagares (2011), Cesar Puello (2012) and Cory Vaughn, who hit .250 with one home run in 22 games last season.

"It's relaxed, but most of the top prospects are there -- whoever the teams deem their best," Young said. "You're still out there competing pretty good. You can go out there and focus on what you need to focus on. We had a good time. Obviously you can't beat the weather at that time of year, and you're still playing baseball."

Other Mets alumni of the program include Ike Davis, who hit .341 for the Surprise Rafters in 2009, alongside Lucas Duda, who played in two games that same year. And the league is not just beneficial for players. Current third-base coach Tim Teufel served as hitting coach for the Scottsdale Scorpions in 2007; five years later, the Mets plucked him from the Minors for a spot on their big league coaching staff.

Many participants, such as Davis, live and train in Arizona during the winter anyway, so playing in the Arizona Fall League is a natural fit. A former first-round pick, Davis relished the chance not only to battle some of the game's other elite prospects back in 2009, but also to do so a few dozen miles from his childhood home and his college campus.

"It was an awesome experience, playing against the best players who haven't really broken into the Majors," Davis said. "I got to play at home, which was awesome. I think it's a great way to showcase talent in the Minor Leagues."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo.

New York Mets, Eric Young