Rays, D-backs pair win weekly AFL honors

November 16th, 2021

SCOTTSDALE -- The Arizona Fall League is in the homestretch of the 2021 season, with the championship game closing things out this Saturday. But while the end is near, that’s not stopping players from putting on a final stamp performance-wise.

D-backs infielder Buddy Kennedy and Rays right-hander Caleb Sampen are certainly making a good last impression, performing well enough to earn Pitcher and Hitter of the Week honors in the league’s penultimate week in games from Nov. 8 through Nov. 12.

After a very strong 2021 season that saw him hit 22 homers and steal 16 bases between High-A and Double-A, Kennedy started his Fall League off slowly but is finishing it on fire. The infielder went 7-for-14 last week with two doubles, a homer and three RBIs leading to a .500/.533/.857 line for the Salt River Rafters.

“It was a later start for me because I had COVID prior to coming here,” Kennedy said. “My body just wasn’t in it. Then starting, I’ll say last week, I started really seeing the fastball well, not chasing anything out of my zone. Everything’s been really good; I kind of just have a positive mindset, have fun with it, enjoy it, finish strong and go into the offseason with a good outlook and ready for 2022.”

Kennedy hit in all four games he played in, and three of them were two-hit performances, starting with a two-hit game that included his second homer of the AFL and ending the week with a two-double, two-RBI game on Friday. The 2017 fifth-rounder has hit in seven of his eight games in November (.333/.382/.600) with both of his home runs and all six of his RBIs coming this month to help offset a rough start (2-for-17 in five October games).

“One of my first games, I punched out five times,” Kennedy said. “That’s baseball. Going from being two weeks off to a month then and trying to get into things, these guys throw 95-97 mph consistently. ... I was just getting back into my rhythm, being calm at the plate, being relaxed. When I’m relaxed and everything is going good, that’s when I’m at my best. When I’m itchy and twitchy with my body, I know that everything’s off. I have to get back to being relaxed and having fun.”

Sampen, in Arizona to make up for lost innings as injuries allowed him to only amass 20 2/3 during the regular season, is having his own fun in his final outings. He was perfect last Tuesday, Nov. 9, tossing four innings without allowing a baserunner, striking out four, including the last two batters he faced.

It was the second straight strong outing for the right-hander, who was originally drafted by the Dodgers out of Wright State in the 20th round of the 2018 Draft and traded to the Rays in Jan. 2019. His first start of November came on Nov. 3, when he gave up one run on two hits and struck out four over three innings, again walking none. After a rough start to the fall (7.36 ERA in three October outings spanning 7 1/3 IP), Sampen has a 1.29 ERA in his seven innings of work this month, with no walks and the eight K’s.