The Arizona Fall League was started in 1992 by Major League Baseball to serve as a developmental tool to get the game’s top Minor Leaguers ready for a career in the Majors. That ultimate objective won’t change in 2019, but some changes are coming for the fall finishing school.
Major League Baseball announced several changes on Tuesday, the biggest of which is when the league’s games will be played. For years, the schedule has run from early October through the middle of November. This year, everything gets moved up, with opening day slated for Tuesday, Sept. 17, and the championship game scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 27. The annual Fall Stars Game will be held on Saturday, Oct. 12.
The main rationale for the change is to make the Fall League more of a continuation of the season, which player development staffs prefer, rather than having to shut down players after the Minor League season ends, and then get them going again for the AFL. Bill Bavasi, who takes over overseeing all operations of the AFL from Steve Cobb, who had served as the league’s director since 1993, said it was an easy call to listen to the wishes of the 30 clubs that send players to the league each fall.
“It’s nothing more than what the clubs want and need,” said Bavasi, who has held a variety of baseball operations roles, including director of the MLB Scouting Bureau and general manager of the Angels and Mariners. “Having done it myself for a while at the player development level, it’s real hard to have those kids go down for an extended period, cool down, then go to Arizona and re-heat, so to speak.
“It’s not any more complicated than that. It’s just trying to get those players to go straight from the end of their Minor League seasons. It also gets the players done three weeks earlier, gets them off the field and lengthens the period they have for the offseason.”
The other main change to the operating procedures for the league is the removal of restrictions for players who are eligible to be sent to the AFL by MLB clubs. In the past, the league was mostly limited to Double- and Triple-A players, with one player below Double-A allowed per Major League team. One foreign player was allowed per team, and no players with more than one year of credited Major League service as of Aug. 31 were eligible (recent Rule 5 selections were the exception). There were even rules about how long players needed to be off the Minor League injured list before the end of their season to be eligible. All of these restrictions have been lifted, at least for 2019, as these changes will be reviewed after this season has concluded.
“The lifting of restrictions, the general managers approved it, but conditionally. Let’s try it this year and then evaluate at the end of the year,” Bavasi said. “That might have an interesting result. The position players will still be strong, but it might lift the pitching a little bit. It could be a way to get the pitching a little bit better.”
“There might be a guy or two they felt couldn’t qualify because he didn’t get off the [IL] in time,” he continued. “Now, if you think he’s ready, bring him on. If we can get a few weeks out of a top prospect that’s fun to see, that might make it more interesting. I think it’s great we’re trying it.”
The six-team league will play games at four venues this fall, instead of the usual six, thanks to facility renovations planned at Surprise Stadium and Scottsdale Stadium. As a result, there will be two teams each at Salt River Fields (Salt River Rafters and Scottsdale Scorpions) and the Peoria Sports Complex (Peoria Javelinas and Surprise Saguaros), while the Mesa Solar Sox will continue to call Sloan Park home and the Glendale Desert Dogs will play home games at Camelback Ranch.