The Arizona Fall League is, first and foremost, a developmental league that helps Minor League prospects get to the big leagues. But no league is complete without a championship. The icing on the AFL cake will take place today at 11 a.m. MST at Salt River Fields between the Salt River Rafters and Surprise Saguaros and can be viewed live on MLB.com.
While there is no question players enjoy the low-key atmosphere of the league and the ability to quietly get their work done, there’s no question their competitive nature kicks in. Some have had Oct. 26 circled on the calendar for some time.
"That's what we came here for, to get a ring," Twins top prospect Royce Lewis said. "I remember [Salt River manager Keith Johnson] saying Day 1, as soon as we got here after our meeting, 'Congrats for being a champion.' And we were all like, 'What are you talking about?' and he was like, 'You're the champions.'
"So that was our goal from Day 1 and we've been working real hard as a team ... Now we're getting after it, and that's exciting."
The Rafters have four Top 100 prospects, led by Lewis, who is ranked No. 9. Rays infielder Vidal Brujan is No. 39 overall while fellow Ray, right-hander Shane Baz, is ranked No. 94 and D-backs first baseman Seth Beer comes in at No. 96.
The Saguaros, for their part, have a pair of Top 100 prospects in Royals lefty Daniel Lynch (No. 69) and Nationals infielder Luis Garcia (No. 91). Lynch hasn’t pitched since Oct. 19 and is line to take the mound on Saturday. Twins right-hander Dakota Chalmers should get the ball for Salt River.
Surprise broke out of the gate early and took a commanding lead in the West, though it has limped to the finish lately, with a four-game losing streak as of Thursday’s games. Salt River clinched on Monday and both teams had identical 16-11 records heading into action on Thursday.
The Rafters have the best offense in the league, at least according to team OPS (.750), total bases and runs scored. The Saguaros have hit just .217 with a .636 OPS, but have the superior pitching staff with a league-leading 3.03 ERA and the second-best WHIP (1.20). Salt River finished fifth with a team 3.93 ERA.
The Rafters offense is led by Lewis, who has hit .359 with a 1.010 OPS, both good for second in the AFL. He’s also hit three home runs, driven in 19 runs (third in the league) and stolen five bases. Rays outfielder Josh Lowe gives Salt River another hitter who is in the top 10 in OPS (.937). Young D-backs shortstop Geraldo Perdomo (.329/.424/.434) has also been impressive.
Surprise’s offense has been led by Royals outfielder Kyle Isbel, who has hit .333/.435/.464 with six steals. Garcia, one of the youngest players in the league at 19, has also performed well, with a .292/.361/.403 line.
On the mound, Chalmers has placed sixth in the league in strikeouts, with 25 in 17 2/3 innings. Lynch has a 3.86 ERA over 14 innings and outside of getting hit in his last outing, has shown some of the best stuff in the Fall League.