Every year since 1992, the Arizona Fall League had been an outstanding development tool for all 30 teams, a place for the top prospects in the game to refine their craft and often jump to the big leagues in the following seasons.
That run ended, of course, during the pandemic-altered 2020 season. But the AFL will be back and as good as ever in 2021, returning as Major League Baseball’s “finishing school.”
The 2021 campaign will begin on Wednesday, Oct. 13 and will consist of 30 regular-season games. The annual Fall Stars Game, the Futures Game of the AFL, is back and will be held on Saturday, Nov. 13. The Championship Game will take place one week later, on Nov. 20.
In 2019, the AFL had shifted its start time to late September to better align with player development schedules of the Major League clubs. In the past, the October start date would mean prospects would be shut down for a stretch and then would have to crank it back up to play in the AFL. But with the Minor League season this year not starting until May and the playoffs extending late into September, a return to the old October starting time made more sense.
Each Major League team will send seven players to fill the rosters of the six teams. Teams who have their Spring Training home at any of the six ballparks in operation for the AFL will have their prospects assigned to those squads -- Glendale (Dodgers, White Sox), Mesa (Cubs, A’s), Scottsdale (Giants), Salt River (D-backs, Rockies), Peoria (Mariners, Padres) and Surprise (Rangers, Royals).
“We are excited about the return of the Arizona Fall League as a continued resource to our 30 clubs in the development of their top prospects on their journey to the big leagues,” said Chuck Fox, Major League Baseball’s senior director of baseball and softball development, who will help oversee operations of the league.
Major League Baseball is currently reviewing COVID protocols to determine fan and media access, which will be an evolving process.
Since its inception, the AFL has been churning out superstars with countless players going on to be All-Stars, Rookies of the Year, MVPs and Cy Young Award winners. The alumni roll counts three players enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown: Roy Halladay (AFL 1998), Derek Jeter (1994), and Mike Piazza (1992). Around 60 percent of AFL players have made a Major League roster. There were more than 40 players who once played in the AFL who were named to this year’s All-Star Game, including MVP Vladimir Guerrero.
“For me, the AFL was one of the best experiences I had playing and getting to know a lot of other players I had been playing against for a few years at that point,” said Twins top prospect and 2019 AFL MVP Royce Lewis, who is currently rehabbing a season-ending ACL tear.
“Playing against some of the top competition in the top tiers of Minor League Baseball, it felt like we were playing in games that mattered, even though we had just met each other. I used it as a chance to better myself and my game against Major League-type competition to see where I was at and how I sized up. I took it as being one step closer to the be-all, end-all goal of being a big leaguer. When you get invited to the AFL, you’re one step away and shows just how close you are.”