The Arizona Fall League will be commemorating its 20th anniversary thoughout this fall's campaign, and once again, the elite finishing school for prospects has assembled an impressive collection of Minor League talent to celebrate in style.
A total of 24 players currently on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospect list are on the rosters announced on Wednesday, led by Minors stolen-base record holder Billy Hamilton of the Reds, Anthony Rendon of the Nationals and the Marlins' Christian Yelich, all of whom are in the top 30.
Hamilton, who set the single-season Minor League stolen-base record this year and has 154 steals as of Tuesday, will be trying out a new position in Arizona. A shortstop up until this point as a professional, Hamilton will be seeing time in the outfield while playing for the Peoria Javelinas. Many scouts believe Hamilton is best suited for center field, and this could be the first step toward a full-time transition to the outfield for the speedster.
Changing positions is nothing new for Fall Leaguers. Just ask Grant Green. The A's prospect, No. 76 on the Top 100, will be playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs for the third consecutive season. And he'll be doing so at his third position. The former first-rounder was still a shortstop when he made his first AFL appearance in 2010. A year ago, he played the outfield after moving to center midway through the '11 season. This time, Green will see time exclusively at second base after playing there for most of the final month of the Minor League season.
"It's a good opportunity to not just show the A's, but show everybody I can play multiple positions," Green said about his third AFL tour. "They told me it'll be just to play second. I like that aspect in that I won't have to play short or outfield again. I'll be able to work with our roving infield instructor, get more comfortable with the position, get more game-time innings in rather than practice. That's what I'm really happy about. You still want to win every game possible, but if you make a mistake here or there, it's not life or death in the Fall League."
There may have been a part of Green that wasn't thrilled about heading to Phoenix for a third straight season, but the pros outweighed the cons for the 24-year-old, who hopes to earn a spot on Oakland's 40-man roster this offseason.
"I understood where they were coming from, but at the same time, I've been there three years and it would've been nice to have a full offseason," Green said. "But I completely understand where they're coming from and what they want me to do. If it's going to help me with the organization, let's roll with it."
Fellow infielder Kolten Wong of the Cardinals feels the same way. The 2011 first-round Draft pick and current No. 87 prospect is certainly feeling the impact of his first full season. But there was no hesitation when the second baseman out of the University of Hawaii was asked about playing for the Surprise Rafters.
"The way I look at it, everyone playing in the big leagues, they're playing the same amount of games and they're pushing through it," said Wong, who's spent the year with Double-A Springfield. "If I want to do that as my job, I have to be able to do that. I'm just going to keep playing and do my best. The Cardinals want me to get a significant amount of games to get me ready to handle a long season. I was excited when I got the call, I wanted to see how many games I could play, how much I could push myself. I wanted to push myself to get ready."
Over the past few years, the Fall League has had a growing number of recent draftees participate to get them ready for their first full seasons of pro ball.
In 2011, No. 1 pick Gerrit Cole and No. 2 pick Danny Hultzen headlined a list of five first-rounders from that June's Draft. With the signing deadline then in mid-August, the AFL often proved to be the first unofficial taste of professional baseball for these future stars. With the new rules, particularly the earlier signing deadline, this year's Draft class got to go out and play, making it less likely for them to head to Arizona. As a result, there are only two 2012 draftees currently on rosters: No. 3 overall pick Mike Zunino of the Mariners and the Rays' Richie Shaffer (No. 25). There are, however, a total of 33 former first-round picks from Drafts over the years heading to Arizona.
Players from 10 countries -- Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Curacao, the Dominican Republic, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, South Korea and Taiwan -- will also be on hand.
The biggest objective for the AFL, which begins play on Oct. 9, is to get participants ready for the big leagues, of course. All the players on this year's rosters know the track record of the league: that a large majority of alumni go on to play in the big leagues, many in the following season.
"They're sending me up there to see if I can handle it," Wong said. "Whenever that call comes, I'll be ready and excited. Until that time, I'm just going to be trying to get better. I'm a little tired, but my body feels really good."
Player eligibility rules:
Roster size is established at 35 players per team.
Each Major League organization is required to provide seven players, subject to the following eligibility requirements:
All Triple-A and Double-A players are eligible, provided they are on Double-A rosters no later than Aug. 15.
Each organization is permitted to send two Class A Advanced-level players in addition to the current allowance of two "A exempt" players (who are under contract as of Aug. 15). Foreign players are allowed as long as the player is not on his native country's primary protected-player list.
No players with more than one year active or two years total of credited Major League service as of Aug. 31 (including Major League disabled-list time) are eligible, except a team may select one player picked in the most recently concluded Major League Rule 5 Draft.
Each team is allotted 20 pitchers, but only 15 are designated "eligible" each gameday.