The Peoria Javelinas and Salt River Rafters feature the Arizona Fall League's two most talented rosters, two best offenses and two leading candidates for the circuit's Joe Black MVP Award. On Saturday, they'll settle who has the better team.Peoria and Salt River will meet for the AFL championship at 3
The Peoria Javelinas and Salt River Rafters feature the Arizona Fall League's two most talented rosters, two best offenses and two leading candidates for the circuit's Joe Black MVP Award. On Saturday, they'll settle who has the better team.
Peoria and Salt River will meet for the AFL championship at 3 p.m. ET (1 p.m. local time), with the game broadcast live on MLB Network and MLB.com. The Javelinas (21-9), who compiled the third-best winning percentage (.700) in the league's 27 seasons, will try to become the first repeat champion since the 2004-08 Phoenix Desert Dogs. The Rafters (16-14) seek their first title since they beat Peoria in the 2014 finale.
:: Complete coveraege of the 2018 AFL championship game ::
Though the AFL's primary purpose is development, Javelinas second baseman Keston Hiura (Brewers) said winning the championship would mean a lot.
"Any time you play with a bunch of different players from a bunch of different organizations, you're not really used to playing with them so you don't really know what to expect," Hiura said. "They're all really talented players. We're all excited for each other, it just kind of changes the mood of the game, every time we go out there knowing we have a chance to win every game."
Before the game, the Fall League will announce its MVP, an award whose previous winners this decade include Nolan Arenado, Kristopher Bryant, Gleyber Torres and Ronald Acuna Jr.. This year's honoree figures to be either Hiura or Salt River first baseman Tyler Nevin (Rockies).
Hiura batted .323/.371/.563 and led the AFL in hits (31), RBIs (33) and total bases (54) while finishing one back in the home run race with five. Nevin topped the league in hitting (.426), on-base percentage (.535), slugging (.593) and OPS (1.128) while walking three times (15) as much as he struck out (five).
Each team includes two of MLB Pipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects. Besides Hiura (ranked MLB No. 30), the Javelinas also have five-tool outfielder Cristian Pache (Braves, MLB No. 68). The Rafters counter with shortstop Carter Kieboom (Nationals, MLB No. 37) and right-hander Jon Duplantier (D-backs, MLB No. 80).
• Arizona Fall League batting leaders
Peoria, which averaged a league-best 6.13 runs per game, can start as many as five former first-round picks in its lineup: first baseman Braxton Davidson (Braves), outfielder Trent Grisham (Brewers), Hiura, third baseman Hudson Potts (Padres) and first baseman Evan White (Mariners). Davidson, an AFL Player of the Week recipient, tied for the AFL lead with six homers. Salt River, which had the second-highest scoring offense at 5.90 runs per game, has a pair of first-rounders in Kieboom and first baseman Pavin Smith (Diamondbacks).
The Javelinas are expected to start right-hander Miguel Diaz (Padres), who recorded a 4.87 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 20 1/3 AFL innings. The Rafters will counter with Marlins No. 19 prospect Jordan Yamamoto, who went 3-0 for Salt River and posted the league's third-best ERA among qualified starting pitchers (2.08) while tying for fourth in strikeouts with 27 in 26 innings. The 22-year-old right-hander is coming off a strong regular season, in which he went 6-1 with a 1.83 ERA in 13 starts across three levels.
Though most Fall Leaguers are in their 10th consecutive month of playing baseball, Salt River shortstop Jazz Chisholm (D-backs) said it won't be hard to find the energy to try to win the AFL championship.
"You step it up every game, but it's just a different level of stepping it up when you're coming to the championship game," said Chisholm, who batted .442/.489/.767 with three homers in 10 games as a taxi-squad player. "For my first year being in the AFL, first year coming and playing Fall League, it's an amazing experience to play in the championship and compete for something that I really want."
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.