SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Another month of games at the end of a long season turned out to be a nice treat for Nolan Arenado in 2011, when he was not yet a Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner but was a prospect headed in that direction.
Arenado was coming off a strong season at Class A Modesto during which he hit .298 with 20 home runs and 122 RBIs, a figure that led all of Minor League Baseball and set a record for a player in the Rockies' system. The Arizona Fall League was a test: Could he produce at that level against an opposition full of prospects rather than the usual Minor League team of prospects mixed with roster-fillers?
Arenado answered with authority, batting .388 (47-for-121) with 12 doubles, six home runs and 33 RBIs to earn the AFL's Most Valuable Player Award while playing for the Salt River Rafters.
At that time of the year, the stadiums are not sold out, but many of the seats are occupied by important evaluators for the various teams. But for Arenado, not even the watchful eyes of movers and shakers could take away the utter joy of the experience of top-level competition.
"I felt it a little bit here and there maybe," said Arenado, who was 20 at the time and last season became the first National League rookie third baseman to win the Gold Glove Award. "The great thing of the Fall League is, it's a great environment to play baseball. You just relax. You don't have to worry about a lot of other things."
Earning the AFL MVP Award was not a small accomplishment given the future big names that played in 2011.
"Guys like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper -- those were the guys that were in my Fall League," Arenado said. "That was pretty fun seeing those guys. It meant a lot. We won it, and that made it even better. We had some cool dudes, some fun ballplayers. It was fun to win with those guys.
"I still talk to a lot of guys from the Diamondbacks, which is kind of funny [at times over the years the D-backs have been the Rockies' most fierce rival], the Astros, the Dodgers, too. Those were good guys and great ballplayers, which made it even better."
The fact the AFL season ran his total of games played up to 166 -- four more than a full Major League regular season -- didn't bother Arenado. But the shortened offseason was an adjustment.
"I guess you could look at it as a playoff, which is good," Arenado said. "I remember after going to the Fall League, I had my first big league camp and had a terrible Spring Training. I don't know if that played into it. You don't know when to start [preparing for the next season] because your whole schedule is thrown off, when to work out and when you're supposed to start. Maybe it was more me not being ready to go."
Nonetheless, Arenado liked meeting up with some of baseball's best young players, not having the bus rides or the day-to-day living responsibilities that can make the full Minor League season a grind. It's just competing.
"The coaches know you're here for a reason," he said. "It's a lot of fun playing out there."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb.