While the seasons of the vast majority of Minor League players will end shortly, a group of advanced and talented players knows it will get the chance to head to Arizona to play about 30 more games this fall.
The Arizona Fall League released preliminary rosters for the 2013 season on Tuesday, and the rosters of the six clubs are absolutely stocked with premium talent. A total of 25 players listed among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects will head to the desert for the six-week league that has established itself as the finishing school for the game's best prospects since its inception in 1992.
The list is headlined by Twins outfielder Byron Buxton, the No. 1 prospect in the game. The No. 2 pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft has had a tremendous first full season, earning a promotion to the Class A Advanced Florida State League and playing in the Futures Game.
"I think we felt like he's shown he's ready from a skill perspective," Minnesota farm director Brad Steil said. "As mature as he is, I think he can go out there and handle being in that type of environment. We wanted him to get the opportunity to face a little bit better pitching before the end of the season, so I think it was a good fit."
The Fall League, which kicks off its season on Tuesday, Oct. 8, and runs through Saturday, Nov. 16, has long been a stepping stone for the game's top Minor League talent, with many alumni getting to the big leagues quickly after playing in the AFL. This year's crop should be no different, and it's something that clearly resonates with the Twins and other teams.
Though Buxton is still a teenager who hasn't played above A-ball, the Twins are not worried about his ability to compete at the higher level the AFL provides.
"That's in the back of our head," Steil said. "When you're talking about this type of decision, if he's going to go to Double-A early next season, this will be a good opportunity to play with some talented players out there."
The AFL is generally thought to be equivalent to Double-A or Triple-A in terms of the talent level, and the amount of Top 100 talent should help the 2013 season live up to that reputation. No organization is helping that effort more than the Cubs, who are sending their top four prospects -- all in the Top 100 -- to get some more seasoning in Mesa this fall.
Javier Baez joins Buxton as a top 10 overall prospect in the Fall League. The infielder has had a monster second full season, reaching Double-A while posting more than 30 homers, 100 RBIs and 20 steals. He'll be joined by Cubs No. 2 prospect Albert Almora (though he's on the taxi squad, meaning he'll play just twice a week), No. 3 Jorge Soler and No. 4 Kris Bryant.
"It's really exciting for us," Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod said. "Javier has had a great year, and he didn't get to play as much last year in the AFL because of the injury. Kris is ready to be pushed. Soler was going to go [to make up for lost time]. Albert missed time, so he'll go to the instructional league and then the taxi squad, which will be good for him.
The following Top 100 MLB prospects are scheduled to play in the Arizona Fall League this year.
"It's good for them to spend time with each other, push each other in the fall, then hopefully push each other in the spring. It's exciting to have these four guys going together. It'll be great if we can get to see them all playing together on the same field."
Before the Draft signing deadline was moved to July, the AFL was getting a steady stream of the current year's Draft talent, with players who didn't sign until the August deadline often making their unofficial professional debuts in Arizona. Though that's changed somewhat, Bryant is among a crop of 2013 draftees that includes fellow top 10 pick Colin Moran and second-rounder Colby Suggs, both of the Marlins.
"I'm new to this whole process, but I know there are lot of good players who have gone to the [Arizona] Fall League," Bryant said. "I'm excited I get to continue playing baseball. The games will only help me in my development against some very good competition.
"The progress I've made so far in my time with Boise and Daytona has been pretty good. I'm very pleased with how things have gone. Obviously, there are still adjustments that need to be made. I'm excited to continue to learn and compete with guys who are close to the big leagues."
Many of the top prospects will gather for the league's Fall Stars Game, held this year on Saturday, Nov. 2, in the AFL's version of the Futures Game. From there, many will make a beeline to the highest level, with players every year going from Arizona to the Major Leagues the following season.
"We are excited to welcome the Class of 2013," Arizona Fall League director Steve Cobb said. "We are proud of the role we serve in MLB's player development process. It is our history that over 60 percent of these players will reach the Major Leagues. We want fans to know the top young talent in the game still will be playing baseball in October and November in Arizona."