Entries Tagged as 'Arizona Fall League'

2009 AFL Championship Game

tony clarkThe talent was there, the weather was perfect, and the announcers were abysmal.  MLB Network was on hand in Scottsdale, AZ to telecast the AFL championship game, with Victor Rojas & Tony Clark in the booth as the broadcasters.  First up, Victor was assigned the duties of play by play, even though he’s only a fill in at that with the Rangers, color analysis is his supposed forte, if he indeed has one.  One play illustrated Rojas’s (son of Cookie) complete ignorance of baseball rulings (if you don’t know, keep your trap shut).  The bases were loaded with two out, the batter hit a groundball to short, on which the shortstop laid back, rather than charge, the runner at first beat the throw to second for an attempted force out.  Here’s what Victor Rojas had to say, “Tony, they ruled that a basehit.  We’re not here to judge.  They didn’t even try to get the batter at 1st”.  Common sense says, if you can’t force the runner on a short throw to 2nd, you certainly wouldn’t be able to retire the batter at first, the ruling of a basehit was correct.

Then there was former switch hitting, big man, big leaguer, Tony Clark, cliches were in abundance.  Here are Big Tony’s favorite utterings rolled into one sentence, “Brother, No doubt about it, Mister Outstanding, I tip my hat”.  Sheesh, if I didn’t want to hear what they had to say about the players from time to time, I’d have muted the game, rather than listen to their constant chatter, sometimes a little silence is a good thing.

Finally there were three guests brought up to the booth.  Somebody from the charitable organization of Scottsdale Charros & then somebody representing the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation (the talking heads went on about the no-talent, egotistical, MLB Network’s own, Billy Ripken), but the worst was when Joe Garagiola, Sr. came up to visit.  Joe started describing in detail his four major surgeries he’s undergone in the past year, sometimes it’s just better to wave to Uncle Joe from a distance.

Back to the game and the talented youngsters performing out on the field.  In the 4th inning AFL MVP Phoenix Desert Dogs slugger Grant Desme, a 30 homer & 40 stolen base guy in A ball for the Oakland A’s showed off his power, nailing a home run inside the leftfield foul pole.  Moments later Tampa Bay Rays catcher Nevin Ashley went “OPPO TACO”, poking one out to right, TC added, “Only growed up men hit balls like that”.  It pains me today to recall their descritions of the game.

Here are some of the things I took away from watching this game.  Little Matt Angle out of Ohio State University, representing the Baltimore Orioles, ripped a leadoff triple for Phoenix to start the game.  Later Matt beat out a drag bunt past the pitcher for a single.  Centerfielder Angle’s hustling play reminded me of another 5’10” centerfielder, Libertyville, IL’s Brett Butler.  Rickie’s little brother, Jemile Weeks of the Oakland A’s, flashed some leather in the field at 2B, was 1-4 at the plate, doubling to right (was almost thrown out jogging to 2nd), and struckout three times.

Batting cleanup for Peoria was the White Sox Brent Morel, who lined singles in two of his four at bats, and looks like the real thing.  Mariners Dustin Ackley, the 2nd player drafted behind Stephen Strasburg, looked good with the bat, 2-5, but very shaky in leftfield, maybe it was the sun.  While White Sox centerfielder Jordan Danks was 0-4, drawing a walk, stranding 5 runners, he showed good baseball instincts, and looked solid in the field.

Pitchers that showed their stuff were Cuban righthander Reidier Gonzalez of the Blue Jays, pitching for Phoenix, with one quick perfect inning of work.  Looking sharp for the Javelinas was lefty Andrew Oliver of the Detroit Tigers, 2 innings, 2 Ks.  But the man on the bump for Peoria was the Tigers Robbie Weinhardt.  Weinhardt is a Tigers 2008 10th round draft taken out of Oklahoma State University, where he epitomized what a power pitcher is, striking out 70 batters in 44 innings.  Robbie brought his gun to town, working two innings for Peoria, striking out the side in the 8th (Corey Brown, Chris Marrero, Grant Desme) in the 8th, going 1-2-3 in the ninth, fanning Weeks swinging to end the game.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the BOMB OF THE GAME off the bat of White Sox secondbaseman C.J. Retherford.  Retherford is a native of Arizona, attended ASU, was a Sun Devil, whom the White Sox signed as a free agent.  With the Javelinas trailing by a run in the bottom of the 8th C.J. stepped in against former ASU hurler Josh Perrault of the Marlins, and absolutely CRUSHED one deep over the leftfield wall, it was a no-doubter, an absolute BOMB!  It proved to be the game winner as the Peoria Javelinas thwarted the Peoria Desert Dogs in their hopes of winning their 6th straight AFL Title.

11/21/09 AFL Championship Game: Desert Dogs vs Javelinas

storen02250802There will be plenty of prospects to satisfy anybody’s appetite in the 2009 AFL Championship game Saturday November 21st in Scottsdale, AZ.  I’m really bummed that I’m not in the Arizona desert to see this showdown between the Phoenix Desert Dogs and the Peoria Javelinas.

Even without Stephen Strasburg, this game will feature alot of talented young baseball players.  For example, Drew Storen was the 2nd first rounder drafted by the Washington Nationals.  He threw up a 0.66 ERA, 2-0, 4 saves, 13 strikeouts in 13″ innings pitched this Fall for the Desert Dogs, and appears to be on the fast track to the Nation’s Capital.  Storen starred at Stanford before turning pro.

A Javelinas star is the 2nd player taken in the 2009 draft out of the University of North Carolina by the Seattle Mariners, outfielder, Dustin Ackley.  Ackley showed off his skills in the AFL, batting .315.  Dustin put up fantastic numbers in college, batting .402, .417, & .417 in his three years in collegiate ball.

Another pitching prospect for the Nationals appearing for Phoenix was Baylor’s Jeff Mandel, 14′ innings, striking out 10, without issuing a base on balls, and a nifty 1.88 ERA.  Mandel was 12-6 this past season, splitting time between A+ & AA Ball.  Two Javelinas pitching prospects were Eric Krebs of the Pirates 19 strikeouts in 13″ innings and the Tigers Andrew Oliver who struckout 16 batters in 16 innings.  One hurler I’m hoping to see pitch in the game is Robbie Weinhardt of the Javelinas and the Tigers, 29 strikeouts in 18′ innings in the AFL.

Some of the hitting prospects I’m looking forward to seeing are the White Sox thirdbaseman Brent Morel for the Javelinas, a couple of Desert Dogs firstbasemen Brandon Snyder of the Orioles & the Nats Christopher Marrero, another Nationals prospect out of Long Beach State SS Danny Espinosa, White Sox/Javelinas outfielder Jordan Danks (brother of John), and AFL home run champ with 11 Grant Desme of the A’s & the Desert Dogs.  Interestingly Morel & Desme, who’ll square off in this contest, were teammates at Cal Poly.

While my heart might be in the desert, the rest of me will be in front of my TV watching some of the best young players, playing a little baseball, can’t wait!

McBride’s Bat is Red Hot in Arizona

matt mcbrideI first saw Matt McBride when he clubbed an 8th inning two run home run in the Rising Stars AFL All Star Game, which proved to be the difference.  The 24 year old catcher starred in the desert for the Peoria Saguaros, hitting .378, power numbers of 4, 2, 4, two stolen bases, 19 walks, and an out of this world OBP of .511.

You might think this 6’2″ 215 pound standout, drafted by the Indians in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft would have a clear path to the big leagues, especially after Cleveland traded their All Star catcher Victor Martinez to Boston, but the Tribe is loaded with young talent behind the plate.  The former Lehigh University standout put up some mighty fine numbers in 2006, hitting .417, 19 doubles, 12 homers, 61 ribbies in 56 games, and even stole 22 bags.  This past season in the minors Matt clouted 44 doubles & 18 long balls, splitting time between A+ Kinston & AA Akron.

Despite the trade of Martinez, the Indians still have Kelly Shoppach on their roster, along with standout minor leaguers Lou Marson (acquired from Philadelphia in the Cliff Lee deal) & Carlos Santana (acquired from Los Angeles in the Casey Blake trade).  Both seem to be ahead of McBride on the depth chart.  Marson was at AAA last season and even spent some time in the majors, while Santana made the Eastern League All Star team at AA Akron, batting .290, 30, 2, 23, while walking 90 times.  The best path for McBride to make it to the big leagues might be the Rule V draft, the Indians have not rostered Matt, so he’ll be draft eligible.  Hey, major league clubs, if your team is looking for a catcher, you might want to think about drafting Matt McBride.

Move Over Damon Here Comes Curtis

I was doing some more research on kids whose stars shined brightly in the desert in the 2009 AFL and came across the story of Colin Curtis, which is a story too good not to be told.  Curtis is the property of the World Champion New York Yankees.

The Yankees are currently trying to decide on whether or not to bring back Johnny Damon and/or World Series MVP Hideki Matsui.  I have a sneaking suspicion they’re going to go after outfielder Matt Holliday, that sounds okay to me, but I’d let both Damon & Matsui walk if I chose to sign Holliday, and give youngster Colin Curtis a shot at the leftfield spot, with Holliday becoming the regular DH.

I’m sure you’re asking, who is this Curtis kid, known also as C-2?  Colin was the three year starting centerfielder for the Arizona Sun Devils, where he batted .300, .342, & .335, with a total of 40 stolen bases.  Maybe more impressive than this kid’s baseball talents is his makeup.  As a high school senior he was the leader of his Issaquah, WA team which won the state championship, all this after he beat testicular cancer.

I’m not saying the Yankees should just give this kid the job based on a sappy sentimental story, he can play!  Colin batted .397 (2nd in the league) with a .472 OBP in twenty games in the AFL, showing patience at the plate with eleven walks.  To be fair this 2006 4th round draft has struggled since being drafted, not hitting above .270 above Single A, with a disappointing .235 at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2009 most recently staring back at him in his rear view mirror.

This game isn’t just about numbers, it’s also about character, as the Yankees might’ve finally found out, it’s about overcoming adversity, and if that’s the case, then I look forward to watching Colin Curtis in the New York Yankees outfield very soon.

Hot Prospect @ Hot Corner Heats Up in Desert

Brent MorelI couldn’t make it to the desert to watch any Arizona Fall League action this year, which was very disappointing.  I’m a huge baseball fan, who enjoys seeing young talent more than anything, and then watching these players develop.  Last Fall I enjoyed getting a chance to see The Sporting News AL Rookie of the Year Gordon Beckham of the White Sox play in the AFL for the Peoria Javelinas.

Looking over this year’s stats I couldn’t help but notice Brent Morel.  Brent is also a member of the White Sox organization, plays thirdbase, was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft out of Cal Poly San Luis Obisbo.  He hit .435 in the desert to lead the AFL in batting, with two homers, two doubles, & two stolen bases, in 62 at bats.

Since being drafted by the Sox this kid has done nothing but impress.  After completing his career at Cal Poly where he hit .368, 18 doubles, 5 triples, 8 homers, & 60 RBIs in 56 games, Morel tore up rookie ball, hitting .375 in 64 at bats there, before being promoted to A Ball Kannapolis, where again he held his own, with a .297 average & power numbers of 6, 2, 6, in 172 at bats.

In 2009 Brent spent the entire season at Class A+ Winston-Salem, where he posted numbers of .281, 33, 1, 16, & 25 steals.  He has always been a California kid, born in Bakersfield, so it took some adjusting getting used to the other coast, back home it rains 5 inches in a year, while in Winston-Salem you might see that in a day.  This kid isn’t just a pretty bat as he was also rock solid in the field.

Morel is an all around athlete who starred at QB for his high school football team at 6’2″ 200 pounds, he could’ve gone on to have played football if he’d chosen to do so.  Since then he’s added 20 pounds of muscle and appears ready to move up the ladder.  Interestingly he’s always idolized Cal Ripken, so he gobbled up #8 as soon as it became available, like gobbling up a groundball.

Brent will most likely start out 2010 in Double A, but if all goes well the 22 year old from the Golden State might see some action at Triple A before the year’s out, and I’ll be waiting at the Cell to cheer on this talented youngster when he reaches the big leagues in the not too distant future.

You can watch Brent Morel along with the rest of the Peoria Javelinas when they battle the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the AFL Championship game, which will be telecast on the MLB Network, Saturday, November 21st, at 1:00 PM CST.

AFL Rising Stars Game Has Me All Stoked

yonder alonsoBefore watching the Rising Stars Game last night on the MLB Network, I really didn’t know what I was going to see on my trip to Arizona.  After seeing a sampling of the talent out there, my bags are packed, & I’m stoked.

The Cincinnati Reds are going to have a tough decision at firstbase.  Joey Votto played there for the big club, batting .322 with 25 homers & 84 RBIs, he’s arguably their best hitter.  But their best hitting prospect is Miami’s Yonder Alonso.  Alonso posted big numbers at Miami, hitting .370 with 24 long balls in only 211 at bats, walking 76 times, while striking out only 35 times.  Last night he demonstrated his line drive swing, going 3 for 4, with a double, 2 ribbies, although he did K.

Another hitter in the Reds system, batted cleanup in the game, Chris Heisey, an outfielder, was the 504th player chosen in the 2006 draft.  He played at Messiah College, is from Lancaster, PA, and was signed after a tryout.  He got the scoring going for the West with a first inning home run off Tommy Mendoza, then later in the game added a double.

19 year old shortstop Starlin Castro of the Chicago Cubs was 2 for 3 in the game, showed great speed, seems to have baseball instincts, and should move Ryan Theriot over to secondbase in the near future.

Speaking of 19 year old shortstops, the Red Sox had Cuban prospect Jose Iglesias in this game and although he looked overmatched it was obvious the talent this kid possesses.  He should follow in the footsteps of Nomar Garciaparra & Hanley Ramirez, both out of the Bosox system.

One pitcher who didn’t have it was Atlanta’s Mike Minor, a first rounder out of Vanderbilt, 2/3 IP, 7 hits, 7 runs, & 1 walk, he was hit HARD.  The lefty was on Team USA, was the ace of the staff, and allowed only one unearned run in 12 1/3 innings versus Cuba, he was dominant.

Another pitcher who didn’t look good was Daniel Moskos of the Pittsburgh Pirates, taken in the 1st round in 2007, 2/3 IP, 4 runs on 5 hits, he got ROCKED.  Moskos is another soft throwing lefthander in the Buccos tradition of Zack Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, & Paul Maholm.

ASU’s Mike Leake showed some STUFF, working one inning, allowing one hit, and striking out three.  The Reds drafted this kid in the first round of the 2009 draft.  The AFL is his first experience in pro ball, he was 16-1, with a 1.71 ERA, and 162 strikeouts in 142 innings for the Sun Devils this past season.

LA’s own Danny Gutierrez brought his own cheering section, it seemed to help as the kid struckout the side in his one inning on the bump.  Danny was selected in the 33rd round of the 2005 draft by the Kansas City Royals.  Now this 6’2″ righthander out of Riverside Community College is pitching in the Texas Rangers organization.

There are so many more prospects that I could tell you about, but I have to save something for my trip out west, really looking forward to it, can’t you tell?!?!  Oh, BTW, the West Stars beat the East Stars, 8-7 on a late Matt McBride two run dinger, but none of that really matters.

AFL Rising Stars Game on MLB Network Tonight

desmeThe Arizona Fall League has six teams composed of young up & coming baseball players from all 30 major league teams.  Tonight the MLB Network will broadcast the AFL Rising Stars Game at 7:00 PM Chicago time.  Stephen Strasburg was supposed to start for the East, but will be replaced by Tommy Mendoza, Strasburg has a strained neck muscle.  Mike Minor will be on the hill for the West.  One of the Rising Stars is power hitting centerfielder Grant Desme of the Oakland A’s.  Desme hit 11 home runs at Kane County before being promoted to A+ Stockton, where he hit another 20 home runs in 2009.  Grant has already hit ten more long balls in the Fall, while batting .354.

I’ve been going to the valley of the sun the past four years to watch baseball prospects before they reach the big leagues.  Last year I saw AL Rookie of the Year Chicago White Sox thirdbaseman Gordon Beckham and phenom righthander of the Atlanta Braves Tommy Hanson.  It’s also fun to hang with major league scouts there to take in the action.  I’ll be out there again soon, reporting on baseball, possibly with a podcast, or two.

Fall and Winter Ball dates to put on your calendar

For some baseball fans the season doesn’t end when the World Series is concluded.  Bus Leagues Baseball provides us the dates (via MLB’s Winter League page) for Fall and Winter League Baseball to put in your calendar. 

October 9 – Mexican Pacific League Opening Day
October 9 – Venezuelan Winter League Opening Day
October 13 – Arizona Fall League Opening Day
October 16 – Dominican Winter League Opening Day
November 7 – Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Game
November 20 – Mexican Pacific League Second Half Begins
November 23 – Arizona Fall League Championship Game
December 13 – Dominican Winter League All-Star Game
December 21 – Dominican Winter League Regular Season Ends
December 30 – Mexican Pacific League Regular Season Ends
February 2 – Caribbean Series Begins
February 8 – Caribbean Series Ends

TBZ’s intrepid co-blogger, Teddy Ballgame, usually makes it down south to catch some Arizona Fall League action.  As a result, we get some pretty good coverage of the prospects down there.

Teddy, mark your calendar!


The White Sox packaged the extremely talented righthander Javier Vazquez and bullpen lefty Boone “They’re not saying Boone” Logan to the Braves for C-1B Tyler Flowers, SS Brent Lillibridge, 3B Jon Gilmore, and southpaw reliever Santos Rodriguez. Vazquez has a dynamite fastball, an explosive curveball, and very good control, yet he is two games below .500 in his career, despite the fact he has over 2,000 strikeouts. Down the stretch, when the White Sox needed him most, Ozzie Guillen & Vazquez, himself, lost confidence. This game is hard enough, but there is no way to succeed when you don’t believe in your stuff. That, in a nutshell, seems to Javier’s problem, not believing in his ability. It seemed, from my vantage point 34 rows behind home plate, Vazquez would be getting batters out, overpowering them, when all of a sudden he’d start trying to fool hitters, rather than just get them out. He’d get ahead 0-2, then nibble, rather than take advantage & put the hitter away. Still in this pitching starved era, this 32 year old will give you 33 starts & 200 innings, not bad, but he’ll drive you crazy, good luck Atlanta! Then there’s the case of Boone Logan, a herky jerky motion, from the leftside, couldn’t get my grandmother out in the second half of the season. In fact 97 year old granny was two for three, with a homer against Logan.

Now here’s what we got back, it was better than a half eaten bag of potato chips, so I’m happy. Tyler Flowers is a 6’4″ 245 pound righthanded hitting catcher/firstbaseman out of Georgia. Flowers played in High Class A ball for the Braves in 2008, where he hit 17 homers & 32 doubles, while hitting .288, with 98 bases on balls. But where Tyler really shined was the Arizona Fall League, where he was the home run leader with 12 home runs in only 20 games, with a batting average of .387. Atlanta drafted him in the 33rd round of the 2005 draft out of a junior college, then he was suspended fifty games for testing positive to taking performance enhancing drugs. A knee injury may limit him to a career at firstbase.

Brent Lillibridge was the Bucs shortstop of the future when he was drafted out of the University of Washington in the 4th round of the 2005 draft. In 2003 at the age of 19 Brent batted .388 with some pop at Washington. Even though he batted .220 with 90 strikeouts in 2008 with Richmond, it’s hard to think he’s washed up at the age of 24, in fact the Braves brought him to the majors for a cup of coffee, where he batted .200 in 80 at bats with the big league club. The book on Brent is that he’s a good fielder, with speed, who needs to re-find his stick.

Jon Gilmore is an interesting prospect, drafted by the Braves with the 33rd pick in the 2007 draft out of high school. This, 6’3″ 195 pound, 20 year old, thirdbaseman was born in Florida, but played his high school ball in Iowa City. 2008 was a split decision for Gilmore, as Jon batted .337 with 23 doubles in only 258 at bats in rookie ball, but then really struggled at Class A, hitting only .186.

Then there’s 20 year old lefty reliever Santos Rodriguez. It’s hard to get a read on Santos, as he’s only pitched two years of rookie ball. But in 2008 Rodriguez struckout 45 batters in 29 innings, with a nifty 2.79 ERA.

All in all, I like the deal. Sure we gave up a solid member of our rotation, but we got back value, and Vazquez had pitched on the Southside long enough, let the Braves enjoy him. Kenny Williams has been a genius and I’m not going to second guess him at this point.


The Phoenix Desert Dogs are howling after winning their fifth straight Arizona Fall League Title. In 2008 the five teams that made up the Desert Dogs were the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Colorado Rockies, the Minnesota Twins, the Oakland Athletics, and the Toronto Blue Jays. Each year there new players on each team of the AFL, which makes Phoenix’ five year run even more amazing.

The Mesa Solar Sox took on the Phoenix Desert Dogs on November 22nd in Phoenix. Atlanta Braves Tommy Hanson handcuffed the Desert Dogs, allowing only one run, over the first five innings, leaving the game with a 3-1 Mesa lead. Two of those Solar Sox runs came off the bat of Jeff Larish who ripped a two run 4th inning blast off Phoenix starter Minnesota Twins (Golden Domer) Jeff Manship.

The Desert Dogs batters went to work once Hanson was removed from the game, scoring nine runs in two innings, overcoming a three run deficit, cruising to a 10-4 win. Big Josh Donaldson of the Oakland A’s provided much of the offense, driving in four, three on a 7th inning big fly. Another offensive hero was Edwardsville’s own, Arizona Diamondback, Evan Frey, who drove in three.

Congrats to the Phoenix Desert Dogs!