Arizona Fall League Matures in 20th Anniversary Season
The Arizona Fall League continues to help develop Major League talent every year. The developmental league, just winding down a six-week schedule in the Phoenix area, is in its 20th year. Brewers President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Doug Melvin and Vice President – Assistant General Manager Gord Ash have each seen the league grow since day one.
“The league itself is very well scouted and an important stepping stone for future Major Leaguers,” Melvin said. “We send all of our scouts there knowing that this is one of the top developmental leagues. It will continue to be the top developmental league for years to come because of the competition involved.”
When Major League organizations take seven top prospects and send them to take part in this league, the competition is very high. Teams are in the homestretch of a 32-game schedule. Games are held six-days a week around the Phoenix-area.
“The level of competition is what makes the league so important to the development of these players,” Ash said. “They aren’t playing a regular season game; there is an elite level of competitive talent there. It’s not just a game either; there is work and practice too which helps fundamentals. There is no travel which decreases stress for players, you are in one place and focused on baseball.”
Each organization send scouts to games throughout the league to view this level of competition. Seeing these players play in the Arizona Fall League helps teams come assess what opponents have in their developmental system and comes in handy around the trade deadline.
Take the Brewers mid-season trade with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that sent Zack Greinke to the Angels. One of the key players in the trade, Jean Segura, played in the Fall League last year and was seen by Brewers scouts.
“Segura is a good example of a player we saw in the Fall League last year and liked,” Melvin said. ”We were able to see him against that high level of competition. He proved to us he was ready and when the Angels called on Greinke, we were ready with reports on Segura that included the Fall League.
The players know every game there is a minimum of 30 scouts each game. During the year, scouts may only see five, six or seven legitimate prospects in games, but here you get a chance to see a lot of players in every game. We send all of our scouts down there at different times.”
While a number of Brewers players like Josh Prince have put up impressive numbers during the Fall League, they aren’t the most important gauge of a player’s success in the league. Switching positions, working on driving the ball to the opposite field or a pitcher’s introduction to a new pitch are all things that are common in the league, giving a skewed perception of numbers.
“I don’t get too worried about performance and numbers; maybe they are working on something,” Melvin added. It is important for guys to get work in. Get at bats and innings pitched against solid competition day in and day out. That is the spirit of the league. Good numbers are able to show us that players are ready to compete at the next level.”
Melvin and Ash each visited the Fall League in October along with other members of the Brewers Front Office staff. Not only is this a great opportunity for the organization to take inventory of young talent on the field, but it also a chance for the club to get to know players off the field. With no travel, the schedule is less hectic, allowing a chance for some social activities.
“We take the players out to dinner with our staff,” Melvin said. “It’s important for us to share stories with them and get to know them in a relaxed environment away from the ballpark. I want to hear what the players have to say about our organization and their thoughts on how we do things. They also want to hear from us.”
Fans were once a rarity at Fall League games, but with a number of sparkling new facilities in Phoenix, the stands for Fall League games have seen more and more fans.
“It’s caught on from a fan perspective,” Ash said. “There are more fans. The improved facilities in Phoenix also play a part in that. From a perception point of view, fans understand that these are players they will soon see in the big leagues. And it’s not necessarily just the Phoenix people. I have seen a lot of people obviously from the hometown of the teams—almost like a mini-Spring Training. It has certainly caught on as a top developmental league.”
I arrived in Phoenix today and will be sharing stories about the Brewers involved in the league. If you have followed the stats and read my first Fall League preview, you might have noticed that a few Brewers prospects are missing from box scores. OF Brock Kjeldgaard broke his left foot on Oct. 27 after he fouled a ball of his foot. He has returned to Milwaukee where he will have surgery this week by Dr. Richard Marx. He expects to be ready in time for Spring Training and finished his stint in the Fall League hitting .385 with four home runs and nine RBI in just seven games.
RHP Santo Manzanillo has returned to the Brewers facility in the Dominican Republic where his is rehabbing from a sore right shoulder. He pitched in only three games, tallying 2.0 innings of relief.
The Brewers players are participating in the league as members of the Phoenix Desert Dogs. The team has a 9-10 record.