AFL Season in Review

The Phoenix Desert Dogs closed out the AFL season yesterday with a 6-2 win over the Grand Canyon Rafters yesterday, clinching the AFL title. The co-op team featuring prospects from Oakland, Cincinnati, Toronto, Detroit, and the Rays finished with an AFL-best 20-11 record over the course of the season, and for the Rays it was their second affiliate to win a championship in as many months. The following is a recap of the individual players from the Tampa Bay organization and how they performed on the AFL, as well as some basic resources pertaining to the D-Dogs so you too can research their season.

Phoenix Desert Dogs:

Season Record: 20-11
Finish: AFL Champions, 1st Place in AFL East (+5 games)
Schedule
Stats

Devil Rays in AFL:

SS Ben Zobrist
1B Elijah Dukes
OF Fernando Perez
1B Wes Bankston
RP Brian Henderson
RP Jeff Ridgway
RP Jeremy Flanagan
SP Jeff Niemann

For individual player profiles of the Rays' AFL participants as well as additional AFL statistics, please follow the jump.

Rays Prospect Profiles:

Hitters:

Rays Hitting Prospects' AFL Stats
G AB HR RBI SO SB E AVG OBP SLG OPS
1B Wes Bankston 3 12 0 2 3 0 0 .083 .154 .083 .237
1B Elijah Dukes 8 32 2 8 10 1 3 .313 .425 .625 1.050
OF Fernando Perez 28 108 0 6 28 12 0 .241 .371 .259 .630
SS Ben Zobrist 27 101 2 21 15 3 4 .366 .469 .515 .984

1B Wes Bankston-Bankston missed most of the AFL season, playing in only the first week before being sent home due to injury. After suffering an ankle injury in a game against Scottsdale, Bankston was sent home from the AFL having played in only three games in the league, and three unimpressive games at that. Still, there was nothing much to garner from three games for Bankston. It can't be regarded as anything short of a major disappointment. Coming into the season, Bankston was regarded as a top five prospect in the organization and a mere half-season from the major leagues. Now, after a disappointing season riddled with poor performance and injury, as well as an ill-fated experiment at third base, his status at first base in the Rays' future is in jeopardy. To rectify this and get some playing time for Bankston going into the offseason, Bankston was sent to the AFL. Now the injury in the AFL is merely the cherry on top of a season full of great disappointment.

1B Elijah Dukes-Selected to replace Bankston in the AFL was oft-troubled prospect Dukes, who was suspended for the final month of the regular season due to constant behavior problems in Durham. His performance in Triple A was excellent, and so to make up for some of his lost playing time, the Rays sent him to Arizona to get some additional PT before next spring, either to get an idea of where to play him next year, or to show him off to potential trading partners. For eight games, Dukes obliged, tearing up the AFL by hitting .313/.425/.625. However his AFL campaign, like his regular season, ended prematurely, though not do to suspension. He left because he needed to remove "loose bodies" through surgery, and although it is disappointing that his season was cut short, he proved in eight games what we already knew: he has great, great hitting talent. And I'm as excited as ever about his ability going into next year, if only he keeps his head on straight.

OF Fernando Perez-Perez was unable to improve on his impressive 2nd half in Visalia, struggling a bit in the AFL. I was never as high on Perez as a lot of people, especially with the outfield depth we have in the system and the fact that I am just generally underwhelmed by him. He did in the AFL what you could typically expect of Perez, he tied for the team lead with 12 stolen bases, and had a .371 OBP, while compiling a low slugging percentage. The problem is, it was a really low SLG, only having two extra base hits the whole campaign, and finishing with a .259 SLG. I don't care how much you say that Perez isn't a SLG-based player, a .259 SLG, no matter what the player's style, is unacceptable. No amount of walks can offset that, two XBH is unacceptable, with the speed Perez has. Still, the AFL probably was a step up, competition-wise, for Perez, so despite the SLG, at least he held his own in his debut, passing decently in his strengths. Let's hope this helps him acclimate successfully in Montgomery last year.

SS Ben Zobrist-Without a doubt, Zobrist gained the most of any player the Rays sent to Arizona. After the first four games, Zobrist made but two errors on the season, while hitting an incredibly good .366/.469/.515 in 27 games. He struggled defensively early, making two errors in his first four games, however to his credit, he adjusted after that and improved greatly. Hopefully Zobrist's defensive improvements carry over to next season, as well as that nice offense he is packing, and he can become a productive player next season in the Rays' lineup, and cement his place in the team's future.

Pitchers:

Rays Pitching Prospects' AFL Stats
IP G GS W L ERA WHIP H HR SO BB
RP Jeremy Flanagan 8.1 10 0 1 0 4.32 1.44 6 0 6 6
RP Brian Henderson 11.2 13 0 1 0 5.40 1.89 14 0 6 8
SP Jeff Niemann 6.2 2 2 0 0 2.70 1.35 7 0 8 2
RP Jeff Ridgway 10.1 13 0 1 0 3.48 0.97 6 0 11 4

RP Jeremy Flanagan-Flanagan was the 'meh' choice of the Rays' batch sent to the AFL, and accordingly, had a 'meh' campaign. He had an even K:BB and a 4.32 ERA, pretty bland. Still, he didn't really do anything to hurt his stock, as he will likely start in Durham next year after the season he had in Montgomery. His trip to the AFL was probably productive in that it gave him a taste of good competition, but his prospect status did not soar after the season, whatever status he had.

RP Brian Henderson-Another 'meh' choice to send to the AFL, Henderson actually regressed in his time in the AFL. As the steward of Montgomery for the past three years, Henderson was looking to come into the AFL and prove to the Rays that he deserves a shot to get a promotion to Triple A next year. Well, it didn't really happen. Henderson posted a 5.40 ERA in relief for the D-Dogs, while further sliding on his already questionable control. He didn't blow any hitters away, and actually walked more (8) than he struck out (6). Henderson did not do anything in the AFL to improve his chances of finally being promoted, but you'd think that the Rays would at test him out as a 'sink or swim' in Durham, even despite the poor year in the AFL. But for the first time, Henderson's ERA lined up with his peripheral stats, and it may be an omen of the luck ending for him.

SP Jeff Niemann-Niemann, like Bankston, looked to come in to the AFL off of a disappointing, injury-filled year and gain some traction towards the pursuit of a roster spot in spring training. What Niemann left with was another injury and no track record to go off of. Niemann did have a good two starts in Arizona, striking out eight, and walking two while giving up two runs in 6.2 innings. Still, he was injured yet again, this time with "shoulder soreness". However minor the team and Niemann want to make that seem, when you have a pitcher with a history of arm troubles miss time because of the vague term "shoulder soreness", I get concerned. Hearing the word "shoulder" when connected with a pitcher is never a good thing, and with Niemann's injury history, it is probably better that he was shut down this early. Still, it means that he gained nothing from the AFL and his injury-riddled season once again comes to a close with hope and flashes of brilliance once again truncated by arm troubles.

RP Jeff Ridgway-Ridgway may be the highest-regarded lefty in the DRO, and was sent to the AFL off of an excellent season between Durham and Montgomery in which he vaulted onto the scene as a promising relief option for 2007. And in an otherwise disappointing class of AFL pitchers for the Rays this year, Ridgway was the lone bright spot. The lefty pitched to a 3.48 ERA in 10.1 innings of work, striking out 11 and walking four. While his ERA wasn't too eye-popping, he had excellent strikeout numbers in his work in Arizona. With his excellent regular season, and his superb extracurricular work in the AFL, Ridgway can be regarded as nothing less than a promising possible member of the 2007 bullpen.

Remember when taking into account these profiles that while I did my best to try and evaluate these players' performance based on the context in which they played, the PT, the regular season performance, etc., keep in mind that this is a very limited sample size from which to gather data, and although it is a league filled with excellent talent, keep in mind that this is the end of a long season, a lot of the players are worn out, and some simply don't care. However much credence to lend to AFL stats is in the personal opinion of the person analyzing it, and that is why I set up those stats tables for you to look at the stats independent of my bias in the profiles. I hope that this piece has been at least somewhat of a help in getting a handle on the AFL season.

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