Well, it is that time of year again, when the top prospects either scurry off to Instructional League in St. Pete or the Arizona Fall League in the midst of Arizona cactus. While I personally prefer the Instructional League, mainly because I live within spitting distance and can go to games whenever I want and see plenty more prospects, many unheralded, the AFL offers a chance for Rays prospects to mingle with future stars in the game of baseball once the Rays season is, inevitably, over in mid-October. It kicks off baseball's offseason, and is a precursor of three months where players go their own separate ways and, for some, to winter league, and the expanding influence of the internet allows us to track every last at bat of our top prospects in Arizona at the official minor league site
The AFL is a pretty simple concept. Because Florida training sites and stadiums tend to be much farther spaced out than those in Arizona, and specifically the Phoenix metro area, the league holds a month-long fall season for prospects of major league teams that elect to send them. The players are assigned to certain teams, the clubs are located in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Grand Canyon, Peo Saguaros, and Peo Javelinas. Clubs that host an AFL team in their home stadium, like the A's in Phoenix and the Cubs in Mesa, will always send their prospects there, while clubs not hosting a team just randomly assign their prospects elsewhere. There usually is some continuity, as the Rays have sent their prospects to Phoenix for several years. There is a competition league in Hawaii that just recently started up and drew lots of major league involvement, but the prospects there are not as advanced, and not every team sent prospects there, with the Rays being among them.
Rays prospects, as mentioned, play for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in this league, and prospects on the team this year include Jeff Niemann, Jeff Ridgway, Ben Zobrist, Wes Bankston, Jeremy Flanagan, Brian Henderson, and Fernando Perez. Other notable prospects from other squads include Brett Clevlen of Detroit, Curtis Thigpen of Toronto, Phil Dumatrait of Cincinnati, Jordan Tata of Detroit, and Dustan McGowan of Toronto.
The D-Dogs play a 32 game schedule that will run through November 16th, and I plan to keep you up to date with a short blurb on them every day. Coverage of individual games as they happen are done by MiLB.com with their "Gameday" service. They do an excellent job with real time stats, and I highly recommend it if you want to follow an individual game, because they are, in essence, the only game in town. I hope you will get just excited about the AFL as I am, and follow the league along with me. I will soon be adding a box to the sidebar, so you can track the progress of the D-Dogs quickly, everyday.
Phoenix Desert Dogs (1-0)
Last Game: Phoenix 3, Mesa 0
-The D-Dogs used three strong innings from Jeff Niemann to overcome a sluggish offense in victory. Mesa was held to just four hits by Niemann and a plethora of bullpen compatriots that included Jeremy Flanagan and Brian Henderson. Ben Zobrist doubled for the only hit by a Rays prospect on the day, but also committed an error. Wes Bankston and Fernando Perez were each held hitless.
How Our Guys Did
SS Ben Zobrist: 1-3, RS, 2B, BB, E
1B Wes Bankston: 0-4, K
CF Fernando Perez: 0-3, K
SP Jeff Niemann: 3 IP, 53 pitches, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 4:1 G/F
RP Brian Henderson: 1 IP, 16 pitches, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 0 K, 1:2 G/F
RP Jeremy Flanagan: 1 IP, 12 pitches, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 0 K, 0:2 G/F
Today: at Mesa, 10:05 ET