Later today, Arizona Fall League rosters will be released. The off-season league lasts for over a month and will feature a lot of great talent. A lot of top big league talent has passed through the AFL, including players like Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria representing the Rays.
They'll choose five or six players to send out, and they'll form a team in Peoria with minor leaguers from the Braves, Cardinals, Indians and Royals. Most of them will be from the upper levels in the organization, but if a team wants to send a player from lower levels, I've never heard of the league turning them down. Dominicans, Venezuelans and other players from countries with their own off-season league tend to go home to play.
I took a shot at guessing some players the Rays might pick. Once I whiff completely on every selection, I'll update with the players that actually go.
IF Tim Beckham
Why? Missed almost the entire season.
Beckham would be making his third AFL trip in four seasons if he's chosen. He didn't make his 2014 debut until the end of July because of off-season knee surgery, and he'll finish the minor league season with about 25 games played. Even if he's added to the Rays in September (and I'm sure he will be), that'll still be a lot of missed plate appearances this season. Going out to the AFL could help him get some of those back, and he can get some work in around the infield too.
OF Kes Carter
Why? Will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft for the first time.
After battling injuries to start his career, Kes Carter has been healthy the last two seasons, and he finally reached Double-A in June. He's actually been hitting well since his promotion to the Biscuits, owning a .265/.362/.414 line with an 11% walk rate and 21% strikeout rate. If he can play center field, he could still salvage a career as a platoon outfielder. Extra PA's against upper level competition will be good for him.
RHP Merrill Kelly
Why? His stints in the bullpen have limited his innings this season.
Kelly would be making his second straight AFL appearance after a pretty rough ride last year with six earned runs in 11 innings. His stuff is average, but he owns an above average strikeout rate with a good changeup. He throws strikes too, but he's been bouncing between the rotation and bullpen this year. He could fill the same role in the AFL and give teams another look in his second year of Rule 5 eligibility.
SS Hak-Ju Lee
Why? 2014 hasn't been a great year, or even a good one, or even a mediocre one.
The argument for Lee going to the AFL is that 2013 was a complete lost season, and heading back out there for the second time in three years can help him get those back. Any opportunity to remain in game action and get his timing back sounds good, but I wonder if they're just going to tell him to go home for the off-season and get ready for 2015. Physically, he could be wearing down because of his knee injury, and mentally, he could probably use a break.
LHP Adam Liberatore
Why? He's been very effective this year for Durham, and he remains Rule 5 eligible.
In his second go-around with Durham, Liberatore is having his best professional season to date. His 35.3% strikeout rate is a career high, and his 6.3% walk rate is a career low. For two straight seasons, he's held lefties to an OPS below .500. He works from a lower arm slot with a fastball that averages about 91 MPH and a slider. He turns 28 in May and has already pitched in the AFL, but guys like him tend to have chances to get selected in the Rule 5 draft.
C Luke Maile
Why? He continues to have success, and the extra at-bats give the Rays another opportunity to see what they have.
Maile skipped over Charlotte, and he's continued playing well. His strikeout and walk rates are career worsts, but he's still making okay contact and hitting for a bit of power. He was a very late addition to last year's AFL roster and didn't do well in 15 plate appearances. He's not yet Rule 5 eligible.
RHP Jaime Schultz
Why? He's having an impressive breakout season, and a chance to face tougher competition could accelerate his timeline.
Schultz has a Tommy John surgery on his resume and has been on the DL twice this year, so building up innings is important. Whether or not he's ready for this assignment is a tough question. He just arrived in High-A and only has 18 innings, so he may not be ready for the challenge. He has 55 innings total on the season.
C Maxx Tissenbaum
Why? On the same roster as Justin O'Conner most of the season, he had limited chances behind the plate.
Tissenbaum is another player that might not be ready for the AFL assignment. He's having a solid season with Charlotte, owning a .748 OPS. He's done a great job putting the ball in play with a .297 average and only 32 strikeouts in 344 plate appearances, and he had a nice little power surge to start the second half. He's new to catching, and the extra reps behind the plate could help him.