Just when I was resigned to passing up the Arizona Fall League this year, the Phillies drafted Aaron Nola with the 7th overall pick. Consensus is that Nola has a good chance to be the first of this year’s draft class to make the majors, and be a top of the rotation starter. The Phils’ starting catcher, Carlos Ruiz, was on rehab assignment in Clearwater last Sunday and had the opportunity to catch Nola. Chooch was as bubbly as Chooch can get about Nola’s stuff, so I’ve decided I want to be able to catch Nola too.
I could roll the dice and wait to catch him (not literally, but figuratively) in Spring Training 2015. But Aaron is being fast-tracked, starting in Clearwater high A rather than Williamsport or Lakewood low A, there’s a great chance that he’ll show up in the Fall League. Each team is allowed to send only one player below double A to the AFL, and Nola should be the one for the Phils. We’re feeling we might have a second adopted baseball son on our hands. As a bonus, I have a hunch Maikel Franco might show up in the Fall League too. So the potential to see these two budding stars in that special environment that is the AFL would be too much to pass on. And, my buddy Coop agrees with me.
Naturally once I made the decision to go, the next step was to figure out dates. The problem is, no information is available online anywhere about the AFL for 2014 and trust me, I’ve looked everywhere! I know the AFL is still one of baseball’s best kept secrets, and this is one reason why! I called the Phillies front office, and they had no clue. So I started calling around to the stadia in Arizona this evening and hit paydirt! Jeff at Scottsdale Stadium was immensely helpful. The AFL runs from October 7 through November 15 this year. When do we find out each team’s schedule, and who is on each team? No one seems to know until the schedules actually appear on the AFL website. But Jeff did have a couple of insights to share that were news to me.
We know that each of the six AFL teams are made up of six players sent by each of five major league teams, for a total of 30 players per team. But which major league clubs are represented on each team? Turns out that the clubs who use that stadium’s facilities as their Cactus League home in the spring are the ones guaranteed to be on that team. For example, the San Francisco Giants train in Scottsdale, and therefore they are always on the Scottsdale Scorpions each Fall. The other teams are selected based on a kind of reverse lottery system. Here’s how Jeff explained it works. Each August major league clubs hold a position draft to determine the players who will go to Arizona. Then a kind of reverse lottery occurs. Let’s say for example that a priority for the Phillies is for Maikel Franco to get playing time at first base in the AFL, now that Ryan Howard is on his way out. The Phillies were on the Peoria Javelinas for the past couple of years. The Mariners and Padres will definitely be on the Javelinas, since Peoria is their shared Cactus League facility, and the position players they draft will determine whether other clubs stay with them or look elsewhere. If the Javelinas are rich with first baseman, the Phils might opt out of being on the Javelinas, and trade places with another club.
We’ve decided that since we’ll be in San Diego for a meeting the third week in October, we’ll just continue on to Arizona and take in some quality time at the AFL. Jeff invited me to keep his number handy, 480-312-2380. He worked his way up from being a groundskeeper in at Scottsdale Stadium to being a stadium operations manager. By the way, for a second year in a row, the Peoria Javelinas won’t be able to play in their home stadium due to renovations. Last year it was the clubhouse and training room facilities. This year it’s the field and stands being renovated. Jeff wondered why more fans hand’t discovered the AFL, though we agreed that the intimacy of the park to the GMs and scouts who come would be lost if too many fans showed up. So now that you’ve read this, forget about it. That is, unless, your name happens to be Cooper.