The Arizona Fall League takes place every year, and it’s a must-see attraction for prospect enthusiasts. On Opening Day of the 2019 season, 391 of the 750 active players were alumni of the league, and some of baseball’s biggest stars have played there before making the Majors.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have had plenty of their top prospects head to the AFL in recent years, including Cody Bellinger, Alex Verdugo, Willie Calhoun, Will Smith, DJ Peters and Keibert Ruiz.
The Dodgers are one of the five teams comprising the Glendale Desert Dogs, who play at Camelback Ranch. They’ll be joined by prospects from the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox.
In each of the past three years, the Dodgers have sent eight players: four pitchers and four position players. That will be used as the baseline to project which of the organization’s Minor Leaguers may report this fall.
So, what makes a prospect a good candidate to be selected? Firstly, the team has to be invested enough in that player’s development to want to send them to the prestigious Arizona Fall League, competing against some of the top prospects in baseball.
Secondly, in previous years, the Dodgers have usually targeted players from Double-A Tulsa and High-A Rancho Cucamonga to fill out their squad, so all the players below will fit that.
And while it’s not always the case, oftentimes, the team will look to get players who spent time on the IL some more development time by sending them to the AZL; this was the case with both Yusniel Diaz and Will Smith in 2017, and Jordan Sheffield in 2018.
Hitters: Devin Mann, Omar Estevez, Donovan Casey, Michael Busch
Both Mann and Estevez check off each of our three criteria, and Casey Busch check off two of the three. Mann has unlocked a new ability to hit for power this year with a swing change, and was one of the leaders in homers among Dodgers prospects before getting injured in July, missing about a month of action.
He could’ve potentially been promoted to Tulsa had he not been injured, but his time in Rancho should prepare him fine for the AFL as his 17 homers and 134 wRC+ in 86 games indicates. Mann just made his first rehab appearance in the AZL, so he should be getting back to Rancho soon.
Estevez has excelled as one of the Texas League’s younger players, hitting .307/.380/.443 through 67 games, with a 133 wRC+ to show for it. He missed about a month and a half with a leg injury earlier this year, making him a perfect candidate for the six-week AFL.
Casey hit 20 homers with a 130 wRC+ in 100 games with the Quakes before being promoted to Tulsa at the start of August. The strikeouts are still a concern for him, but he’s already reached 20 homers and 20 steals, and is a very strong defender in the outfield. He hasn’t missed any time with injuries, but he’d still be a good candidate for the league.
Busch is certainly the least likely of the four to actually be selected; he’s played just 10 games this year after being drafted 31st overall, with five in the AZL and five with Low-A Great Lakes before fracturing his hand. However, Busch’s bat is advanced enough to at least hold his own in the AZL, and the Dodgers may want to get him some more development time against good competition.
Other possible candidates: Jeren Kendall, Jeter Downs, Connor Wong, Marcus Chiu, Drew Avans
Pitchers: Marshall Kasowski, Leo Crawford, Wills Montgomerie, Markus Solbach
Like the hitters above them, each of these four pitchers meet at least two of the three criteria.
Kasowski has been lethal out of the bullpen in his short career since being drafted in 2017, but he’s been on the shelf since mid-June with an unknown injury, only recently making his first rehab appearance in the AZL. Before that, he had a 41/14 K/BB ratio in 24.1 innings in Tulsa, with batters hitting just .161 against him.
Crawford has enjoyed a breakout year for the Quakes, and earned his first promotion to Double-A earlier this month. With Rancho, he had a 2.96 ERA and 3.27 FIP in 91.1 innings to go along with an impressive 106/20 K/BB ratio. He’s dazzled in his first two starts for Tulsa, throwing 11 scoreless innings and striking out 18.
Montgomerie has had an up and down year for Rancho, and has also spent some time on the IL, though it was just a couple weeks in July and August. He’s struck out 112 in 88 innings, but has walked 50, and it may finally be time to shift him to short relief. Sheffield’s move to relief began in last year’s AFL, and it could potentially be the same for Montgomerie.
Solbach hasn’t pitched much this year, but when he has, he’s been very good. He didn’t start a rehab assignment until mid June, and didn’t even join Tulsa until late July. Solbach has allowed just one run in his first three starts, striking out 22 and walking three in 20.1 innings.
The 27-year-old from Germany starred in the Australian league last year, and the 6’5″ righty earned his first contract with a Major League organization since 2016. Since he missed so much time, he’d be a fantastic candidate to get an extra look in the AFL.
Other possible candidates: Logan Salow, Max Gamboa, Darien Nunez, Ryan Moseley
The Arizona Fall League begins Sept. 18 and concludes with the championship game on Oct. 26. The Fall Stars Game takes place Oct. 12.