The Arizona Fall League season is set to begin today, with every MLB team represented by eight players from their minor league system. There are some big names attending, like former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow (Scottsdale, representing the NY Mets) and top prospect Yoan Moncada (Surprise, representing Boston) who was playing in the big leagues in September.
The KC Royals contingent consists of eight players (four pitchers, three infielders, and one outfielder) playing for Surprise. The Saguaros will play their home games at Surprise Stadium, the spring training home of the Royals and Texas Rangers. The Saguaros consist of players from the Royals, Rangers, Red Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Minnesota Twins.
They will be managed by former Royal Carlos Febles, who is a manager in the Red Sox minor league system.
Most of the Saguaros games are played at 12:35pm local time (and remember Arizona does not recognize Daylight Savings Time). Their first night game is this Thursday at Glendale. They play back-to-back night games on October 18 and 19 (at Salt River and at Scottsdale) and October 28 and 29 (at Scottsdale and at home). They play back-to-back 2:35pm games on November 8 and 9. The AFL has every Sunday off.
Of the eight Royals set to play in the AFL, seven reached Double-A in 2016.
Right-hander Jake Newberry split this past season between Low-A Lexington and High-A Wilmington. He had a zero ERA in six games with the Legends and a 3.00 ERA in 29 games with the Blue Rocks. Overall, he walked 18 and struck out 62 in 66.2 innings.
Right-hander Evan Beal is a reliever to watch in 2017. He pitched at three levels in 2016 (High-A, Triple-A, and Double-A), starting with Wilmington and ending in NW Arkansas. Beal was the Blue Rocks best pitcher over the first month and did not allow a run over his final four appearances with NWA (7.1 innings). Over 40 combined games (73 innings), he allowed ten home runs, walked 27, and struck out 59. Opponents hit .232 against him.
Right-hander Josh Staumont pitched much better after a promotion to Double-A, as he was 2-10 with a 5.05 ERA in 18 games (15 starts) with the Blue Rocks. He was tough to watch with the Blue Rocks, walking 67 and hitting seven in 73 innings (while striking out 94). After his promotion, he had a 3.04 ERA and walked 37 in 50.1 innings. He struck out 73.
Staumont also pitched well when the games meant the most. He pitched the second half division championship clincher, pitching six shutout innings while striking out 12. He pitched Game 4 of the Texas League Division Series in which the Naturals won (6IP, 4H, 2R, 3BB, 11K). He also pitched Game 3 of the Championship Series, winning the only game against champion Midland (6.1IP, 3H, 0R, BB, 8K).
Lefty Eric Stout never pitched in Wilmington, so I’ve never seen him pitch. He spent the entire season in the Naturals bullpen (the only Royal in the AFL to pitch at just one level in 2016), going 6-4 with a 3.86 ERA In 42 games. In 72.1 innings, opponents hit .255 against him (with three homers), he walked 25, and struck out 69.
Second baseman Corey Toups was named the Royals Double-A Player of the Year, despite playing his first 41 games in Wilmington. Overall, he hit .268 with 35 doubles, seven triples, 12 home runs, and 49 RBIs. Toups walked 58 times and struck out 131 times in 493 at-bats. He also stole 22 bases and was caught just four times.
Toups was the Royals representative in Saturday night’s AFL Hitting Challenge, the official kickoff to the AFL season. He finished with close to 1000 points, but way off the winning total of 2350 put up by Cleveland prospect Bradley Zimmer (yes Kyle’s brother).
First baseman Ryan O’Hearn started the season back in Wilmington (with his best friend Toups playing next to him at second base). He hit .352 in 22 games with seven doubles, seven homers, and 18 RBIs and was the Blue Rocks first transaction of the 2016 season. In 112 games with the Naturals, he hit .258 with 25 doubles, two triples, 15 home runs, and 60 RBIs. He walked 48 times and struck out 131 times. The average was so low because O’Hearn hit just .228 in the second half (.196 in July). I expect he may see more time in the outfield in the AFL than at first base because he only played the outfield during the TL playoffs (though the Saguaros have five outfielders on their roster).
Third baseman Mauricio Ramos spent the entire season at Double-A and put up another solid season. He was a Texas League midseason All-Star and hit .288 (second in the TL) with 28 doubles, nine home runs, and 60 RBIs. Like every other Royals hitter, he struck out a lot (92 times) and did not walk much (just 19 times).
It will be interesting to see what the Royals do with Ramos because he is blocked in Triple-A and the big leagues by three third baseman (Mike Moustakas, Cheslor Cuthbert, and Hunter Dozier), so a big AFL season could lead to a new team for Ramos.
Alfredo Escalera is the lone outfielder of the Royals AFL contingent. He had a rough start to his 2016 back in Wilmington, hitting just .191 in April. However, he turned his season around and was the hottest Blue Rocks hitter at the time of his promotion (he ended up hitting .269 with ten doubles, three homers, and 30 RBIs in 73 games). With the Naturals, Escalera hit .277 with 14 doubles, two homers, and 23 RBIs. However, the strikeouts were a huge problem: 51 in 50 games compared to just six walks. He also struck out 13 times in the eight playoff games (including five times against Springfield in Game 4).
My guess is Escalera will be working on his approach at the plate, along with his defense in the outfield.
A few important dates of note in the AFL:
- Saturday November 5th-Fall Stars Game @ Surprise (5:08pm)
- Saturday November 19th-AFL Championship Game @ Scottsdale (1:08pm)
Both games are usually televised on MLB Network