After a yearlong hiatus, MLB’s best prospects will head to the desert once again
After a year-long COVID hiatus, the Arizona Fall League is back! MLB’s best prospects will head to Arizona for six weeks of extended work in the Cactus League. This year, the Colorado Rockies remain part of the Salt River Rafters, based out of Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. They will be joined in 2021 by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets. Here’s what to expect out of the Fall League in 2021:
In 2019, the AFL was pushed up to mid-September through the end of October — about a month earlier than their usual start. In 2021, they are once again starting in mid-October. Games begin on October 13 and run through November 20. The Fall Stars Game will be played on November 13 at Salt River Fields, the spring home of the Rockies and D-Backs, while the championship game on November 20 will also be played at Salt River.
Other rule changes include a 15-second pitch clock for pitchers, who will also be limited to two pickoff attempts per plate appearance. Infielders will be required to remain in the dirt with two on each side of second base, and the size of the bases will be increased. The automated strike zone will also be used in games played specifically at Salt River Fields, so Rockies prospects will gain a lot of experience with the system this fall. Most interestingly, pitchers and catchers will be allowed to use a pitcher-catcher communication device called PitchCom.
The Rockies are sending eight prospects to the AFL this year — four pitchers and four position players, including their three Futures Game participants. The four position players were also on the Top 30 Mid-Season PuRPs list. Here’s the full lineup:
- Michael Toglia (No. 4 PuRP): 1B, Hartford Yard Goats
- Ryan Vilade (No. 10 PuRP): OF, Albuquerque Isotopes
- Ezequiel Tovar (No. 12 PuRP): SS, Spokane Indians
- Willie MacIver (No. 22 PuRP): C, Hartford Yard Goats
- Jake Bird: RHP, Albuquerque Isotopes
- Matt Dennis: RHP, Hartford Yard Goats
- Jordan Sheffield: RHP, Colorado Rockies
- Reagan Todd: LHP, Albuquerque Isotopes
It’s interesting to note that all of the prospects are from the upper minors, considering the Yard Goats and Isotopes are very thin after the graduation of many prospects. Ezequiel Tovar was a breakout prospect in Low-A Fresno, hitting .330/.364/.550 with seven doubles, a triple, five home runs, 29 RBI, five walks, 17 strikeouts, and 10 stolen bases in the month of June. He then hit .300/.339/.520 with eight doubles, another triple, four homers, 15 RBI, seven walks, seven strikeouts and eight stolen bases in July. Upon his promotion he cooled off, but did start to find his stride towards the end. This might be what he needs to continue that momentum.
Jordan Sheffield is making his second AFL appearance. The 26-year-old right-hander was a Rule 5 pick by the Rockies in 2021, but he spent much of the season on the 60-day IL with a lat strain (June 5-September 4). Prior to his injury, Sheffield posted a 3.26 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 19 1⁄3 innings. In his previous AFL appearance for the Glendale Desert Dogs in 2018, Sheffield pitched 9 1⁄3 innings over 10 starts. He posted a 1.93 ERA and 1.07 WHIP — allowing two runs on six hits with four walks and seven strikeouts. After the injury-shortened season, hopefully Sheffield is able to replicate his 2018 AFL results and continue his success at the major league level in 2022.
If you’re planning to go
Games will begin at 12:35 or 6:35 p.m. unless otherwise noted on the schedule. The six stadiums in play this year are Salt River Fields (Scottsdale), Sloan Park (Mesa), Peoria Sports Complex (Peoria), Camelback Ranch (Glendale), Scottsdale Stadium (Scottsdale) and Surprise Stadium (Surprise). Tickets are $9 for adults and $7 for seniors 55+. Kids 12 and under are free with the purchase of an adult ticket.
This is a fantastic way to see some of the spring training stadiums and top prospects without breaking the bank. There usually aren’t a ton of people there, so it’s just a great way to sit back, relax, and enjoy the sounds of baseball in the beautiful Arizona desert.
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