The Arizona Fall League, not to be confused with instructional league, is one of several fall/winter leagues that take place after the season is over, but this is the only one that takes place in the United States (technically the Puerto Rican Winter League is in the US…. but you get my point). Each Major League team sends a group of 6-8 players to the league that is made up of 6 teams, with each individual team made up of prospects from five teams. The Reds players will be on the Glendale Desert Dogs along with players from the Twins, White Sox, Dodgers and Marlins. There are rules that dictate which players are eligible to play in the league and which aren’t, but they don’t seem to be enforced all that well other than each team can only send one player who is below the AA level. The league will get underway on Tuesday afternoon and you can follow along at MLBFallBall.com.
Teams will send players to the league for different reasons. Some players will be sent there to be shined up for trades over the winter, some players are sent there to make up for time lost during the year to an injury, some will be sent there to learn a new position, some are there to show off one last time in order to give the club a reason to either add them to the 40-man roster or leave them unprotected for the upcoming Rule 5 draft and some players are there for other reasons.
The Reds are sending the following players this season: RHP Drew Hayes, RHP Michael Lorenzen, RHP Chad Rogers, RHP Jamie Walczak, C Tucker Barnhart, 3B Travis Mattair, OF Ryan LaMarre and OF Yorman Rodriguez. Only Jamie Walczak missed significant time this season and only Yorman Rodriguez is currently on the 40-man roster. Outside of Michael Lorenzen, everyone else will need to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason or be eligible for the Rule 5 draft in December.
Among the pitching staff, Michael Lorenzen is the top prospect but unlike the other three, isn’t fighting for a spot on the 40-man roster. Drew Hayes struggled in 2013 with Pensacola as he posted a 5.43 ERA in 63 innings with 33 walks and 61 strikeouts. Control was and has been an issue with Hayes over the past few years, so being able to improve upon that in Arizona could be crucial for him. Chad Rogers posted a 3.21 ERA between Pensacola and Louisville in 140 innings. His time in AAA saw a 4.22 ERA in 70.1 innings and his home run rate ballooned to a career high. Jamie Walczak missed the first 50 games of the year due to suspension. In 42.2 innings after returning he posted a 2.95 ERA with 18 walks and 54 strikeouts between Bakersfield and Pensacola. He posted big strikeout numbers, but his walk rate was rather high in Pensacola, so like Hayes, showing an improved rate of walks could be crucial to whether or not he winds up being protected. Michael Lorenzen threw 21 innings after being drafted in June over four levels, never throwing more than 8.1 innings at any stop. As he moved up a level, his numbers got worse, but we are talking about a very small sample size. Lorenzen is likely just in Arizona to get some more experience against more advanced hitters to prepare him to be on the fast track again next season. One of the Reds pitching coaches, Tom Browning, will be the Glendale pitching coach. That will really give the Reds a little more insight into just how their guys perform.
On the position side of things for the Reds we will start behind the plate with Tucker Barnhart, who is making his first trip to the AFL. He will need to be added to the 40-man roster before December to be protected and given how his career has gone to this point, I don’t believe it will matter what he does in Arizona, he will be added to the roster. Good defensive catchers who have an idea of how to handle a bat don’t go unprotected. Travis Mattair will be making a second trip to the AFL, as he came on as an injury replacement last season and got a few at bats. He started off 2013 in a very rough way in April and rebounded nicely, but April was so bad that it kept his overall numbers down. Showing off his skill in Arizona and finishing strong could earn him a place on the 40-man roster. Ryan LaMarre started out slow as well with Pensacola but really turned things on over the final eight weeks of the season. Continuing what he finished the regular season with, showing off both his tools and production would likely earn him a spot on the 40-man roster. Yorman Rodriguez is already on the 40-man roster, being added last offseason. He split his year between Bakersfield and Pensacola. Rodriguez will be the 4th youngest player on the roster and like Michael Lorenzen is likely just in the league to get extra playing time against advanced players. Despite being the top prospect among the position players, he is also the player who is most raw in his skillset among the players.
The Reds will have quite a few difficult choices to make in who they will add to and leave off of the 40-man roster this winter. It seems that their plan, as it has seemed to be in the past, is to use the AFL as a final chance to get a good feel for whether or not a player will be put on the roster with just two of the eight players not up for consideration. Outside of Barnhart, who I feel is a lock to be added, the performance in the league could be very critical to the futures of the players who need to have the decision made to add them or leave them off.
The Rising Stars All-Star game will be on November 2nd at 6:35pm. Last year it was on MLB Network and I would expect the same again this season.