Ask BA: Does AFL Success Carry Over To The Big Leagues?

The news that the Braves will be leaving Turner Field after the 2016 season hit home with me, mainly because it’s another reminder of how quickly time passes. It seems like just yesterday that “the Ted” was opening—in terms of baseball stadiums, it was practically yesterday. When the Braves move to their new ballpark just 20 seasons after moving into Turner Field, they will be making the quickest jump of any team moving from a single-purpose stadium in the modern era of baseball (1961 to now).

In the past 50-plus years, I can find only three other major league teams that were in a ballpark for a shorter time frame, but all three of those departures come with many caveats. The Marlins left Pro Player Park (it also held multiple other names) after 19 seasons, but in that case, the stadium continues to be used for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. The Blue Jays spent 13 seasons at Exhibition Stadium, but again, that was a multipurpose stadium shared with the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts, and it was originally built in 1948. And Washington, D.C.’s, RFK Stadium was around for 10 Senators seasons before they left, as well as three seasons of the Nationals’ tenure, but the stadium also housed the NFL’s Washington Redskins for 35 years.

Turner Field is younger than Coors Field or Camden Yards. It’s two years older than Chase Field and three years older than Safeco Field. In ballpark terms, it’s barely middle aged, so it’s kind of surprising to see that it’s headed toward the wrecking ball so soon. It was a stadium designed for the Olympics and then retrofitted for baseball, but considering the Braves’ desire to depart so quickly, it has to rank as one of the busts of stadium design of the late 20th century.

On to this week’s questions. If you have a question you’d like answered, please send it to askba@baseballamerica.com and remember to include your name and hometown.

Does success in the AFL have any correlation to success in the major leagues?  How have the top AFL players fared in the big leagues?

Gary Heilbrun

Orange, Calif.

The Arizona Fall League is often called finishing school for prospects. Prospects arrive, spend a month and a half facing other prospects in beautiful weather, then they get to head home to begin their offseasons a little later than most minor leaguers. Since the league began in 1992, more than 1,200 Arizona Fall League players have gone on to play in the big leagues. Derek Jeter, Mike Piazza, Albert Pujols and Roy Halladay are just a few of the future Hall of Famers who spent time in the AFL.

The league is extremely valuable for teams for a variety of reasons. For players who missed time during the season, it’s a chance to catch up for some missing at-bats or innings pitched. For players whose teams are struggling to decide on whether to add them to the 40-man roster or leave exposed to the Rule 5 draft, it can provide that final piece of evidence.

And for some lesser-known prospects, it’s a chance to see how their stuff matches up against some of the game’s best, potentially catching the eye of a scout or two.

All of that is true, but here’s the other secret to the Arizona Fall League: if you’re a scout or a club, you don’t want to base too many decisions around anything seen in Scottsdale. The reality is that while you can see some of the game’s top prospects flash their tools, a variety of factors make it a useful secondary look rather than something to base decisions around.

Many of the top prospects who come to the Fall League are worn out at the end of a long season. Mike Trout hit .245/.279/.321 in the Fall League in 2011. It’s one of the worst months he’s had as a pro, but it had more to do with fatigue than anything that should have caused long-term concern. The same could be said about Byron Buxton this year. Buxton hit .212/.288/.404, but scouts who saw him say they aren’t concerned at all about his poor AFL production. In the past week, scouts have mentioned Colin Moran, Jorge Soler and Buxton as three notable prospects who look completely gassed in the Fall League. And yes, if the fact that Soler seems gassed concerns you considering he missed much of the year with a stress fracture, that’s a fair cause for concern.

On the other side of the coin, a strong AFL is not necessarily an indicator of any future success. The following is likely the only repository of the batting, ERA and home run leaders in the Arizona Fall League this century. You will find a few big-name big leaguers on the list, but you’ll find just as many, if not more, players who barely register as distant memories. These numbers are also a reminder that the stats from a season this brief contain a whole lot of noise. Hitting .400 in the AFL is the equivalent of having a great month and a half in a full-season league. For pitchers, the innings pitched in the AFL often equal what they would throw in three or four regular season starts.

BATTING AVERAGE
*2013 Henry Urrutia .410
2012 Nate Roberts .446
2011 Jedd Gyorko .437
2010 Dustin Ackley .424
2009 Brent Morel .435
2008 Eric Young .430
2007 Corey Wimberly .407
2006 Yunel Escobar .407
2005 Kevin Howard .409
2004 Chris Shelton .404
2003 Richard Lewis .404
2002 Ken Harvey .479
2001 Marcus Giles .359
2000 Chad Moeller .414
ERA
*2013 Derek Law (Giants) 0.00
2012 Jimmy Reyes 0.68
2011 Forrest Snow 1.10
2010 Mark Rzepcynzski 1.16
2009 Drew Storen 0.66
2008 Tommy Hanson 0.63
2007 Jake Arrieta 0.00
2006 Neal Musser 2.61
2005 Adam Loewen 1.67
2004 Wes Wilkerson/Huston Street 1.00
2003 Ramon Ramirez 1.44
2002 Dave Sanders 0.75
2001 Elvin Nina 0.41
2000 Chad Durbin 0.75
HOME RUNS
*2013 Kris Bryant 6
2012 Kyle Jensen/Kent Matthes 5
2011 Mike Olt 11
2010 Connor Gillaspie/Adam Loewen 5
2009 Grant Desme 11
2008 Tyler Flowers 12
2007 3 tied 6
2006 Chip Cannon 11
2005 Brandon Wood 14
2004 Conor Jackson/Jason Repko 8
2003 Jason Dubois 9
2002 Tagg Bozied 12
2001 Hank Blalock 11
2000 George Lombard 11

For every future star who tore up the Fall League, you also have Joey Votto hitting .250 with two extra-base hits in 2005 or Prince Fielder hitting .143 the same year. And for every name you know on the list above, you’re just as likely to be hitting Baseball-Reference to look back at the career of Chip Cannon, Dave Sanders or Richard Lewis. Of the eight players to hit double-digit home runs in the league this century, only one, Hank Blalock, went on to have a lengthy big league career.

So the best explanation I can give is that having success in the Arizona Fall League is a nice thing to have on your résumeé, but it’s not exactly a ticket to the big leagues on its own.

Where can I find the minor league free agent list, effective October 2013?

Michael Daley

Harrisburg, Pa.

I won’t get nearly as wordy answering this as I often do delving into the world of transactions and rules. Matt Eddy has put the entire list of 550 minor league free agents into an easy-to-search story. Just go to http://www.baseballamerica.com/minors/minor-league-free-agents-2013/ and you can read the entire list, organized by the 2013 organization.

 

Majors | #Ask BA #Baltimore Orioles #Byron Buxton #Henry Urrutia #Minnesota Twins

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