Rafters Claim AFL Title

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—The Salt River Rafters used a seventh-inning bases loaded triple by second baseman David Nick (Diamondbacks) to break the backs of the Surprise Saguaros in the annual Arizona Fall League championship game, as the Rafters prevailed, 9-3, in front of a Scottsdale Stadium crowd of 3,079.

“My swing felt good and I didn’t want to miss a pitch if it was out over the plate,” Nick said about his big hit. “It was a 3-1 pitch and a fastball away. I didn’t try to do too much with it. I just put a good swing on it and luckily it found a gap. We were able to score three runs and cash it in.”

The Rafters, managed by Stu Cole (Rockies),  took an early lead in the top of the second inning on a sacrifice fly from Jake Goebbert (Astros) and a run-scoring single off the bat of Dixon Machado (Tigers), an advantage that the visitors never relinquished.  A solo home run by Nolan Arenado (Rockies) in the third inning added to the Rafters’  early lead.

Salt River starting pitcher Charles Brewer (Diamondbacks), who played as a prep at nearby Chaparral High, earned the win with four strong innings in which the only runs he yielded came from a third inning two-run homerun from Christian Bethancourt (Braves). Alex Sanabia (Marlins) took the loss for Surprise, which set a league record with a .722 winning percentage during the 2011 AFL season.

“I was just locating my fastball and changing speeds,” said Brewer, who also was on a league champion at Double-A Mobile in the Southern League this summer. “I told my catcher from the get-go that we were going to need to change speeds with this team because they’re very aggressive, especially early in the count . . . I threw my cutter, my curveball, just threw everything at them.”

The Rafters, playing its first year in the new Salt River Fields facility in Scottsdale,  earned the championship game berth by finishing in first place in the East Division with a 22-16 record. Their roster included prospects from the Astros, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Rockies and Tigers farm systems.

“The whole Fall League these guys stuck together, they played well and they played as a team,” Cole said after the game. “When you’ve got different organizations coming together like they did, it’s something special.”

Fall Guys

• Arenado was presented with the Joe Black MVP Award as the AFL’s Most Valuable Player. The righthanded-hitting third baseman  batted .388/.424/.636, leading the league in hits (47) and doubles (12).  “It’s good to represent the organization in the right way,” Arenado said before the championship game. “I know that’s why they sent me here—to represent them and play my hardest, and that’s what I did.”

• Kevin Mattison (Marlins) was presented with the AFL’s Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award prior to the championship game. The award, named in memory of the former AFL player who was murdered in 2003 while a member of the Scottsdale Scorpions, has been given annually since 2004 to the league’s player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership. Mattison also was added to the Marlins’ 40-man roster this weekend.

• Jedd Gyorko (Padres) led all AFL hitters with a .437 batting average. Junior Lake (Cubs) was the league leader in stolen bases with 18, six shy of the league steals record. Mike Olt (Rangers) paced all hitters with 13 homers and 43 RBIs, both totals one shy of the overall league record in each category. He also had the highest slugging percentage at .764.

Southpaw Miguel De Los Santos (Rangers) led all pitchers in two categories—wins (five) and strikeouts (40). Forrest Snow (Mariners) was the leader in ERA at 1.10 and Josh Wall (Dodgers) earned the most saves (4).