Image credit: (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
For the second straight season, the Surprise Saguaros are Arizona Fall League champions. To keep the trophy, they turned to a combination of prospects—on the mound and in the batter’s box—on teams who also play their spring training games in Surprise.
The result was a 6-5 win over a powerful Peoria club at Scottsdale Stadium.
The game started by a pair of pitchers with a wide range of experience as professionals. The Saguaros called on Royals lefty Angel Zerpa, who has 58.2 innings of big league time. The Javelinas countered with Padres righty Braden Nett, who was signed in 2022 and has pitched just 13 innings outside of the Arizona Complex League.
Zerpa was a buzzsaw for his three innings, striking out six hitters and allowing just a hit while throwing up three zeroes.
Nett danced in and out of trouble for 3.1 innings but allowed the game’s first run when Rangers prospect Liam Hicks—who finished the regular AFL year with a league-best .449 average that included the league’s first six-hit game since 2009—slipped a single through the right side.
The Padres righty has boosted his prospect stock entering the offseason.
Ortiz’s two RBIs served as an appropriate extension of his outstanding regular season, when he slammed 33 home runs and drove in 101 runs between both Class A levels.
Zerpa was relieved by another Royals prospect, righthander Eric Cerantola, who struck out three more hitters over two one-run innings.
Brewers prospect Wes Clarke gave Surprise another jolt in the sixth inning when his double into the left-center field gap put another Saguaros run on the board.
The Saguaros spun shutout innings in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings with Blue Jays righty C.J. Van Eyk and Reds righties Zach Maxwell and Andrew Moore, but things got dicey in the ninth when the Javelinas reprised their resiliency from the semifinal game, when they erased a nine-run deficit to top Scottsdale and make the championship game.
Facing a five-run hole, Peoria got a bases-loaded walk from Marlins prospect and Futures Game MVP Nasim Nunez. The next two hitters—Guardians prospects Chase DeLauter and Kyle Manzardo—notched an RBI groundout and a two-run single to cut Surprise’s lead to one and put the go-ahead run at the plate.