Arizona Fall League Prospects Knock On Door
ALSO: MANFRED'S MANIFESTO THREATENS BASEBALL TRADITIONS
IBWAA members love to write about baseball. So much so, we've decided to create our own newsletter about it! Subscribe to Here's the Pitch to expand your love of baseball, discover new voices, and support independent writing. Original content six days a week, straight to your inbox and straight from the hearts of baseball fans.
Did you know…
Carlos who? Rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena of the Houston Astros was MVP of both the AL Championship Series and the World Series . . .
Philadelphia ace Aaron Nola turned into a Joker when it counted most, posting an 8.64 ERA against the Astros in the World Series . . .
Cristian Javier, the front man on Houston’s two combined no-hitters (including one in the World Series), has never pitched more than seven innings in a game . . .
Because Houston’s bullpen was as dominating as Atlanta’s was in the 2021 World Series, the Astros have now won two world championships in six seasons . . .
After a rash of no-hitters last year, the 2022 season had just four, including a single complete-game hitless effort by the Angels’ Reid Detmers and combined gems by the Astros twice and Mets once . . .
Mazel tov, Dusty: what took you so long? In his 25th year as a field boss, with his fifth playoff team, Dusty Baker finally won a World Series ring as a manager to match the one he won as a player (1981 Dodgers) . . .
Houston’s win meant that the World Series trophy went from one generation of the Snitker family (Braves manager Brian) to the next (Astros hitting coach Troy) . . .
The Yankees had a 64-28 record at the All-Star break but finished 38-41 (including two playoff rounds in the postseason).
Arizona Fall League 2022 finale
By Benjamin Chase
The 2022 Arizona Fall League (AFL) comes to a close tomorrow with the championship game, to be played in Scottsdale Stadium and aired live on MLB Network at 8 p.m. EST.
The Surprise Saguaros will host the championship game, having already clinched the best record in the league.
Later today, there will be a play-in game between the two teams with the next two best records in the league. One of those two teams will be Glendale, but yesterday's game between Mesa and Peoria will determine the other team to play in the play-in game. The winner of today's play-in game will move on to play in the championship tomorrow.
AFL Fall-Stars game, featuring 24 players who tasted the big leagues this season, was played last Sunday (the 2021 Fall-Stars had 21). If the 2022 AFL has similar success, who are some of the players to get to know for 2023?
Already equipped with a big nickname, Matt "Smash" Mervis is likely the guy who will leave the AFL with the most clear-cut path to a job entering the off-season, as he should head to spring training with a good shot to take either the Cubs' first base or DH job after leading the AFL in home runs to follow up a minor-league season in which he “smashed” 36 long balls.
The guy who has impressed the most with his raw athleticism at the AFL was Jordan Walker of the Cardinals. Though he's a mountain of a man at 6'5" and a listed 220 pounds, Walker exhibited some of the most prodigious raw power in the AFL while also showing impressive plate discipline. That is coming from a guy who has hit .310 over his minor-league career. Walker spent the AFL honing his outfield skills to potentially step into a role in St. Louis.
With just four games at AA, Tyler Hardman was getting his feet wet against advanced pitching in the AFL, but he more than held his own, perhaps accelerating his timeline with the Yankees. His defense is rough at third, but power like that will play.
The Twins' Edouard Julien showed more power than he really ever had in his minor- league career, finishing second in the AFL in long balls and challenging for the league lead in slugging percentage. Adding that power to one of the most patient batting eyes in the minors could allow Julien to quickly find his way into the Twins' lineup.
Heston Kjerstad may have struck out plenty in Arizona, but few turned more heads when he made contact. After a rocky start to his pro career, Kjerstad could jump up quickly in 2023.
Zac Veen was incredibly impressive on the base-paths in the AFL, once taking second on a wild pitch thrown on ball four of a walk. The power is still lacking, but Veen has the build that would indicate there's power to come.
Austin Martin really rejuvenated his prospect status with his performance in Arizona. The Twins prospect showed patience at the plate, pounded the gaps, and was sharp on the bases, stealing 10 in 11 attempts.
Big Mound Numbers
Two pitchers put up 10+ strikeouts in a start in the AFL this year, a feat that had not been accomplished since 2014. Cardinals lefty Connor Thomas struck out 10 on October 17. Thomas is not exactly a strikeout pitcher, but when he locates his sinker, slider, and cutter well, they give pitchers three very distinct looks and he shows the ability to work as a mid-rotation starter.
Dodgers righty Emmet Sheehan got off to a rough start in the AFL, but he's put up impressive numbers his last few times out, including a 10-strikeout game Tuesday. Sheehan is more of a traditional strikeout pitcher with upper-90s velocity and a four-pitch mix of impressive pitches who could develop into a top-of-the-rotation arm.
The Rays have a habit of developing pitching talent. Evan Reifert could be their next gem. Reifert has pitched completely out of the bullpen in the AFL without allowing a single hit over 10 2/3 innings pitched, striking out 22 and walking four.
Oakland's Mason Miller missed most of 2022 due to injury, but he has been making up for it in the AFL, with some of the best raw stuff in the league. He's touched triple digits on the mound and should get some run early in 2023 as a starter in the A's system.
Take the time to check out the top performers at mlb.com/arizona-fall-league and familiarize yourself with the names. They very well could be the guys who shape the 2023 season!
Benjamin Chase is a newspaper reporter in South Dakota that loves all facets of baseball, but especially prospects. He is the analyst on the Pallazzo Podcast prospect show each week and is available for freelance writing. He can be found on Twitter @biggentleben.
Astros Fans Shower Commissioner Manfred With Well-Earned Boos
By Dan Schlossberg
Two days after Rob Manfred issued a “State of the Game” press release, he was hit with an unending deluge of boos when he tried to present the Commissioner’s Trophy to the newly-crowned World Champion Houston Astros.
Almost in unison, the fans at Minute Maid Park halted their universal euphoria to let the baseball czar know exactly what they think of him and his constant tinkering with the traditions of America’s national pastime.
To be honest, I can’t blame them.
They’re still raw over the 99-day owners’ lockout that wiped out the winter meetings, shortened spring training, and forced a regular-season schedule realignment that pushed the World Series into November.
But that’s hardly the only issue.
A look at the lengthy press release suggests Manfred is out of touch with the fans and persists in following the money-grubbing path perfected by previous commissioner Bud Selig during his 22-year Reign of Error.
In the release, Manfred says, “The game’s history and traditions provide a foundation that has stood the test of time. But the game is always evolving on its own and we should be unafraid of encouraging those trends that fans love and managing those that are less favorable.”
The first sentence is right on the money — literally — as MLB raked in nearly $11 billion in league revenues this year, topping pre-pandemic levels.
But the second sentence is contradictory. The game is not evolving “on its own.”
In the very same press release, Manfred says “The skill of our players and the success of the new playoff system are also good for business.”
Of course, the skills of the players are good for business. But a playoff system that allows a third-place team to reach the World Series? Absolutely not!
Trying to emphasize his own point, the commissioner states, “The crowds in 11 of our ballparks prove that fans embraced the new system.”
Earth to Manfred: fans would have packed parks anyway to cheer their teams toward a potential World Series.
“I’m a firm believer,” he writes, “that we should make our great game even better by listening to our fans.”
But does he? Every fan I questioned personally when I covered the NL Championship Series and World Series in Philadelphia — and those I asked earlier at the All-Star Game and Hall of Fame inductions — said the “Manfred Man” ghost-runner makes a travesty of the game.
Players like it because they get to go home earlier. But they, unlike fans, have iron-clad contracts that stipulate they get paid for playing even when hair-brained rules turn professional baseball into a Sunday afternoon beer league.
According to the baseball czar, “Fans want to see more balls in play, athleticism, defense, and base-running. They don’t want unnecessary delays that prevent them from enjoying the late innings and conclusions of our games.”
Hey, Rob, fans can’t enjoy late innings and conclusions when they are manipulated by such artificial devices as “the Manfred man.” It was a Covid-era experiment, like the 60-game season and seven-inning doubleheaders, that deserves to be tossed into the dustbin of history.
One line in the Manfred release makes total sense: “It’s incumbent upon us to strike a balance between honoring our history and implementing well-considered change that benefits our fans.”
It would be nice if Rob Manfred really cared about honoring the history of the game.
As for “well-considered change,” he could improve the pace-of-play by curtailing walk-up music, curtailing commercial time between innings, and ending inter-league play, which had the Astros ending their season twice against the Phillies (once during the regular season).
Instead, his various research committees are making things worse. Next season, for example, every team will play each of the other 29 teams for the first time ever.
That means less traditional rivalries, such as Braves-Mets or Red Sox-Yankees, and more meaningless games. It’s a sure formula for hurting attendance, merchandise sales, and TV ratings even more than the lockout that started last Dec. 2.
Manfred concludes his message by stating, “It is our duty to deliver the best version of the game to our fans.”
Pitch clocks and shift restrictions will help and maybe larger bases too. But Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle wouldn’t recognize the game today and certainly wouldn’t like it.
And that’s not a good thing.
No wonder the Minute Maid Park patrons tried to drown him out — even as he tried to present their team the 2022 Commissioner’s Trophy.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is the author of 40 baseball books. He covers the game for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Here’s The Pitch, and other outlets. He answers e.mails sent to email@example.com.
Dusty Baker was a finalist for the Phillies’ managing job before it went to Joe Girardi but he landed in Houston a week later . . .
The Braves believe lefty-hitting Sam Hilliard, acquired from Colorado, could be the answer to their left-field problems, both offensively and defensively . . .
Congratulations to Mets closer Edwin Diaz, whose five-year, $102 million deal gives him the highest annual average of any relief pitcher . . .
Lefty Carlos Rodon (Giants) and righty Chris Bassitt (Mets) opted out of their contracts to test the free-agent market and should have plenty of suitors . . .
Jim Kaat was 20 and Ted Williams 41 when the pitcher faced the slugger in the third game of his career, at Fenway Park on Sept. 27, 1959 [Williams hit a Kaat pitch off the Green Monster in left field] . . .
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) helped arrange the visa that allowed Juan Carlos, brother of Tony Oliva, to leave Cuba for the latter’s 2022 Hall of Fame induction . . .
The Angels had a much better record under Joe Maddon than they did under Phil Nevin but the former third baseman still got a contract extension . . .
When Dodger Stadium opened in 1962, box seats cost $3.50 apiece, an autographed ball was $4, and a Dodgers jacket cost $9.
Know Your Editors
HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [firstname.lastname@example.org] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [email@example.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [firstname.lastname@example.org] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.