Arizona Fall League Championship Game Preview

The Arizona Fall League title game will be between the Surprise Saguaros and the Scottsdale Scorpions on Saturday with the first pitch at 3:08 PM EST and will be televised on MLB Network. I will be providing first hand reports from the game, but with the starting pitchers having been announced on Thursday, it is time to preview the game. The Saguaros won the West Division with a record of 19-11, the best record in the league and one game better than the 18-12 record posted by the Scorpions, which was good enough to win the East Division.

Pitching Matchup

The Saguaros will start Sam Wolff of the Texas Rangers while the Scorpions will counter with Taylor Rogers of the Minnesota Twins.

Wolff went 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA over 25.1 innings in six starts. He did surrender three home runs, tied for the most on the team, but struck out nearly two batters for every walk he gave up. His fastball sits 92-94 and he also throws a change, slider, and curve. Adam McInturff put together a full scouting report on Wolff earlier in the week.

Rogers is a quality lefty who put up near identical numbers to Wolff, with a 2-2 record, 2.88 ERA over 25 innings in six starts. He too was one strikeout shy of a 2/1 K/BB ratio and gave up one less home run on the year than Wolff. He does not possess great stuff, with his fastball maybe a tick better than average, but he has a big league ready slider and decent change with solid command of all three pitches.

With starters typically topping out at five innings per start, the game could very well come down to a battle of the bullpens.

Damien Magnifico of the Saguaros finished second in the league with four saves and looked fantastic in the Fall Stars game, but he also had an ERA above seven. He can run his fastball up to 98, but he shows the ball to the hitters too much and it becomes quite hittable. His slider is a quality pitch, but he has shown a real lack of command through the fall league season.

Kevin McCarthy and Robby Rowland each appeared in ten games this season, but Rowland had the better ERA of the two at 4.76 while McCarthy’s ERA is 9.31. Dean Kiekhefer is a solid left handed specialist, but as a whole the Surprise bullpen is not great.

The Scottsdale bullpen, on the other hand, has the best trio of late inning arms in the AFL. Jake Reed has the “worst” stuff of the trio, but he can sit as high as 97 and did not give up an earned run in more than ten innings pitched. Fellow Twins prospect, Nick Burdi, also had a scoreless season in eight innings, striking out 11 while walking just one batter and posting a WHIP of 0.38. Burdi can hit triple digits and has one of the better sliders in the fall league. The Scorpions will also roll out Ray Black, who is the only of the three to give up an earned run on the season, giving up two in two games and being saddled with the loss in both. Black also possesses the biggest fastball not only in the fall league, but possible all the minor leagues, touching 103 MPH several times this fall.

Adam Ravenelle pitched the most games out of the bullpen for the Scorpions, but he struggled, walking more than he struck out and posting an ERA of 7.71.

Hitting Matchup

This is a matchup of the two teams that scored the most runs during the AFL season, and by a long shot with Surprise putting up 180 runs and Scottsdale scoring 163 runs, while the third most runs scored was Glendale with 136.

The lineups have not been announced but, based on performance this season and previous games, here is how I anticipate the lineups to shake out:


1) Charlie Tilson – Cardinals – CF
2) Yadiel Rivera – Brewers – SS
3) Jurickson Profar – Rangers – DH
4) Gary Sanchez – Yankees – C
5) Patrick Wisdom – Cardinals – 3B
6) Tyler Austin – Yankees – LF
7) Bubba Starling – Royals – RF
8) Ronald Guzman – Rangers – 1B
9) Ramon Torres – Royals – 2B

Other options: Mike Ohlman – Orioles – 1B, Dustin Fowler – Yankees – OF, Aledmys Diaz – Cardinals – SS


1) Clint Frazier – Indians – LF
2) Mike Gerber – Tigers – CF
3) Christian Arroyo – Giants – SS
4) Sam Travis – Red Sox – 1B
5) Austin Slater – Giants – 2B
6) Mac Williamson – Giants – RF
7) Adam Brett Walker II – Twins – DH
8) Carlos Asuaje – Padres – 3B
9) Mitch Garver – Twins – C

Other options: Stuart Turner – Twins – C, Dominic Ficociello – Tigers – 1B

It is basically a foregone conclusion that Gary Sanchez will be awarded the Joe Black MVP Award before the championship game as he led the league with seven home runs, not counting the long ball in the Fall Stars Game. He was also tied for the league lead in RBIs with teammate Patrick Wisdom, one ahead of another Saguaro, Jurickson Profar. Yadiel Rivera and Aledmys Diaz are tied for the best average for a player currently active for the club hitting .315, but Rivera is more patient at the plate and plays better defense, while Diaz provides more pop.

Ramon Torres played three more games than Tyler Wade, but hit the ball much better and was an excellent double play pair with Rivera.

In the outfield, Charlie Tilson struggled in the field and at the plate this season, but might be as talented and outfielder as the Saguaros have. Bubba Starling was a force in right, throwing out runners left and right, and he really improved at the plate this year. He hit just .177 with no home runs in the fall league a year ago, but this year he hit .274, hit four home runs and was successful on all five steal attempts. Tyler Austin has seen time in the outfield and at first base this fall, but has played the majority of the team’s games and hit the ball well. Dustin Fowler was originally a Taxi Squad player, but was promoted to full time duties about halfway through the year, and has played well. While there is a chance he starts in center and Tilson moves to left, Fowler has been a popular pinch runner late in games, and that may be where he fits best in a winner-take-all matchup.

For the Scorpions, they have a pair of Twins catchers on the roster, so one of the two will most likely get the nod given there will be a fellow Twin on the hill. Both Garver and Turner played in 12 games this year, but Garver was clearly better at the plate, with a triple slash of .317/.404/.512 to Turner’s .171/.306/.220.

There might not be a player in the league with a quicker bat than Clint Frazier, who put in a solid season at the plate. Mike Gerber is a solid defensive outfielder, but it has been his approach at the plate that impressed most. His OBP was more than 90 points better than his average and he was successful on all four steal attempts on the year. Mac Williamson had the third best average in the league this season, hitting .370 and might have the best outfield arm on the team. Adam Brett Walker II is the epitome of all-or-nothing. He finished tied for second in the league with five home runs, including the possibly the two longest home runs of the season, but he was also tied for the most strikeouts in the league.

Only Patrick Wisdom played in more games this year than Sam Travis, and Travis really shined this fall. He led the league with 10 doubles and hit .344 while committing just one error at first base. Carlos Asuaje will be wearing a San Diego Padres uniform after being part of the trade that send Craig Kimbrel to Boston last week. Asuaje is better defensively at second base, but has seen plenty of time at third in his career, and having an all-Giants double play combo makes the Scorpions infield better as a whole defensively. Austin Slater and Christian Arroyo each played 19 games this fall, with Arroyo hitting .308 and three home runs, but committing five errors, while Slater did not commit a single error in the field, but only hit .250 and posted an OBP identical to his Slugging, .338.

In the end, Surprise has the edge defensively, offensively, and with the starting pitcher, but Scottsdale has a significantly better bullpen than Surprise. If Scottdale gets a solid outing from Rogers, they should win the game, but the likely 3-4-5 of Profar-Sanchez-Wisdom for Surprise is as tough a stretch in any lineup in the AFL. It should make for a very competitive and entertaining ballgame on Saturday afternoon.



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