The Salt River Rafters were probably the best team in the East Division of the Arizona Fall League, but an injury and a trade cost them a trip to the title game. Dominic Smith started the season off very well, but an oblique strain on an opposite field, ground ruled double cost him nearly two weeks. Another key cog in the Rafter lineup, Daniel Palka , was traded from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Minnesota Twins and missed a couple of games due to a rule that a traded player must be in his new team’s uniform before he can play in a game. The Twins had to ship him a jersey, while Carlos Asuaje of the Scottsdale Scorpions was able to play right away after he was traded to the San Diego Padres who have a spring home in Arizona. In the end, the Rafters finished with a record of 16-13, a game and a half out of first.
Nobody finished more game (11) or recorded more saves (6) than Colorado Rockies right-hander Carlos Estevez. He has a big arm, regularly sitting 98-99, and a decent slider that had decent shape while working 87-89 while showing some ability to throw a change and curve as well. He gave up four of the five earned runs in a single outing, raising his ERA from 0.82 to 3.97.
The Rafters had a very interesting mix of starting pitchers with the knuckleballer Mickey Jannis to the control-first righty Jeremy Gabryszwski. Yoan Lopez was a lot of fun to watch pitch, but left me with more questions than answers. His fastball worked 92-96 and showed good feel of a curve, slider, and change. While he has the body control and arsenal to be a solid starter, he has the explosiveness and fiery attitude to be a future closer. In a game in Scottsdale, he would regularly holler with excitement after strikeouts and, at one point, had to be held back by a teammate after an opposing batter took exception.
Kyle Freeland is the perfect kind of pitcher for Coors Field. The lefty worked his fastball from 87-94 (sitting 91-93) in a single game with some dip and run. He also features a changeup and a slider that worked as high as 90 MPH and had a sharp, late cut that should be able to play in altitude. He keeps his weight back well and, with a low 3/4 arm slot, helps create decent decepetion.
The pitcher that may have raised his stock the most was John Simms. The Washington Nationals prospect earned the win in four of his five starts, finishing with an ERA of 1.88 and a 3/1 K/BB ratio. His stuff isn’t overpowering, sitting 88-90, but has a solid change and an 11-5 curveball that he is willing to use in any count.
A trio of lefties in the middle of the lineup were the story for the Rafters in Daniel Palka, Dominic Smith, and Rowdy Tellez. Tellez was tied for the team lead in home runs with four, middle infielder Chris Bostick showed surprising power by launching four home runs of his own. Tellez showed the ability to hit for power regardless of where the ball was in the zone, with a quick enough bat to pelt the outfield wall on balls up and the raw power to hit huge home runs by dropping the bat head down in the zone. He had about as much fun as anyone in the AFL, always loose and joking around pregame, but once he crossed the white lines, he was all business. He let his emotions get the better of him once, breaking his bat against the ground after a called third strike and getting tossed, which led to an interesting scenario at first base.
Palka was traded to the Twins for catcher Chris Herrmann, and his excellent fall surely helped raise his stock. He hit .278 and was tied with Tellez for the most RBIs on the team, but his approach at the plate and the way the ball jumped off his bat was really the thing that stood out. Early in the season, teams were shifting him to pull when he was at the plate, so he hit adjusted his approach and hit line drive after line drive to left field, beating the shift every time. He has a smooth stroke and is able to drive the ball when he gets a pitch he likes, hitting three home runs and six doubles.
Raimel Tapia had a breakout fall, hitting .330, but drew only two walks in 90 trips to the plate. He only hit one home run, but did have five doubles and a pair of triples. He currently runs very well, but he is a legitimate 6’2” and only 160 lbs., so as he adds weight, the speed will likely slow to above-average. He has a strong enough arm to end up in right, but the defensive chops the stick in center. If he can add some strength to tap into some more of the raw power he has and improve his overall approach, he could be an excellent outfielder for the Rockies.
Roemon Fields of the Toronto Blue Jays led the league with 14 steals, but was thrown out seven times. The most impressive thing from Fields, apart from his blazing speed, was the fact he put up an OBP more than 100 points better than his average and drew more walks than he struck out. He is likely a future number four outfielder as the bat will struggle to even be average, but his speed and ability to cover ground in center could make him a valuable piece to a big league club in the future.