The season may be over for most Major League ball players, but the Arizona Fall League is just heating up and these Rockies prospects play for a winning team. The Salt River Rafters are based out of the spring training home of the Rockies and Dbacks and are made up of players from Arizona, Colorado, Dodgers, Detroit and Houston. I went down to see how much different the competition was from other minor league games I’ve seen this year and was surprised by not only the level of competition but also the availability of good seats!
The player I was most looking forward to seeing was Nolan Arenado. The third baseman played in Modesto this year and performed well batting .298 with 20 HRs and 122 RBI. Nolan was very good, holding his own against seasoned pitchers with a full arsenal of pitches. In his game-winning RBI on Friday Nolan slapped an outside cutter to the right side of the infield driving in the man on third. On Saturday he took a curveball off the wall for a double.
His defense wasn't as impressive as Diamondback prospect Ryan Wheeler’s at the hot corner, however he was solid and had some intangibles that I didn’t see from anyone else. For instance Joe Gardner would look to Nolan to tip him on whether to throw over to first with a runner on base. I also caught the Mesa coach asking Nolan for advice on pitchers he had seen in the league. He definitely carries an aura about him. When Nolan hits the ball, he hits the ball hard. What I mean by that is in three games I’ve seen him play this year, he’s caused 3 errors by fielders attempting to field his batted ball when they are out of position or rushing to get into position because the ball is coming so hard off his bat.
Tim Wheeler was intriguing, because I hadn’t seen him yet this year and 30 HRs from a centerfielder is an amazing season. At the plate he looked tough, there were few pitches that got by him. He didn’t have a good line going 0-4 but he hit several line drives that were caught; one by the third baseman and one by the rightfielder. In the swings I caught I wasn’t impressed with his power, he hit a ball to the wall and didn’t hit anything out in batting practice before Saturday’s game. Defensively I was very impressed with his ability to read the ball off the bat and get a quick jump. He was in position to make some very good plays, one he misplayed off the wall when he mistimed his jump, another he made an outstanding catch in the left-centerfield gap. His arm appears to be as strong as Dexter’s. Surprisingly he throws righthanded, as does Ben Paulsen, perhaps this was done to trick Jim Tracy into thinking they were righties thus avoiding a platooning.
Played good defense at first and showed patience at the plate drawing a pair of walks. Was beaten by the heat. He couldn’t catch up to fastballs and didn’t make hard contact on anything in the game I saw. His swing looks like it’s slowed in the way he loads before the swing.
Allowed 2 runs but only 1 hit in a pair of innings pitched. His pitches have a lot of movement, either going down or to the side. Occasionally he will drop to a submarine position. His windup is complicated however and lead to some wildness. Peeking at the radar gun from the scouts and he was only hitting 89 on his fastball.
Great attitude while joking around with the crowd. Unfortunately I didn't get to see Casey pitch this weekend.
The AFL was fun to visit purely from a prospect standpoint. I was able to watch some very good young players against the very best of the minor leagues. The crowds are small, ranging from 200-400 people and at $7 a ticket ($6 for kids and seniors) it was not only affordable but easy to pick out a good seat. There are also a number of scouts and other professionals at the games with their radar guns and chart apps on their laptops.
With the small crowds there’s not a lot of fan involvement or cheering, however autographs are easy to get and the food was pretty good. Talking Stick had the best variety, they were the only place to buy a cheeseburger. Hohokam park in Mesa, the Cubs home for Spring, was the most friendly; I met the scoreboard operator and stadium announcer when I lost my car keys and they went out of their way to help me. I was disappointed with how cheap the Giants stadium was with these welded overhanging roof guards designed to keep balls from falling to the kids below. In the three games my sons joined in with the half dozen other boys running down foul balls, and it was neat to see the adults hand them a ball if they happened to catch one. My older son came home with two foul balls, while my younger son acquired autographs from Nolan Arenado and Ben Paulsen. The weather was perfect averaging mid-70’s with the evening games requiring a light jacket.
Nolan Arenado hitting in game 2 - final AB is a double off the wall