Happy Halloween, everyone!
The 2022 Arizona Fall League is nearing the end, with the Fall Stars Game coming up this weekend and the championship game next weekend. The Salt River Rafters are 10-13 and last in the league, but considering they started 0-8, that’s not a bad stretch. The Rafters are headlined by 20-year-old outfielder Zac Veen — the Rockies first-round pick in 2020. So far in 16 games, Veen is slashing .377/.480/.475 with 13 runs scored, three doubles, one home run, nine RBI, 11 walks, five strikeouts and 14 stolen bases in 16 tries. And to say Rafters’ manager Warren Schaeffer is impressed is an understatement.
“Veen is special,” Schaeffer said. “He plays at a different tick, always looking to take the next base. He’s just one of those guys that you’re going to have to rein in as opposed to push forward, which is really great.”
Veen himself is also relishing the opportunity to play with such high-profile players in a prestigious league.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Veen said. “It’s really cool to play with some of the best players in the world, and I’m grateful for the experience. Iron sharpens iron, and being able to face the top guys every day definitely makes you better.”
Grant Lavigne is also making the most of his AFL experience. The first baseman is slashing .362/.436/.596, and his .362 average in 13 games is third behind Veen (.377 in 16 games) and Detroit Tigers third base prospect Colt Keith (.364 in 14 games). Lavigne also ranks among the top players on the Rafters in doubles (6, 1st), triples (1, T-2nd), runs scored (10, T-3rd), homers (1, T-3rd), RBI (11, T-2nd), walks (7, T-5th), and OPS (1.032, 1st).
He mentioned that he is working on getting the ball in the air more, and spending more time in the cages to avoid putting the ball on the ground at all.
“During the year I did a pretty good job of going in the air oppo and center field, but now it’s just trying to get the ball in the air pull-side a little more to help me get a few more extra-base hits,” Lavigne said.
Considering he is leading the Rafters in extra-base hits, and sent his first homer 457 feet, it’s probably safe to say that the work he’s putting in is working.
Lavigne has also made some exciting defensive plays, which has caught the eye of Schaeffer.
“I had Grant in the Instructional League a couple years ago, and it’s great to see the progress he’s made in a couple of years,” Schaeffer said. “It’s really phenomenal, especially defensively.”
And not only do Veen, Lavigne and Schaeffer get extra time to sharpen their own individual skills, they also get a unique chance to share the field with players from other organizations for an extended period of time.
“You can just pick all of these guys’ minds and just learn a lot from everybody,” Lavigne said. “Everybody has something they do really well and you try to pick their mind on how they do that thing really well, so you just try to learn from everybody and take what you want.”
Schaeffer echoed that sentiment, especially since he’s coaching with different organizations rather than playing on the field. Hitting coach Tyger Pederson is from the St. Louis Cardinals, pitching coach Shane Loux is from the Arizona Diamondbacks, Veronica Gajownik is from the Arizona Diamondbacks, Sean McFarland is from the Detroit Tigers, and Jake McGuiggan is from the Toronto Blue Jays.
“There are only 30 games so you have to come together quickly,” Schaeffer said. “It’s different because every organization has their own philosophy and you have to fit in with it in with the work that you’re doing to get them better. It’s fun to see the different work that they do and the different coordinators that come into town and see what they do.”
The Rafters only have seven regular-season games left, and then it’s on to 2023.
“Next year I want to do the same thing,” Lavigne said, “focus on getting the ball in the air more, do more damage while still hitting for average, and have the strikeouts not go up. So in general, [I want to] just keep working on getting the ball in the air and driving it.”
Veen has his eyes on a bigger prize.
“This is the year where I feel most confident and most ready,” he said. “I feel like the last two years were almost preparing me for this next year and I feel ready. I feel like it’s time.”
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The dek of this article reads, “The fear is that if young position players begin to shine in 2023-24, the starting pitching won’t be there.”
If I had to guess, this is probably why the Rockies have been so cautious with their roster construction over the past few years. The starting rotation we’ve all adored for the past five years is all starting to push up against 30 (Kyle Freeland will be 30 in May, and Germán Márquez and Antonio Senzatela aren’t too far behind him) and will be over that hill once the likes of Zac Veen, Benny Montgomery, Drew Romo and others start to emerge. Even if they keep the current youngsters around as well (Elehuris Montero, Ezequiel Tovar, Sean Bouchard and Michael Toglia), it will be a few years before they enter their primes.
Patrick Saunders outlines some ways that the Rockies can perhaps push before the time runs out with the starting rotation. Specifically, he addresses that the clubhouse is “a team of grinders that lacks leadership” and points to players like Todd Helton and Ryan Spilborghs as ones who were sparks but kept things light during the magical 2007 run. He also mentions the need to be more bold in roster moves, something they haven’t done in recent years. They have instead prided themselves in being a draft-and-develop organization.
If the window for starting pitching begins to close at the same time the window for hitting opens, which should the Rockies focus on?
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Pebble Report: 2022 Arizona Fall League
Grant Lavigne (No. 19 PuRP) continued his hot streak, going 3-for-11 (.273) with his first home run this week. Lavigne also scored two runs, drove in three, walked just once and struck out four times. He attempted to steal a base, but was caught.
Zac Veen (No. 2 PuRP) also continued his torrid stretch, going 5-for-17 (.294) with two runs scored, three walks and two strikeouts. He stole a base and was caught trying to steal another.
Warming Bernabel (No. 9 PuRP) had a multi-hit week, going 2-for-9 (.222) in three games with a double, two RBI, three walks and three strikeouts. He also stole a base.
Braxton Fulford unfortunately put up a goose egg, going 0-for-3 in two games with a strikeout. He also stole a base, though.
Fineas Del Bonta-Smith started two games for the Rafters this week, pitching 4 2⁄3 innings in total. He won both outings, and allowed one hit and two unearned runs. He struck out five, but also walked four.
Blair Calvo pitched two relief innings, allowing one unearned run on two hits while striking out one and walking another. Stephen Jones pitched a scoreless inning in which he also struck out two batters.
AFL Hitters (Season)
AFL Pitchers (Season)
|Fineas Del Bonta-Smith||9/2||16.2||16/12||18||7|
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