Welcome to Season 30 of the Arizona Fall League!
The future of Colorado Rockies baseball is on full display in the Valley of the Sun, with a 30-game regular-season schedule awaiting the Salt River Rafters inside top spring training ballparks. AFL Opening Day was on Monday, and the gates to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick opened again for those in Rockies uniforms:
Often regarded as one of the best-kept secrets in sports, top prospects from all 30 MLB organizations are sent to the Fall League as a premier ‘graduate-level’ stage of their development. The former training ground for Colorado notables like Kyle Freeland, Ryan McMahon, Carlos Estévez and Elehuris Montero, among others, the AFL features a Fall League-to-MLB graduation rate well above 50 percent.
Picture spring training, turn it into an intimate proving ground, and mix in some awesome uniform/hat combinations. Put it all in sunny Arizona as the seasons change elsewhere, and you have yourself a baseball paradise that beckons for attention.
Six teams — the Salt River Rafters, Mesa Solar Sox, Peoria Javelinas, Scottsdale Scorpions, Glendale Desert Dogs and Surprise Saguaros – comprise the Fall League. Prospects from five MLB organizations construct one AFL roster, so all 30 MLB teams are represented across six AFL squads.
For 2022, the Salt River Rafters are represented by the Rockies, Diamondbacks, Tigers, Cardinals and Blue Jays.
Each AFL team is assigned one or two ‘anchor teams’ that retain affiliation year after year. The Rockies and D-Backs, with spring operations housed inside Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, are always assigned to the Salt River Rafters out of respect for their own spring territory. This means you can always represent with a Rafters hat at Coors Field, knowing affiliation won’t change like other MLB teams.
(It wasn’t always this way, however; Todd Helton played for the 1996 Peoria Javelinas before Colorado was designated as an anchor team.)
Grapefruit League teams, and Cactus League teams without a home ballpark used in the AFL, are assigned to Fall League teams on a rotating basis. New to the Rafters’ assignments in 2022 are the St. Louis Cardinals, bringing with them top prospects like Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn and Tink Hence. St. Louis was with the Glendale Desert Dogs one year ago.
Six ballparks are used in AFL action; all six are within one hour of each other by car. On the east side of Phoenix, there are three ballparks within 10 miles of one other (Salt River, Scottsdale, Mesa). Cactus League ballparks are far closer together than those in Florida’s Grapefruit League
Standard AFL game times are 12:35 p.m. and 6:35 p.m. Arizona local time. Fans can easily attend two ballparks in the same day, and with stadiums so close to each other, there is plenty of travel strategy involved for prospect-savvy fans:
Mix in a competitively-priced season ticket option, and the Fall League features some devout regulars. This could easily be the cheapest ticket option available to watch future All-Stars from now until the end of their pro careers.
The annual Fall Stars Game (Nov. 6) and AFL Championship (Nov. 12), televised live on MLB Network, are again headlining the AFL schedule. For those planning, or looking to plan, a trip to Phoenix, doing so around one of these events is a routine preference for the out-of-state Fall League faithful.
The 2022 Fall Stars Game will take place at Sloan Park, the spring training home of the Chicago Cubs, while the AFL Championship will be played at Scottsdale Stadium, the spring home of the San Francisco Giants.
New in 2022 is the Chase Field Tripleheader (Oct. 15), with all six teams taking the field at the regular-season home of the Diamondbacks. This serves as a prime developmental opportunity for prospects to familiarize themselves with a third deck of seats, which is another developmental perk of MLB’s graduate level.
Special Surroundings and New Additions
AFL attendance seldom tops 1,200 fans, which speaks to the ‘best-kept secret’ aspect of Fall League baseball. Most AFL venues hold around 8,000 fixed seats, so there is plenty of general-admission room for fans to space themselves out.
The Fall League operation has been elevated in 2022; for the first time ever, the In-N-Out Double-Double Batter will be introduced at select games. The promotion will run on Tuesday and Friday games during the regular season, with all fans in attendance receiving a free In-N-Out Double-Double card if the selected batter hits a double at any point in the game.
(Bonus perk: The AFL uses official Major League Baseballs, and your likeliness of going home with one is far higher than it would be at even a spring training game.)
The AFL Home Run Derby (Nov. 5) is another event addition, featuring eight premier power-hitting prospects. For those familiar with the Home Run Derby during All-Star Week: picture a similar format, throw it in a more ‘focused’ environment, and watch the outfield lawn at Sloan Park get peppered with baseballs.
The Fall League is for the devoted baseball fan, and if you’re reading this, you probably are such a fan. It may only be a matter of time before Colorado outfield prospect Zac Veen becomes a mainstay at Coors Field; for this October and November, we’ll get to see how soon that could actually be.
The Rockies’ big league club has just a few dates remaining on the 2022 schedule. Baseball is far from over, however: it’s just getting started in Phoenix.
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The Rockies’ bullpen currently holds a MLB-worst 4.87 ERA. Despite a recent extension for near-All-Star closer Daniel Bard, there remains inherent holes to fill, says Patrick Saunders. A recovered Tyler Kinley could be the most significant asset for a better bullpen in 2023; after posting a 0.75 ERA to begin this year (24 IP), Kinley has been sidelined since the early summer due to injury.
One such article about the Rockies was bullpen-strong, at least with respect to their top performer. On Sunday, Daniel Bard became one of five pitchers (since saves became official in 1969) to earn a save with more than two scoreless innings and all outs coming by way of strikeouts. This achievement came against the tough-hitting Dodgers too; no matter how tumultuous the collective bullpen performance may be, the Rockies definitely have a leader.
It was interesting while it lasted: former Rockie Chi Chi González was acquired by the Yankees and DFA’d within a few hours. He had previously thrown 11 1⁄3 innings for Minnesota this year.