Dan's Dugout: Prospects Thrive in Arizona Fall League • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Prospects Thrive in Arizona Fall League

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PEORIA, Arizona – The best place to scout next year’s best rookies is the Arizona Fall League.

That’s why there seemed to be more scouts than spectators at Thursday’s game between the Scottsdale Scorpions and homestanding Peoria Javelinas.

Attendance is sprase at Arizona Fall League game in Peoria. Credit: Dan Schlossberg

Attendance is sparse at Arizona Fall League game in Peoria.
Credit: Dan Schlossberg

Paid attendance was announced at 424, leaving vast stretches of empty rows at the Peoria Sports Complex shared each spring by the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners.

But to those carrying JUGGS guns, cameras, or scouting notebooks, the size of the crowd hardly mattered.

More important during the 30-game schedule, which ended Thursday, was the speed of the Max Fried fastball or distance of the Ronald Acuna home run.

Fried and Acuna are heavy favorites to crack the varsity roster when the Atlanta Braves head north from Disney World next spring.

At 19, Ronald Acuna is a five-tools player about to burst into the big leagues

At 19, Ronald Acuna is a five-tools player about to burst into the big leagues. Credit: Dan Schlossberg

The former, a lefthanded pitcher who throws bullets, already has his first big-league win. The latter, a fleet Venezuelan who hasn’t reached his 20th birthday yet, just added Arizona Fall League MVP honors to the trio of Minor League Player of the Year awards [USA TODAY, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, and Baseball America] he won previously.

They are the best of six Braves prospects who played for Peoria, which took the West Division title in the six-team league. The manager, former major-league infielder Luis Salazar, is a veteran minor-league manager and instructor in the Atlanta organization.

Future star Ronald Acuna (34) and Peoria Javelinas teammates Credit: Dan Schlossberg

Future star Ronald Acuna (34) and Peoria Javelinas teammates Thursday
Credit: Dan Schlossberg

He raves about Acuna, insisting that he’ll be the rightfielder for the Braves next year, with veteran incumbent Nick Markakis moving into a left-right platoon with Matt Kemp or perhaps to another club.

Like most AFL pilots, Salazar serves as his own third-base coach – something no one has done in the big leagues since the heyday of Leo Durocher.

Everything about the league is casual and informal. Media lunches, which are free, are provided by local restaurants on a rotating basis in exchange for plugs by the public address announcer.

Player rosters are virtual All-Star teams of top prospects. Peoria has players from Boston, San Diego, Seattle, and Toronto in addition to seven from Atlanta. There’s no limit to roster size either; the Javelinas list 21 pitchers, nine infielders, five outfielders, and three catchers.

Nobody minds a little nepotism either: Cincinnati prospect Bradley Bell, an infielder for Scottsdale, is the son of the manager, former big-leaguer Jay Bell.

The Fall League is fertile ground for future Rookies of the Year. Clay Bellinger, for example, played here last year, honing the power stroke that last week earned him the top rookie trophy in the National League.

Both Acuna and Victor Robles, a Washington chattel who also plays the outfield, are expected to become instant fixtures in the NL East. Both provide good bats with great speed, while Acuna offers more power and Robles a bit better on defense. The Braves believe Acuna will be far better than Jason Heyward, heralded as a budding superstar when he surfaced at age 20 and homered in his first game.

Peoria Sports Complex is the spring training home of the Padres and Mariners Credit: Dan Schlossberg

Peoria Sports Complex is the spring training home of the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners
Credit: Dan Schlossberg

All players in the Arizona Fall League where the jerseys of the major-league teams to which they belong. Only the hats bear AFL logos.

The six teams in the circuit are the Salt River Rafters, Surprise Saguaros, Glendale Desert Dogs, Mesa Solar Sox, Scottsdale Scorpions, and Peoria Javelinas.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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