If you tuned in to the Arizona Fall League All-Stars game (wait this is why it’s called the Fall Stars game I just got this) hoping to see some Mariners prospects in action, well, hopefully you tuned in to the bottom of the sixth inning. All three minutes of it.
Literally. Three minutes. And the only reason I know that is because I pulled up this interview of Yankees pitching prospect Justus Sheffield that was being conducted at the time and looked at the time stamp. That’s when Matthew Festa entered the game and needed exactly eight pitches to set down the East All-Stars in order. He began with a strikeout of Tampa Bay’s Corey Ray, a big bat who’s struggled this season. Festa didn’t even bother throwing Ray any off-speed pitches, throwing him three straight fastballs: a called strike that painted the outside corner at 94, a 94 heater low in the zone that Ray could just catch a piece of, and then this 95 mph heater on the inside edge.
Festa’s next challenge was A’s top prospect Sheldon Neuse, acquired in the Doolittle/Madson trade from the Nationals (I learned that his name is pronounced “Noise” and not “Noose,” as I’ve been saying it in my head). Festa started Neuse off with an 82 mph changeup that showed a nice break, landing right in the zone for a called strike. He went back to the pitch a second time, this time spotting it on the inside edge, forcing Neuse into a late, weak hack that sent a chopper to the left side of the infield. Ahead in the count, Festa went for his kill shot, a late-breaking 88 mph wipeout slider that Neuse chased across the plate for strike three.
He would only need two pitches to finish the inning, getting Diamondbacks prospect Victor Reyes to foul off a 96 mph pitch in the lower inner corner of the zone before getting him to tap a 95 mph heater weakly back to the mound, where Festa smoothly fielded the ball and threw to first. Festa’s quick half-inning took the announcing crew by surprise, who had spent the entire time talking to Sheffield, only mentioning Festa’s name once, right before the commercial break, before expressing regret they didn’t have more time to talk to Sheffield. When they came back from commercial, there was no mention of Festa’s electric inning (although there was a lengthy complaint that they hadn’t had time to ask Sheffield what it means to be a Yankee right now and wear the pinstripes with such an exciting young core and history and pinstripes and young core and pinstripes and blaaaarrrt).
Other than Festa’s now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t performance, the most conspicuous Mariners in the Fall Stars game were the ones that weren’t there. Braden Bishop appeared as a late innings defensive replacement for Yusniel Diaz and got one at-bat, in the ninth, where he struck out on a nasty forkball (at least, that’s what the announcing crew called it, and I couldn’t find it to re-watch) from Giants prospect Tyler Cyr. Eric Filia’s bat has cooled some of late, but he’s still hitting in the top five for batting average in the AFL, and the West squad could have used a few more hits, as they went into the eighth inning clinging to a one-run lead, with just a Josh Naylor triple (that big boy can hustle) and a Luis Urias solo home run accounting for the West’s offense.
But the biggest absence this particular night was reliever Art Warren. For all its offensive prowess (Peoria is outscoring all the other Fall League teams by a significant amount), the Javelinas have not backed that with especially strong pitching performances (other than the Braves’ Max Fried, who is garnering James Paxton comparisons, and was also, inexplicably, left off the Fall Stars roster). Arizona is a famously hitter-friendly environment to begin with, but the Javelinas’ pitching staff has not performed consistently. The late-inning high-leverage hero for Peoria has been the Mariners’ own Art Warren, who has collected one hold, one save, and two wins in just 7.1 innings pitched. Like Filia forced his way into more playing time in a stacked Peoria outfield by going on a hitting tear, Art Warren has proven to Javelinas manager Luis Salazar that he is the arm to trust in high-leverage situations...such as the one the West squad found itself in on Saturday night. Eighth inning. One-run lead. These are the situations Art Warren thrives in.
But there was no Art Warren on the Fall Stars roster, so instead in came Argenis Angulo, a Cleveland prospect who promptly gave up two hits and a walk, tying the game. He was replaced by the Twins’ Tyler Jay, who gave up a single and a sac fly for two more runs, and that’s how the final score would stand. Of course, it’s just one game, and All-Star games are the wackiest of the wacky. But it’s hard not to wonder what if, or feel a little sad at being deprived of seeing Filia or Warren, who had a breakout year at Modesto, join Festa in plying his craft on national TV.
Luckily, we will have another chance to see some televised AFL action. Thanks in part to the fact that the Peoria roster boasts so much highly-regarded talent including Superstar Prospect Ronald Acuña, who is already making waves internationally, they have been selected to play in the Military Appreciation game, next Saturday night on MLBN. Also, if Peoria can get themselves into the championship game, that will also be televised. Which is good, because three minutes isn’t enough to tide us over until spring training.