It’s hard to believe the baseball season is almost over and it’s time to look forward to the first big off-season benchmark: the AFL, or Arizona Fall League. The AFL is often referred to as “graduate school” for an organization’s top prospects, and it’s some incredibly fun baseball. Flights to Arizona are cheap and the games are mostly free and if you want to see some of the top talent in the game collected all in one place, there’s really no better way. This year will include top prospect Vlad Guerrero Jr., along a host of other talent: Bo Bichette, Astros top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley, the Rangers’ top international signee Julio Pablo Martinez, talented Arizona pitching prospect Jon Duplantier, and others. The AFL kicks off on October 13 with the Bowman Hitting Challenge, a wacky competition where players compete not just for home runs but also to hit targets like inflatable unicorns, and runs for a month until the championship on November 17th. Sadly there’s no televised feed except for the championship game and the Fall Stars game (November 3rd), and no radio feed, but you can follow along with the games on the AFL website.
The AFL is made up of six teams, each of which mush together the top prospects from five different organizations. The Mariners’ affiliate is the Peoria Javelinas, or skunk pigs (!), and this year that’s shared with the Atlanta Braves, the Milwaukee Brewers, the San Diego Padres, and the Tampa Bay Rays (this is different from last year, when the Blue Jays and Red Sox were part of Peoria’s squad). Last year the Peoria Javelinas fielded a super-team that captured the AFL championship with the likes of Ronald Acuña, Max Fried, Lourdes Gurriel, Touki Touissant, Michael Chavis, Luis Urias, and Josh Naylor, not to mention AFL MVP Eric Filia and Art Warren, who capped off a breakout season acting as Peoria’s closer.
As fun as the Peoria squad was last year, it was a challenge for some of the M’s prospects to find playing time on such a talent-packed roster, so while the team might not be as exciting, the Mariners prospects should see more action. The biggest names on Peoria’s squad this year are probably Milwaukee’s Keston Hiura and the M’s own Evan White.
Pitching in the AFL tends to be a little weaker than the hitting as most teams have their starters on innings limits after a full season of work. It’s a good chance for relievers to shine, however. For pitchers, the Mariners will send one starter and three relievers: Anthony Misiewicz, whose name I will one day spell correctly on the first try, David McKay, Wyatt Mills, and Matt Walker. Misiewicz, the lone starter, you might remember was dealt to Tampa Bay in the Mike Marjama/Ryan Garton deal, and then re-acquired for international bonus money this off-season. The 23-year-old lefty ran an excellent K/BB ratio with Arkansas, but struggled occasionally with the longball and posted an FIP just north of four. He’ll look to continue to refine his offerings against some of the league’s top pitching prospects. For the relievers, David McKay is interesting: he was part of a throw-in deal where Kansas City dealt a bunch of pitchers they didn’t have room for to the Mariners for a candy bar (which Dayton Moore then sent back because chocolate is the devil’s work). After posting an FIP of around 6 last year for the Royals, McKay has been excellent in the M’s organization, with a sub-3 FIP for Arkansas. Matt Walker, who is somehow the only Matt Walker in baseball, has been steadily progressing through the M’s system since being drafted in 2015. His strikeouts have fallen off sharply in Double-A from where they were last year in Modesto, but he’s also walking way less batters and has lowered his FIP by about half a run. The Mariners have been aggressive with 2017 draft pick Wyatt Mills, who’s struggled in his eight innings after being promoted to Double-A, and they’re not letting up on the gas by sending the lanky sidearmer to the AFL to continue to get in work against top talent.
For hitters, the Mariners will again send converted infielder Joe DeCarlo to catch for the Javelinas. DeCarlo was a taxi squad player last year and edged out for playing time by former Mariner Alex Jackson. This year he’ll have to contend with Padres prospect Austin Allen and his consistent wRC+ of 130 throughout the minors for playing time. Infielder Chris Mariscal will get his first shot at the AFL after posting a wRC+ of about 100 in his first full year at Double-A. The organization is also sending Ian Miller, which is an odd move because the AFL tends to field prospects who are either just graduating from A ball or have just finished their first year at Double-A. Miller reportedly wanted to play winter ball, and the AFL is crawling with scouts both from MLB and other leagues, so this could be a nice move by the organization to help Miller get some more exposure.
Obviously, the big name the Mariners are sending is 1B Evan White, who’s been enjoying a breakout at High-A Modesto over the past month. John did a fairly deep dive on the adjustments White’s made that has allowed him to unlock some more power. After a hamstring injury slowed White in his first year, he’s been making up time in Modesto this year; being assigned to the AFL will help make up for even more of that lost development time. It’ll be fascinating to see how White does in a sneak preview of his AA stint, and perhaps an indication of how quickly he’ll be able to move through the level.