The Arizona Fall League is set to open on October 13, and with a week to go, the Detroit Tigers announced their prospects headed to the desert southwest to play for the Salt River Rafters. The list includes the organization’s two top prospects, outfielder Riley Greene and first baseman Spencer Torkelson. The Tigers have seven players total scheduled to take part, several of whom may not be familiar to most fans.
As for Torkelson and Greene, and to a lesser extent shortstop prospect Ryan Kreidler, who will join the dynamic duo out west, the AFL provides an opportunity to keep working on the adjustments they were making during their final promotion to the Toledo Mud Hens for the final six weeks of the Triple-A calendar. The level of competition isn’t nearly as good—and may be particularly weak this season with teams being very careful with their best pitching prospects’ workload after the year off in 2020—so we won’t be taking much from the results. However, getting them all the reps possible makes good sense, particularly as Torkelson and Greene in particular have have an opportunity to make the major league club out of spring camp next year.
The Tigers will also be sending four pitchers to the Salt River Rafters as well. Right-handed reliever Zack Hess is the most familiar name among them, with right-handed starters Wilmer Flores, Garrett Hill, and Chavez Fernander rounding out the list. None of the group has pitched much above the A-ball levels yet, and while there are some good pitching prospects slated to play in the AFL, the Tigers group is indicative of the less refined talents likely to populate most of the opposing pitching staffs.
Of the Tigers group, Hess and Hill are the two that did reach the Double-A level briefly at year’s end. Hess has a good riding fastball, and has crept into Tigers prospect rankings here or there toward the back end. He struck out 27.3 percent of the hitters he faced in West Michigan this season out of the Whitecaps’ bullpen, but bursts of poor control continue to hold him back. Hill, meanwhile, broke out nicely this season with the Whitecaps and showed substantial growth coming off the COVID year off. His breaking ball was much improved and boosted his strikeout rate north of 30 percent, which is excellent. Typically Hill gets a lot of ground balls and has rarely been bit by the long ball, so he should be an interesting name to watch over the next year to see if he can carry that success through a full season in the upper minors in 2022.
The real sleeper here is Flores. The big right-hander is 20 years old, and he burst out of the rookie ball level this season and posted outstanding numbers for the Lakeland Flying Tigers, over 11 starts. With virtually no hard contact against him all year, and superb strikeout to walk ratios, he was one of the biggest risers in the system this year. Unfortunately, because Lakeland doesn’t allow MiLB.tv broadcasts, we’ve only gotten glimpses and anecdotal reports on him. Flores will be another one to watch closely at West Michigan next season.
Beyond the Tigers assignments, there are a few other interesting notes on Arizona Fall League play as the league tries a few experiments.
As they did in some Low-A leagues this year, the AFL will use on field pitch timers, both during play and for inning breaks and pitching changes as well. They’ll also expand the size of first and third base from 15 inches across to 18 inches. The reasoning there is to give players a little more room to avoid collisions, and to decrease the distance between bases slightly to encourage more steal attempts.
The AFL will also experiment with the automated ball-strike calling system that was tested in the Atlantic League—to some annoyance—looking to continue to work the bugs out of the system. Salt River Field will use the Automatic Ball-Strike System (ABS), while it appears the other complexes will stick with the home plate umpire alone for now.
Finally, the league will essentially ban the shift. The rules state that each team must have four infielders, two on either side of second base. Each infielder will be required to have both feet within the outer boundary of the infield.
AZ Fall League will see several experimental rules put in place including pitch clock, adjustment to the shift, larger bases, and roboump. pic.twitter.com/llXXdtKJPf— Maury Brown (@BizballMaury) October 6, 2021