The purpose of the Arizona Fall League is for a handful of prospects from each major league club to get together and just flat out play more baseball.
After nearly two months and 30-some games for each of the six teams, the fall season is over and the results are in.
The Phoenix Desert Dogs won the 2004 AFL Championship and the league served its purpose-dozens of prospects got together and played some bonus baseball.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF
Despite losing considerable time and momentum due after being hit by a pitch, Shin-Soo Choo went into the final days of the Arizona Fall League season on a hot streak. The Choo standard is set high at .300/.400/.450 for any level of baseball, and with an end line of .301/.422/.466 in 73 at-bats, marked by some signs of improving power, he did not disappoint. On the field, the 22-year-old saw time at each outfield position and didn’t make a single error all season. For his efforts, he was named the number nine prospect in the AFL by Baseball America and earned a spot on the Mariners 40-man roster. Expect him to have a solid season in Tacoma’s outfield next year.
Greg Dobbs, 3B
One of the most difficult things in all of baseball is to make up for lost time. Greg Dobbs was sent to the AFL to do just that: get his swing back on track and make sure his defense was firing on all cylinders. The 26-year-old’s end line of .292/.339/.377 in 106 at-bats isn’t bad, but factoring in the thin air and lack of dominant pitchers, he was right around average for the league. Dobbs showed power and the ability to get on base, but rarely at the same time. With the glove, he made five errors in twenty games on the field, which was slightly worse than his play during the regular season. Still, the most important thing was that he got additional playing time, and the AFL provided it.
Bret Evert, RHS
Bret Evert came to Arizona with as much control of his pitches as he did of his fate as a player in the previous months. A swingman in the Braves system, the Mariners used him solely in relief this fall and, the first two weeks aside, Evert flourished in the role. His end record of 2-4 and ERA of 7.43 don’t accurately reflect his performance, after all, he opened the season by giving up eight runs in just two-thirds of an inning. Once the 24-year-old harnessed his fastball and curve, he started becoming more aggressive at the plate and his strikeouts slowly started to climb. Evert should get an invite to spring training and will have an outside shot of earning a spot in the bullpen.
Jon Huber, RHS
Each of the thirty teams participating in the Arizona Fall League have the opportunity to use one player from below Double-A on their roster, but rarely is that player expected to contribute on a regular basis. Nevertheless, the Mariners sent Jon Huber, who had spent parts of the last two seasons in the advanced-A California league, and made him a member of the starting rotation. The 23-year-old had a 6.43 ERA and opponents were batting .299 off of him, but considering that he was facing a higher level of competition and working on his slider, which he has only added this year, the returns aren’t expected to be perfect. Huber will try to take what he’s learned to San Antonio’s rotation in 2005.
Michael Morse, SS
One of the things that Michael Morse always dealt with through his pro career is the naysayers who don’t believe that he can stay at shortstop. Working with minor league infield instructor and Peoria Javelinas manager Mike Goff, Morse came one step closer to quieting his critics. Utilizing his 70 arm to his advantage, Morse only made four errors in 24 games, and all of those came in the first few weeks of play. His offense slid a little as the season went on, however, and the 22-year-old ended the season in a slump, batting .258/.296/.301 with very limited run production. The next step will be to get the defense and offense working simultaneously.
Jared Thomas, LHR
After being named the pitcher of the week in the first week of play in Arizona, it seemed like things were looking up for Jared Thomas. Unfortunately, the 24-year-old southpaw’s short season ran directly counter to that of Evert, and Thomas’ outings were worse and worse as time went on. Losing control of his pitches, Thomas walked and struck out fifteen each and other teams hit .333 off of him, all the makings of a 9.14 ERA at season’s end. Thomas can take comfort in the fact that the talent and surroundings are skewed in favor of the hitters, but that won’t make it any easier to accept. He’ll just have to start anew next year.