The Arizona Fall League announced its preliminary rosters for the 2014 season on Tuesday, and for the second year in a row, the game's top prospect is heading to the desert for some extra baseball.
Byron Buxton is one of 20 Top 100 prospects slated to participate in this year's AFL, extending their seasons beyond the end of the Minor League season this month (mid-September at the latest, for those playoff-bound prospects). As always, the AFL will be chock full of future big leaguers when the six-week league, which has established itself as the finishing school for the game's best prospects since its inception in 1992, begins its season on Tuesday, Oct. 7.
"We welcome the Class of 2014 and the arrival of the Arizona Fall League's 23rd season," AFL director Steve Cobb said. "It's an exciting array of top Draft choices and Minor League All-Stars who have excelled in the early stages of their professional careers. We continue to take great pride in the role the Fall League serves in Major League Baseball's player development process.
"Approximately 60 percent of our players will reach the Major Leagues. We want fans to know top young professional talent still will be playing baseball in October and November in Arizona."
There will be 26 first-round draft choices and numerous Minor League all-stars and league most valuable players on the rosters. This year's league also includes players from nine foreign countries -- Aruba (1), Canada (2), Chinese Taipei (1), Colombia (1), Cuba (4), Dominican Republic (12), Mexico (1). Panama (1) and Venezuela (2) -- and Puerto Rico (2).
The Fall League season runs through Saturday, Nov. 15, with a championship game held at Scottsdale Stadium. The league's Fall Stars Game, which will feature many of those Top 100 prospects, will be held Saturday, Nov. 1, at Salt River Fields.
A year ago, Buxton went to the AFL as a teenager coming off of a huge first season with the hopes the experience would serve as a springboard to the upper levels. This time around, however, MLB.com's No. 1 prospect will simply be trying to make up for lost time. The talented center fielder has amassed just 124 at-bats this season because of a wrist injury and then a concussion suffered in an outfield collision during his Double-A debut.
"I'm just trying to go there and catch up on some at-bats, trying to do well and try and get my swing back," said Buxton, who is currently rehabbing from his concusion at the Twins' facility in Fort Myers, Fla., and will play for the Salt River Rafters this fall. "I want to go there and see what happens.
"It's very important, especially if you want to move up the ladder, you have to get the at-bats in, the experience. I'm just trying to slow it down, be patient and disciplined and try to move past the injuries that happened this year."
There is one other Top 10 player, Addison Russell, who is also heading to Arizona for the second straight fall. Like Buxton, Russell missed a good chunk of the 2014 season, due to a hamstring injury. In addition to getting some extra at-bats, the No. 6 prospect will continue to get to know his new organization after being traded from the A's to the Cubs in the Jeff Samardzija deal. He'll still get to spend time with his old friends from the A's. Both Oakland and Chicago are sending players to the same AFL team, the Mesa Solar Sox.
The AFL tends to be an offensive-minded circuit, and 14 of the 20 Top 100 players attending are hitters, including top 50 performers like No. 16 Corey Seager of the Dodgers (who also played in the AFL last season), No. 32 Josh Bell of the Pirates, teenager Raul Adalberto Mondesi of the Royals (No. 41) and the Reds' Jesse Winker (No. 43). That doesn't mean there aren't good arms expected to throw, headlined by D-backs and Pirates right-handers Archie Bradley (No. 11) and Tyler Glasnow (No. 19), 2013 No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel of the Astros (No. 44), who's had an up-and-down first season of pro ball, and No. 56 prospect C.J. Edwards of the Cubs.
D.J. Peterson, the Mariners' first-round pick in the 2013 Draft, was supposed to attend in 2013 with Buxton, Russell, et al. That possibility vanished when he was hit in the face with a pitch last August. The No. 52 prospect was so pumped about getting the chance to go, he tweeted about it immediately after getting the news.
Very excited to be playing in the AFL this off season! Something I have been looking forward to for a long time!- DJ Peterson (@godj33) August 25, 2014
"I'm looking forward to being challenged and facing good competition," said Peterson, who has split his first full season between the Class A Advanced California League and the Double-A Southern League. "It gives me a chance to see what I might be able to see one day in the big leagues."
It's also a bit of a homecoming for Peterson. The Arizona native will get the chance to play in very familiar surroundings, while sharing an apartment with his younger brother Dustin (No. 12 on the Padres' Top 20) and his cousin Nate Causey, an Arizona State product drafted by the Rockies in the 19th round of this past June's Draft. Both will be in Arizona for instructional league play for their respective organizations.
"I've lived in Arizona my whole life," Peterson said. "It's where I played baseball almost my whole life. I'm looking forward to being home."
2014 AFL rosters:
Glendale Desert Dogs - Orioles, White Sox, Dodgers, Tigers, Brewers
Peoria Javelinas - Braves, Indians, Royals, Cardinals, Rays
Scottsdale Scorpions - Mets, Yankees, Phillies, Pirates, Giants
Mesa Solar Sox - Cubs, Angels, A's, Blue Jays, Nationals
Salt River Rafters - D-backs, Rockies, Astros, Marlins, Twins
Surprise Saguaros - Red Sox, Reds, Padres, Mariners, Rangers