Arizona Fall League set to begin with 7 Indians involved

Christian Petersen

The 2013 Arizona Fall League begins play this afternoon, giving a small group of prospects an extra opportunity to develop their skills as they climb the organizational ladder.

The Arizona Fall League was established in 1992 as a way to allow each MLB team to give a few of their prospects a chance to get more game experience to further their development. There are only six teams in the league, each of which hosts players from five different organizations. Indians prospects play for the Surprise Saguaros (it's a type of cactus), who also feature players from the Brewers, Orioles, Rangers, and Red Sox. Each MLB team chooses seven of its prospects to send, with most coming from Double-A or Triple-A (for that reason, the AFL is usually considered on par with Double-A in terms of competition).

The Saguaros will kick off their season this afternoon at 12:35 local time (3:35 in Cleveland), hosting the Peoria Javelinas

Among the most famous participants in AFL history are Albert Pujols, Roy Halladay, Mike Piazza, Derek Jeter, David Wright, Todd Helton, Jason Giambi, Mike Trout, and Bryce Harper. Michael Jordan also played there in 1994, during his short-lived professional baseball career. The most most significant player there this year will be Byron Buxton, the Twins outfield prospect who's rated as the top minor leaguer by almost every outlet. He's one of 24 Top 100 prospects (per MLB.com's list) playing this fall.

The seven players sent by the Indians this year are:

Shawn Armstrong (RHP) - 23 years old, 18th round pick in 2011: Armstrong spent most of 2013 in Double-A Akron, where he appeared as a reliever in 30 games. His ERA (4.09) was unimpressive, and his walk rate (5.7 per 9 innings) was very poor, but he held opposing hitters to a .246 average (despite a .353 BABIP) and struck out 11.7 batters per 9 innings, so perhaps the raw stuff of a Major League reliever is there.

Trey Haley (RHP) - 23 years old, 2nd round pick in 2008: Haley spent 2.5 years at Lake County (Low-A), not developing as expected after being drafted so early. He spent the last season and a half in Akron, working as the Aeros closer for much of 2013, giving up zero home runs in 44 innings, but walking a staggering 39 batters (8.0 per 9 innings).

Jeff Johnson (RHP) - 23 years old, 10th round pick in 2011: Johnson split 2013 between High-A Carolina and Double-A Akron, throwing a total of 48 innings of relief. He put up a combined 2.25 ERA, with 9.4 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9. He hasn't appeared on any prospects lists I've seen, but those numbers make him a candidate for the Indians top 20.

Will Roberts (RHP) - 23 years old, 5th round pick in 2011: Roberts also split 2013 between Carolina and Akron. Unlike the other three pitchers on this list, Roberts worked as a starter. Roberts has posted solid walk rates at every stop along the way, but with mediocre strikeout figures. His ERA in Akron this year was 4.57 over 134 innings.

Joe Wendle (2B) - 23 years old, 6th round pick in 2012: Wendle spent 2013 at Carolina, mostly playing alongside Francisco Lindor, which must be fun. He put up impressive hitting numbers there, with a .295/.372/.513 line, which included 53 extra-base hits in 107 games. There's little chance of reaching Cleveland for at least 3 years, but the Indians are hopefully more than 3 years away from needing help at 2B.

Tony Wolters (C) - 21 years old, 3rd round pick in 2010: I wrote about Wolters just yesterday. He moved from 2B/SS to catcher in 2013, in hopes of creating a clearer path to the majors. He spent most of the season at Carolina, and by all reports, the positional switch went fairly well. His walk rate also improved, while his power dipped. He's listed between 8th and 12th on most Indians prospect lists.

Tyler Naquin (OF) - 22 years old, 1st round pick in 2012: Naquin spent most of 2013 in Carolina, before a late-season promotion to Akron. His combined line of .269/.334/.405 was so-so, and he's not likely to develop much power, but he's rated as a plus base runner and fielder (a strong arm, with range and speed that have the Indians hoping he can stick at center), is often cited as one of the Tribe's 6 or 7 best prospects, and could be a starter in Cleveland come 2016.

The Arizona Fall League regular season schedule runs through November 15th, with the top two teams than facing off for the AFL Championship on November 16th.

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