The Arizona Fall League (AFL) is a unique quirk in Major League Baseball's minor league system. Its season starts in October and lasts only a little over a month. Each major league team can send five players and five organizations share a team, for a total of six teams in the league. Most prospects sent to play in the AFL fall into one of two categories: 1) They are the best the organization has and the organization is trying to accelerate their development OR 2) The organization is not sure if the player is a major league prospect or not, so they send them to the AFL to sink or swim. In the end, the prospects that put up impressive numbers throughout the season and then shine in the AFL usually make an impact in the major leagues. With that in mind, here are 10 names to remember, listed in order of organization name, from this year's Arizona Fall League:
HOWIE KENDRICK, 22 Years Old, 2B, ANGELS - The Angels farm system is loaded with prospects right now, so Kendrick has not received the attention he deserves. He can flat out hit, both for average and power and also possesses great speed. Kendrick looks like a perennial all-star waiting to happen.
BRANDON WOOD, 20 Years Old, SS, ANGELS - Unlike Hendrick, Brandon Wood has received plenty of attention, thanks to his prolific power numbers. Wood hit 57 home runs in 159 minor league games, an absurd amount for any minor-leaguer at any level. Even more incredible is that Wood is only 20, which means he is likely still 5-6 years away from fully developing as a power hitter.
DARIC BARTON, 20 Years Old, 1B, ATHLETICS - Barton was acquired in the Mark Mulder trade and may end up being the best player the A's got in return. He has shown very little power to this point, but he can hit for average and he also possesses phenomenal plate discipline. Barton should develop more power as he matures, but even if he does not he will be a starter in the major leagues for a long time because his ability to hit is so special.
MATT MURTON, 24 Years Old, OF, CUBS - This guy is not exactly a prospect since he played the final two months with the Cubs and played very well. However, he was one of the finest hitters in the AFL and has had an impressive minor league career. Murton has a great blend of power, hitting, and speed, which makes him versatile offensively. There is a great chance he will establish himself in the majors in 2006.
STEPHEN DREW, 22 Years Old, SS, DIAMONDBACKS - Offensively, Stephen Drew resembles his brother J.D. Drew (atleast when J.D. is healthy). He leaves nothing to be desired as an offensive player and he looks like a superstar in the making.
RYAN GARKO, 24 Years Old, C, INDIANS - Garko is a great hitter, which means he is an exceptional hitter for a catcher. If he gets a chance to play in 2006 he may assert himself as one of the five best hitting catchers in the game immediately, but the Indians already have arguably the best hitting catcher in Victor Marinez. It will be interesting to see what happens to Ryan Garko in 2006.
CLINT NAGEOTTE, 25 Years Old, RP, MARINERS - Like Matt Murton, Nageotte already has seen some extended time in the majors. However, unlike Murton, he has not fared well. Nageotte failed because he could not throw strikes. However, he did throw strikes in AFL and in AAA this year and he dominated. Nageotte should be in Seattle's 2006 bullpen and it will be interesting to see how well he does.
LASTINGS MILLEDGE, 20 Years Old, OF, METS - Lastings Milledge should be an easy name to remember for two reasons: 1) How can you forget a name like Lastings Milledge? 2) He is a big-time prospect. Despite being so young, Milledge has already excelled in AA. He is the type of precocious talent that is not found perennially, a prospect that looks destined for stardom.
ALEX GORDON, 21 Years Old, 3B, ROYALS - Gordon only played in the AFL this year, which is not surprising since he was a draft pick this year, but the numbers he put up were impressive. For now, the Royals plan to start Gordon in AA ball next year but he looks like the type that will move quickly through the system. Gordon has great plate discipline and good power and that combination will likely propel him into the Royals' starting lineup by the end of 2006, or the start of 2007 at the latest.
T.J. BEAM, 25 Years Old, RP, YANKEES - He may not be Mariano Rivera, but he is a great looking prospect. Lots of strikeouts, few hits, and few walks always equal success and that describes Beam perfectly. Considering the Yankees' bullpen woes the last few years, they would be foolish to not give this kid a look in spring training.