Usually, the AFL does not get much attention. It will get a little more this year though, because Stephen Strasburg will make his pro debut as a Phoenix Desert Dog. The AFL gives teams a chance to get extra work for a handful of players. This year, teams are mostly using it to accelerate the development of their top prospects, so on paper this is one of the more talented AFLs. Here is a closer look at each player the M's are sending:
- Dustin Ackley - Much like Strasburg, the second overall pick will debut in the Fall League. This was announced when Ackley signed, so it is no surprise at all. Gordon Beckham and Matt LaPorta played in the AFL the year after they were drafted, succeeded, and put themselves on the fast track to the majors. Ackley is certainly worth watching, because he seems capable of getting on a similarly fast track.
- Philippe Aumont - The Mariners put Aumont on the fast track to the majors when they sent him to the bullpen. He has scuffled in recent AA outings, but a strong showing in the AFL may prime Philippe for a promotion to AAA...or maybe even the Mariners bullpen. Once Aumont is ready, he will be up, and the team is clearly giving him every chance to make it as quickly as possible.
- Joe Dunigan - Lost in the shuffle of all sorts of stellar offensive performances in High Desert has been the steady production of Dunigan. It's partly because he is older than other High Desert prospects. Still, Joe has a nice blend of power and surprising speed for his size. He deserves more attention than he has received so far, and a nice showing in the AFL will help him garner it.
- Josh Fields - Fields and Aumont are now both in AA, and both project as late-inning relievers. It sure seems like they are competing against each other, and they will yet again in the AFL. Josh still struggles with consistency, and on top of that he has been injured. Time spent in the AFL should help him out as much as anyone. He'll never become more consistent without ample opportunities.
- Nick Hill - Nick seems to get stronger and stronger every year. He had been in the bullpen his entire time in the system until the second half of this year. The move did not faze Hill at all, as he continued to dominate in AA. I like his chances to make the 2010 Mariners better than any other Diamond Jaxx pitcher (that includes Aumont and Fields), and I like them even more now that he is going to get some work in the AFL.
- Carlos Triunfel - The top M's position prospect in many minds pretty much lost the entire 2009 season to a leg injury. This is his chance to get some of that season back. If he can shake off the rust and play well, perhaps he will still be in line for a promotion to AAA to start 2010.
- Anthony Varvaro - Varvaro has a great arm, but he lacks control, and is already 25 years old in AA. The Mariners need to decide what they think of him sometime soon. A little extra time in the AFL should help.