The league consists of 6 teams with 35-man rosters. Each team in the fall league is fed by five major league organizations, and each organization sends seven players. The Mariners affiliate is the Peoria Javelinas, and here are quick looks at the seven Mariner farmhands who will spend this autumn in the desert:
- Dustin Ackley, 2B - Ackley is one of the brightest stars in the whole league, which isn't surprising since he is considered one of the best prospects in all of baseball right now. Clearly, the Mariners are giving him every opportunity to develop as quickly as possible. Ackley will likely get the most attention of all the M's in the fall league, but realistically, his performance probably doesn't mean much. He will get a very long look in spring training no matter what, and I think behind closed doors the Mariners would admit that they want him to be the opening day second baseman in 2011.
- Maikel Cleto, RHP - Cleto is a 21-year-old flame-thrower that the Mariners acquired in the J.J. Putz trade. He has spent all of this year at High Desert, where he has struggled. Maikel will be young for this league, so I anticipate more struggles. What I am most interested to see is his role. He has started in the minors, but probably profiles better as a reliever. Maybe the Mariners use the fall league to see what he looks like in shorter stints.
- Josh Fields, RHP - Fields lost much of this season to injury. As a reliever in AA with power stuff, a strong showing in this league might make him a darkhorse to earn a spot on the opening day roster next year. However, I think the main reason he is in this league is to recover some of the lost development time. When (or if) Fields starts to throw strikes consistently, he will be dominant in whatever league he is in.
- Josh Lueke, RHP - Getting lost from time to time in the off-field drama surrounding Lueke is the fact that he is a good relief prospect. He has a power fastball, as well as a good slider. The fall league gives him another month to develop, likely poising him for a long, long look in spring training. Josh will at least compete for a spot in the bullpen, and may even be penciled in as a favorite by the time spring training begins.
- Matt Mangini, 3B - Matt is a former sandwich pick from not that long ago (2007), but seemed to get lost in the shuffle in the M's system. He steadily worked his way through the minors, but with pretty mediocre production. However, in his first year at AAA, Mangini has blossomed. A strong showing in the fall league might turn even more heads. At the very least it looks like the organization thinks that Mangini can push Matt Tuiasosopo, but is he even more than that?
- Nate Tenbrink, OF - Nate has some speed with gap power. Especially as a left-handed hitter, he has a skillset suited very nicely for Safeco Field. The 2008 draftee split time in High Desert and West Tennessee this season, and it looks to me like he is in line to start next year in Tacoma. I don't think Tenbrink is a big-time prospect, but it looks like the Mariners want him ready to provide outfield depth next year.
- Tom Wilhelmsen, RHP - Wilhelmsen is one of the better stories in the M's farm system right now. A 6'6" 27-year-old that throws in the low 90s in the low levels of the minors is far from usual. Tom was drafted by Zduriencik when he was in Milwaukee, but Tom walked away from baseball for a couple years. He wanted back in this year, and Jack was there to give him his chance. Early returns are good, but then again he is very old for the leagues he has competed in. I would have been surprised if Wilhelmsen were not in the fall league, but that makes him no less intriguing. Tom is a darkhorse and a wild card in the M's organization. A strong showing in the fall league will make him one of the more intriguing stories in spring training.