The Arizona Fall League begins later this afternoon. Known as the AFL, it’s the premiere fall/winter league for minor leaguers. Teams tend to send higher valued prospects here than anywhere else, but it’s mostly for American and Canadian prospects (since most Latin American countries have winter leagues where those younger players can participate).

There are several reasons that teams send players to the Arizona Fall League. For some, it’s sort of a “finishing school”. For others, they will be learning a new position. Some guys will be making up for lost time during the regular season due to injuries.

The Cincinnati Reds will be sending seven players in total to Arizona. Pitchers Stephen Johnson (RHRP), Layne Somsen (RHRP), Nick Travieso (RHSP) and Zack Weiss (RHRP) will be joined by catcher Chad Wallach, infielder Alex Blandino and outfielder Phillip Ervin.

Making up for lost time

Three players fall into this category. Nick Travieso took a comebacker off of his wrist in June and didn’t return until August. The right hander threw just 93.1 innings on the season as a result of the missed time. Facing some more advanced hitters in Arizona could also give him a taste of what’s to  come in Double-A next season. Layne Somsen, like Travieso, was hit by a comebacker. The result was a broken toe that kept him off of the mound from the middle of June until the second week of August. He had a solid workload for a reliever, but he’s been used in a long role and as a spot starter, which gave him more innings than a typical reliever would get. Chad Wallach is the third guy in this group. He didn’t really miss any time on the season, but as a catcher, he made fewer than 50 starts behind the plate and saw him split the rest of his time at first and designated hitter. The move to catcher for Wallach didn’t happen until he was a sophomore in college and he’s still relatively new to the position. Getting him more reps in Arizona behind the plate is likely the reason to his inclusion on the roster.

Getting a head start

Alex Blandino and Phillip Ervin both began the 2015 season in Daytona and spent the first four months of the season with the Tortoguas. Both were promoted to Double-A Pensacola in August. At the time of the promotions, Blandino was leading the Florida State League in OPS and Ervin was leading the same league in home runs. While Ervin struggled to hit for much of an average in Daytona, both he and Blandino struggled to do so while in Pensacola over the final month of the season. Maybe it was just one of those small sample size issues, but facing more advanced pitching could help give both guys a head start on rebounding in Double-A when they begin their 2016 seasons with the Blue Wahoos.

Finishing School

Zack Weiss, and to a lesser extent, Stephen Johnson both fit into this category. Weiss was one of the most successful relievers in all of minor league baseball in the 2015 season. The right hander watched his stuff take a step forward and also watch his numbers improve nearly across the board. After a brief time to transition to Double-A, Weiss dominated the Southern League as the closer for Pensacola. Johnson only made six appearances in the organization after being acquired in the Marlon Byrd trade. He was in the Giants organization prior to coming over and spent the entire year with their Double-A team in the Eastern League. Between the two stops he posted a 2.97 ERA in 66.2 innings. He could use a little more polish, but he could be close to helping the big league club and the Reds could be using this to get him a few more innings logged against more advanced hitters to bring him that much closer.

This is probably the best crop of pure prospects that the organization has sent to the Arizona Fall League in quite a while. Three of the players were midseason Top 10 prospects and three guys were strong relievers throughout the season with a big league future.

11 Responses

  1. wizeman

    Had i read somewhere that Stephenson was considered in order to add some innings to get him a bit more stretched out?

    • Doug Gray

      You did and didn’t.

      Stephenson took part in the Reds instructional league that takes place at their spring training facility, which happens to be in Arizona. Someone probably wrote that Stephenson was going to Arizona to pitch and get stretched out in the fall instructional league. That’s a different thing than the Arizona Fall League though.

  2. RFM

    Last year then-Marlins prospect Anthony DeSclafani distinguished himself in the AFL, and I’m looking forward to seeing who does the same this year. Stephen Johnson seems to have plenty of doubters, as the end result of trading Ben Lively and Marlon Byrd, and a strong performance with improved control might go a long way. We all know what a good season Zack Weiss had, but this is an opportunity for him to continue before a larger audience.

    Despite Blandino and Ervin’s struggles with batting average in AA both put up fairly impressive OBPs (which matters more to be than batting average), which I hope continues in the AFL. A big month of homeruns and stolen bases by Ervin would be welcome, too. I know many fans wrote Ervin off as a prospect after his 2014 season, but a strong AFL performance would be a nice ending to an improved 2015 season. Like (or believe in) him or not, Phil Ervin is probably the organization’s second best outfield prospect after Jesse Winker, and one of the organization’s top 4 hitting prospects.

  3. WVRedlegs

    It will be a big AFL for Weiss, Johnson, Travieso, Ervin and Blandino. Looking forward to following all of them this fall. Updates are expected.
    Will all 7 players be assigned to the same team, or will they be divided up?

  4. Pooter

    The AFL is special to me. My mom and dad met when my dad was working for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the AFL in the early 80’s. My mom was working at the Holiday Inn. For that reason, I love the AFL.

  5. redmountain

    I suspect we will see Ervin and Blandino in AAA before next season is over as well as
    Weiss. It is not beyond any of them being on a major league roster next year. If you have doubts about Ervin, go watch him play-reminds me a little of Jimmy Wynn

    • RFM

      Weiss should be beginning 2016 in AAA (along with AFL teammate Stephen Johnson). I wouldn’t be surprised to see either pitch for the Reds in 2016, after a strong AAA debut.

      Hopefully Ervin and Blandino will do well enough in AA to get midseason promotions to AAA, but as top prospects it seems very unlikely that we’ll see them play for the Reds in 2016… service clock concerns and all. I think the most either can hope for is an early 2017 debut. Brandon Phillips’ 10/5 rights are a real roadblock for Blandino.

  6. Littleleo1

    Yes Doug thanks for the update… I have kept
    Tabs on the Reds prospects in the AFL for several years now. I soak up every bit on baseball reds related news I can get during the long cold winter nightmare that is on its way soon !