The importance of the Arizona Fall League to the Colorado Rockies

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 05: A detail of Salt River Fields at Talking Stick during a spring training game between the Chicago Cubs and the Colorado Rockies on March 5, 2018 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 05: A detail of Salt River Fields at Talking Stick during a spring training game between the Chicago Cubs and the Colorado Rockies on March 5, 2018 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

On Wednesday, while the Colorado Rockies wrap up their series with the New York Mets at Coors Field, the next wave of Rockies prospects will be starting a journey through the Arizona Fall League.

September 18 marks the start of the 2019 Arizona Fall League schedule and the Colorado Rockies will join the Arizona Diamondbacks, Miami Marlins, Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays with prospects on the Salt River Rafters club. Four Colorado pitchers (Ryan Castellani, Ashton Goudeau, Alexander Guillen and Antonio Santos) join catcher Brian Serven and infielders Bret Boswell, Roberto Ramos and Colton Welker and the Rockies representatives on the Rafters.

The Rafters will play their home games at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, the spring training home of the Rockies and the Diamondbacks. The season begins Wednesday and concludes on October 26 with the championship game. The AFL All-Star Game is scheduled for October 12.

Walking around the Rockies clubhouse, there are several current players who have spent time in the Arizona Fall League. Nolan Arenado earned the 2011 AFL Most Valuable Player award. Before making his Major League debut this season, Sam Hilliard was a part of last year’s Rafters team as was Josh Fuentes and Jesus Tinoco.

Former Rockies who were recently named to the AFL’s Top 25 All-Time team along with Arenado include Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki.

There is plenty of history for the Rockies in the AFL and manager Bud Black told me it’s an important part of the development process for Colorado prospects.

“It’s a continuation for players who have been identified as truly potential big leaguers,” Black said in an exclusive chat. “And now you get them all together and playing against each other, so there’s a talent base there with good young players that’s a little different than a minor league season because there’s more talent.”

Ryan McMahon saw action in 21 games with the Rafters in 2016. He remembers that as not only part of a season that saw him and the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats play nothing but road games because of a construction delay on their new ballpark.

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“I had a great time down there. It was a long year for me personally but it was great to get out there and meet a lot of great people and other players and pick their brains,” McMahon told me. “You get a different view of other organizations so that’s cool. It’s a great experience.”

The AFL was a game-changer for Rockies reliever Yency Almonte in 2017. It marked his transition from starting pitcher to bullpen, a role where he made his Rockies debut the next season.

“For me, it was my first time to come out of the bullpen for good,” Almonte said. “It showed me how to have a better routine out of the bullpen and be ready for next year.”

He also praised the talent level he saw as a pitcher in the Arizona Fall League.

“It’s like an All-Star Game every day,” Almonte said. “You have a lot of really big prospects and guys who have had good years to get there.”

Black said not only is the talent level impressive but it’s also impressive the ability to see different philosophies from different organizations coming together under the same umbrella and with the same goal: Helping top prospects reach their full potential.

“From my viewpoint and being down there for years and talking to coaches and managers, there isn’t a lot of strategy or organizational philosophy being taught,” Black said. “It’s more of a ‘Let’s go play. Show your talent.’ There’s coaching and great baseball conversation among coaches and players from different organizations. There aren’t any trade secrets being shared, but there is coaching and trying to help players. It’s an environment to grow and see where you stack up against other prospects. It’s more competition.

“Since its inception to where it is now, I think it’s been a positive.”

McMahon told me he loved seeing the mixture of Major League teams coming together to play and share ideas.

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“It shows you there is more than one way to skin a cat,” McMahon said. “There are a lot of different ways to teach hitting, base running and defense. Baseball is a unique game and there a lot of different opinions but, at the end of the day, you just go out there and play.”