With the start of the Arizona Fall League season only three weeks away, seven Marlins prospects have been named to the Salt River Rafters roster: shortstop José Devers, outfielders Jerar Encarnación and Víctor Víctor Mesa, right-handers Vincenzo Aiello, C.J. Carter and Nick Neidert, and left-hander Alex Vesia. It’s one of the most talented delegations that the club has ever sent to the desert.
Devers (No. 11 Marlins prospect per MLB Pipeline) and Neidert (No. 12) are making up for the time they missed due to forearm and knee injuries, respectively. Still only 19 years old, Devers is among the youngest AFL participants.
The Marlins want to get Mesa (No. 14) as many game reps as possible in his first full year playing stateside. Entering Wednesday, he had already racked up 114 games and 494 plate appearances between High-A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville...though with terrible offensive production at both levels.
It’s been an exciting breakout season for Encarnación (No. 18). The Midwest League All-Star leads all Marlins prospects in 2019 in both hits and runs batted in.
Aiello, Carter and Vesia each demonstrate impressive swing-and-miss stuff. They have combined for 221 strikeouts in 170 2⁄3 innings pitched. Carter distinguishes himself with an unorthodox delivery while Vesia compensates for ordinary fastball velocity with a high spin rate.
Jacksonville LHP Alex Vesia worked 3 perfect innings last night to finish off a win. He is striking out 38%(!!!) of all batters faced this season. Total domination since the Marlins drafted him in 2018. pic.twitter.com/usx71Dk18v— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) August 22, 2019
Historically, there has been some downtime between the Minor League Baseball regular season and the Arizona Fall League. Not the case anymore. This way, it essentially serves as a continuation of the season, which is especially helpful for developing pitchers.
Even more significant is the decision to open up the AFL to a much wider pool of eligible players:
In the past, the league was mostly limited to Double- and Triple-A players, with one player below Double-A allowed per Major League team. One foreign player was allowed per team, and no players with more than one year of credited Major League service as of Aug. 31 were eligible (recent Rule 5 selections were the exception). There were even rules about how long players needed to be off the Minor League injured list before the end of their season to be eligible. All of these restrictions have been lifted, at least for 2019, as these changes will be reviewed after this season has concluded.
“The lifting of restrictions, the general managers approved it, but conditionally. Let’s try it this year and then evaluate at the end of the year,” AFL Director Bill Bavasi said. “That might have an interesting result. The position players will still be strong, but it might lift the pitching a little bit. It could be a way to get the pitching a little bit better.”
Fans will be able to follow AFL games on MiLB.com (and of course, Fish Stripes is going to do full coverage). September games on the schedule will all start at night to minimize exposure to the grueling Arizona heat, then they’ll mix in more afternoon games in October.
Triple-A New Orleans manager Keith Johnson holds the same position on the Salt River Rafters. In addition to Marlins prospects, his roster includes reps from the Diamondbacks, Rays, Rockies and Twins. Shortstop Royce Lewis and outfielder Alex Kirilloff figure to be the biggest attractions.
Preliminary Salt River Rafters roster
The games begin Sept. 18 with the league championship decided on Oct. 26.