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An in-person check on the AFL

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I know they call it the Arizona Fall League, but as I touched down in Phoenix, Ariz., to a toasty 90-degree afternoon, there wasn’t much that felt fall-like about it. 

No matter. With seven of the Nationals top prospects kicking around out here — pitching, catching, and, occasionally, hitting — for the Scottsdale Scorpions, I’ve dragged myself back into summer temperatures to check the whole thing out. By the numbers, it’s not going very well for most of them.

When I did a Fall League update last week, after just six games, the numbers weren’t pretty. At the time Bryce Harper had just one hit; Sammy Solis had given up two hits, three walks and a run despite throwing just three innings. In fact, the only player with a stat line somewhat non-cringe-worthy was Zach Walters, the infielder brought over in the Jason Marquis trade, an afterthought to the Fall League roster (replacing Anthony Rendon when it was deemed he would not go) and a .300 hitter in the minor leagues this past season.

It’s been a week and the numbers haven’t changed much. Harper, who has a history as a slow starter, now has four hits — but that’s basically been the only improvement for him, though two of those hits were for extra bases. He’s yet to hit his first home run, has walked twice, struck out five times and stolen three bases. Walters, who was 4-for-15 when we last checked, is now just 5-for-24. Catcher Derek Norris is 4-for-20 with a double and two walks. 

Solis has started two games, thrown seven innings and allowed five earned runs. He’s walked four, given up eight hits and struck out just two batters. Right-hander Pat Lehman has appeared four times, thrown 5 1/3 innings, given up three earned runs, seven hits, two home runs and walked two. He’s struck out five. Rafael Martin has appeared twice, thrown 2 1/3 innings, given up just two hits (though one was a home run) and walked one while striking out six.

Then there’s Matt Purke, arguably the only bright spot in the pack at this point. Purke, who is expected to pitch mostly in a relief piggy-back role and perhaps sneak in a few starts as he builds his stamina, made his first professional appearance on Saturday. He threw two innings, allowed one hit, one run, one walk and struck out one. He also pitched a 1-2-3 inning his first time out, an encouraging sign considering that, aside from a few instructional league games, he hadn’t thrown in a game since the spring.

But it’s also a new week and I’m here now to see for myself just how misleading or not misleading those numbers have been. The Fall League is considered something of an honor to attend for minor league prospects. A good performance here can pay significant dividends for a prospect on their route toward the major leagues. The indicators aren’t all perfect, but it’s generally considered a league concentrated with top talent. Success here can mean a lot. 

I’m heading out momentarily to see the Scottsdale Scorpions game here, if the rotation holds true to form, Solis could start for Scottsdale. I hope to provide a few posts while I’m here this week.

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About the Author
Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.

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