OK, close your eyes and picture yourself sitting behind home plate at a beautiful ballpark, on a perfect day, surrounded by big league scouts, watching a game filled with prospects from ten different major league teams. Pretty nice dream, isn’t it? Well, without trying to rub it in, your fantasy is my reality because I’m fortunate enough to live in the Valley of the Sun.
An envelope arrived in the mail this week from the “Office of the Commissioner of Baseball”. No, it wasn’t my voting credential for the MVP & Cy Young Award…it was better! It was my annual invitation to purchase a season pass for the Arizona Fall League.
The Arizona Fall League, which was the brainchild of Hall of Fame Baseball Executive Roland Hemond, brings together 180 players for six weeks every October and November. Utilizing six of the Spring Training ballparks in the Phoenix area for six weeks, local fans pay $8 (or less) to watch some of the top prospects in baseball compete against each other and attempt to impress scouts and team executives with their talent. A few years ago, for example, Mike Trout & Bryce Harper patrolled the same outfield for the Scottsdale Scorpions. This Fall, at least ten of the MLB.com top 100 will be on rosters including Victor Robles (Nats), Ronald Acuna (Braves), Kyle Tucker (Astros), Francisco Mejia (Indians), Mitch Keller (Pirates), Kyle Lewis (Mariners) & Corey Ray (Brewers).
Today, we’ll take a retrospective look at the first decade of the league (1992-2001) and the players who made it to “the show”. We’ll use prospect lists that were published at the time along with award winners and all-star team members from the various campaigns. And, of course, a few oddities to flavor the stew.
* #1 Ryan Klesko (Braves 1B) – Played 16 seasons in the NL and hit 278 Home Runs
* #2 Rondell White (Expos OF) – Battled injuries for most of his 15-year career but had a lifetime .284 Batting Average
* #9 Mike Piazza (Dodgers C) – Difficult to believe there were eight players rated ahead of him…arguably, the greatest hitting Catcher in history with 427 HR’s and a .308 BA in 16 seasons and now a member of the Hall of Fame
* The Manager of the Scottsdale team was Dusty Baker
* #1 Cliff Floyd (Expos 1B) – Another injury-prone player, but lasted in the Majors for 17 seasons with 233 HR’s and a .278 BA
* # 2 Todd Hollandsworth (Dodgers OF) – Was the NL Rookie-of-the Year in 1996 but never really built upon that success in 12 seasons with six different teams
* # 4 Shawn Green (Blue Jays OF) – Had 42 HR’s & 123 RBI’s in his free agent walk-year of 1999 and used that as springboard to a big contract with the Dodgers…had two more 40+ HR campaigns with L.A. and played 15 years
* League MVP Orlando Miller (Astros SS) – Lasted only four seasons in the majors with a lifetime BA of .259…last seen in the big leagues in 1997, he continued to toil in the Minors, Mexico and Independent Leagues until 2008…his final stop was in Edmonton where he hit .319
* #1 Ruben Rivera (Yankees OF) – Yes, he was rated ahead of Nomar & Derek…his 9 years in the Majors produced a BA of .216…during Spring Training in 2002, he was released by the Yankees after it was discovered that he had stolen some of Derek Jeter’s baseball equipment from the locker room and sold it…guess the MLB minimum salary of $300,000 just wasn’t enough
* #2 Nomar Garciaparra (Red Sox SS) – Became an icon in New England and made five All-Star teams as a member of the Red Sox before being traded in 2004…a lifetime .313 hitter in 14 seasons
* #3 Derek Jeter (Yankees SS) – The Captain of the Yankees is on a secure path to the Hall of Fame and could become the face of the Marlins franchise.
* League MVP Mark Grudzielanek (Expos 2B) – Played 15 years and accumulated over 2,000 hits with a BA of .289
* The Manager of the Scottsdale squad was Terry Francona
* #1 Alan Benes (Cardinals P) – Won 13 games for St. Louis in 1996 but couldn’t overcome injuries…had a career record of 29 Wins & 28 Losses
* #2 Darin Erstad (Angels OF) – Had a very productive 14-year career and won three Gold Gloves as a member of the Angels…an integral part of their 2002 Championship team
* League MVP Robin Jennings (Cubs OF) – Only appeared in 93 Major League games
* #1 Kevin Orie (Cubs 3B) – Also the Co-MVP, he was another Cub phenom who didn’t pan out, he played parts of four seasons and hit .249
* #2 Chris Carpenter (Blue Jays P) – Pitched in the Majors for 15 years and won the NL Cy Young Award in 2005 with a mark of 21-5
* #6 Derrek Lee (Padres 1B) – “D Lee” hit 331 HR’s in 15 big league seasons
* League Co-MVP Bubba Trammell (Tigers OF) – Played with five teams in seven seasons and had one 20+ HR campaign with a lifetime BA of .261
* #1 Chad Hermansen (Pirates 2B) – Everyone thought he would be a star…hit .195 in six years with four teams…continued to hang on in the Minors until 2007
* #2 Preston Wilson (Mets OF) – Former Mets star Mookie Wilson is both his Uncle & Stepfather (think about that)…played 10 years in the Big Leagues and led the NL with 141 RBI’s while with the Rockies in 2003
* #5 Sean Casey (Indians 1B) – One of the most popular players in the Majors during his 12-year career, he had a lifetime BA of .302
* #9 John Rocker (Braves P) – Did have some success as a closer during his six years in the Majors, but is best known for his racist, homophobic and sexist remarks in a 1999 Sports Illustrated interview
* League MVP Rolando Arrojo (Devil Rays P) – This Cuban defector had an outstanding rookie year in 1998 but was never productive after that and posted a 40-42 W-L record in five seasons
* The Manager of the Peoria team was Mike Scioscia
* #1 J.D. Drew (Cardinals OF) – Had some productive results during his 14-year career despite missing significant time with injuries…had 242 HR’s and a lifetime BA of .278
* #2 Matt Anderson (Tigers P) – Detroit was seduced by the 100 MPH Fastball and he did have 22 Saves in 2001…seven years in the majors produced a 5.19 ERA
* #4 Alfonso Soriano (Yankees SS) – A productive player in 16 big league seasons, he hit over 400 HR’s…he also made over $150 Million
* #7 Roy Halladay (Blue Jays P) – “Doc” became one of the best Pitchers in the game with two Cy Young Awards in his trophy room…his record over 16 seasons was 203-105
* League MVP Carlos Lee (White Sox 1B/3B) – After playing 14 MLB campaigns, “El Caballo” accumulated 358 HR’s and a .285 BA
* The Manager of the Maryvale roster was Ken Griffey Sr.
* League MVP George Lombard (Braves OF) – Only had 350 AB’s in the Majors hitting .220…his last professional season was 2009, when he hit .343 for the Independent League Long Island Ducks
* Pitcher-of-the Year Doug Davis (Rangers) – If you looked up “Innings Eater” in the dictionary, his picture would be there…in 13 seasons, his record was 92-108 with a 4.44 ERA
* Batting Champion Chad Moeller (Twins OF) – The quintessential AAAA player, he was in the majors for parts of 11 seasons and hit .226
* ERA Leader Chad Durbin (Royals P) – Pitched for 14 seasons (and six teams) …lifetime record was 43-47 with 5.03 ERA
* Maryvale’s Manager was Bob Melvin
* League MVP Donzell McDonald (Yankees OF) – Had a total of 25 MLB AB’s in 2001-02 and was never in “the show” again…his final pro year was 2010 when he hit .301 in the Mexican League
* Pitcher-of-the Year Matt Miller (Tigers) – Pitched 10 career innings for the Tigers, allowing 20 Hits and 10 Runs
* All-Star 3B Albert Pujols (Cardinals) – What ever happened to this guy?
* All-Star SS Jimmy Rollins (Phillies) – 2016 was his last year in the “Show”…he had over 2,400 hits and the 2007 NL MVP Award to his credit
* #1 Hank Blalock (Rangers 3B) – Had a few productive seasons for Texas, but injuries took their toll…153 HR’s in nine years
* #2 Drew Henson (Yankees 3B) – Followed Tom Brady as the QB at Michigan, but decided to try baseball…those of us who watched him try to hit the breaking ball knew it was a bad idea…had only 9 MLB AB’s before going back to Football in 2004…played briefly for the Cowboys & Lions
* #3 Brandon Phillips (Expos SS) – Both the Expos & Indians gave up on this volatile personality, but he’s still a productive player in his 16th season and has four Gold Gloves to his credit
* #10 Carl Crawford (Devil Rays OF) – Was a real game-changer during his eight seasons with the Rays swiping 400 bases…the huge free-agent contract in Boston didn’t work out and now he’s out of baseball.
If you’ve played Fantasy Baseball for at least 15-20 years, some of these names will bring “Sweet Dreams” (Annie Lennox, 1983) while others will cause “Tears On My Pillow” (Little Anthony and the Imperials, 1958). Hope you can join us sometime at the ballpark in Arizona…you’ll recognize me as the one guy sitting behind home plate without a radar gun.