a Arizona Fall League Baseball update
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Arizona Fall League Baseball update


In many parts of the country, November brings a foreboding onslaught of plunging temperatures, howling winds and swirling rain and snow.

It’s different in Arizona, a place where the 11 th month of the year signifies an official end to the blast-furnace heat of desert summer, ushering in a tranquil, temperate period when vacationers arrive and everyone -- native and visitor -- wants to be outside.

Amidst this pleasant backdrop, the Arizona Fall League annually concludes its seven-week baseball season.

For blue-chip minor league prospects like Tommy Hanson and Tyler Flowers, the Arizona circuit provides an opportunity to accumulate additional innings and at-bats in their developmental track toward the majors.

For fans who venture out on sun-splashed afternoons and balmy evenings to picturesque ballparks throughout the Phoenix valley, the autumn showcase is a chance to enjoy high-level baseball in a relaxed atmosphere.

Both the prospects and the paying customers made the most of the occasion earlier this week at Mesa Hohokam Stadium. On a cloudless, 70-degree Wednesday, Hanson struck out nine batters in five innings of pitching and Flowers crushed three home runs to lead the host Mesa Solar Sox to a 16-4 victory over the Surprise Rafters.

Hanson and Flowers are both highly touted prospects in the Atlanta Braves organization.

Flowers, a 6-4, 245-pound catcher, played at Class A Myrtle Beach during the spring and summer, hitting .288 with 17 homers and 88 RBIs. With his three round-trippers at Mesa on Wednesday, the right-handed hitter now leads the Arizona Fall League with 10 home runs. Flowers drove in seven runs in the contest, raising his AFL season total to 18 RBIs in just 17 games. His batting average climbed to .387.

Hanson allowed one run on three hits in improving his fall league record to 4-0. The 6-6, 220-pound right-hander is second in the AFL with a 0.76 earned-run average. His four wins are tied for most in the circuit, and his 39 strikeouts (in just 23 and 2/3 innings) lead the league.

Hanson, who is aiming to compete for a spot in the Braves’ starting rotation in 2009, was dominant this past spring and summer at the Class A and Class AA levels. He began the 2008 campaign at Myrtle Beach, going 3-1 with a 0.90 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 40 innings. After earning a promotion to Class AA Mississippi, Hanson went 8-4 with a 3.03 ERA, striking out 114 batters in 98 innings.

Against the Surprise Rafters on Wednesday, Hanson struck out one hitter in the first inning, three in the second, one in the third, two in the fourth and two more in the fifth. He allowed his only run in the first, when Wes Hodges doubled and Beau Mills drove him in with a single.

Hodges and Mills are both power-hitting corner infielders in the Cleveland Indians organization. Hodges hit .290 with 18 home runs and 97 RBIs at Class AA Akron this past season, while Mills played at Class A Kinston, hitting .293 with 21 homers and 90 RBIs. In the fall league, Hodges is among the leaders with a .360 batting average, six home runs and 24 RBIs.

Mesa first baseman Logan Morrison leads the Arizona Fall League in both batting average (.448) and runs batted in (28). The Florida Marlins prospect (who hit .332 with 13 homers and 74 RBIs during his season at Class A Jupiter) had the day off on Wednesday, but the Solar Sox hardly needed him, pounding out 17 hits against four Surprise pitchers. Casper Wells, a Detroit Tigers prospect, hit two home runs in the game for Mesa, raising his fall league totals to six homers and 17 RBIs.

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The Arizona Fall League is in the sixth week of its seven-week season, which concludes with a championship game at Scottsdale on Nov. 22. The league consists of the following six teams, each of which are affiliated with five major league organizations:

  • Mesa Solar Sox (whose organizational affiliations are the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Florida Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies and Detroit Tigers).
  • Peoria Javelinas (affiliated with the Milwaukee Brewers, Tampa Bay Rays, Cincinnati Reds, Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees).
  • Peoria Saguaros (St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Washington Nationals, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox).
  • Phoenix Desert Dogs (Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and Minnesota Twins).
  • Scottsdale Scorpions (Los Angeles Angels, Houston Astros, San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox).
  • Surprise Rafters (Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals).

A majority of the players in the fall league competed at the Class AA level this past spring and summer, while others played at the Class AAA and Class A levels. A few AFL players have major league experience.

The Arizona Fall League is broken up into two divisions.

The Peoria Saguaros currently lead the American Division with a 21-10 record. Mesa is close behind at 20-11, while Scottsdale is in third at 12-17.

In the National Division, the Phoenix team is the leader at 17-12, followed by the Peoria Javelinas (12-19) and Surprise (9-22).



By Tom Kessler
DFN Sports Staff Writer

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