The Arizona Fall League, which is a bit of an all-star league to begin with, has an all-star game of its own. It used to be called the Rising Stars Game but this year will be called the Fall Stars Game, which I prefer anyway. I’m a sucker for a good pun.
Because there are only six teams in the AFL and two relatively deep all-star teams, roughly a third of the league makes it, taking away some of the honor. Of course, you don’t really care about the honor of it. You care about who you’re going to get to see on MLB Network on Saturday (8 p.m. EDT), since these teams will consist mostly of players fans have heard of but may have never seen.
The Fall Stars Game may be just another game, but it is a chance to see some of the best talent in the game before it is finished developing, which provides an interesting look into the developmental process. There are players learning to play new positions and players still learning how to play the game at all. It’s a unique perspective into the way minor leaguers are cultivated to see them in action against the best of the best.
So let’s figure out what exactly you should be looking for as you hang on to live baseball for a few more days after the end of the World Series.
Byron Buxton—When in doubt, focus on the best player on the field. Buxton is the best player on just about any field he steps on and will be for quite some time. He’s struggling this fall as he winds down at the end of his first full season, but great players have a flair for the dramatic and prospects don’t get too many chances to play on national television. Even though Buxton will be on TV all the time very soon, it’s still fun to get a glimpse of him ahead of time.
Kris Bryant—The Cubs system is ridiculously strong at the moment, especially with position players, but Bryant has been separating himself even from the cream of his organization’s crop this fall, with a league-leading five home runs. Bryant is already making a case for a 2014 call-up, is red-hot right now, and can hit the ball a mile. That’s always a good combination for all-star games.
Marcus Stroman—All-star games are fun because pitchers have to throw only an inning or two and therefore can really air things out. That’s especially true of prospects whose arms still have that premium velocity. Stroman is extra fun to watch because he doesn’t look like he should throw hard. Listed at a generous 5-foot-9, Stroman throws easy gas and it’s always a good time watching the surprise on the hitter’s face when it comes out of his small frame.
Austin Hedges—Because you just never know when he’s going to throw someone out stealing, should they be dumb enough to try.
Hard, wild throwers—The AFL has some powerful yet unrefined arms. Two of the top ones are Kyle Crick and Aaron Sanchez. Both have premium velocity and high ceilings, but neither seems to have any idea where his fastballs are going. They both miss bats, but also miss the strike zone. It’s an anything-can-happen situation, including a dominating performance.
Next year’s major leaguers—Marcus Semien got a taste of the big leagues this fall and should have a good shot of making the White Sox roster next spring. If not, he’ll be up at some point. The same applies to Jeurys Familia, who could start or relieve for the Mets next season. Colin Moran was the sixth overall pick this summer and isn’t ready for the majors, but he’s a Marlin, so logic flies out the window, especially when it comes to calling up prospects too early.