Welcome to the Arizona Summer Rookie (AZL) League, where most of the games are played on back fields, the stands are empty and quiet and, though games are played at 7pm, the temperature is (almost) always triple digits.
Some call it “the Fire League” while others compare it to the witness protection program — no broadcasts, no fans, and no one knows you’re here. It is a league that does not generate any revenue; if nothing is coming in, then nothing is going out.
The 2018 season brings a few changes, namely additional teams. Four of the 14 organizations (Padres, Giants, Cubs, and Indians) now have two AZL teams, bringing the league total to 18 teams in three divisions. They still play a regular season total of 56 games; with a possible five post-season games, including three in the championship series.
Each team is on a staggered schedule of four games played, one day off. It may seem a bit much to others but considering the consistently extreme triple digit temperatures from the time they arrive for early work in the heat of the day through the end of the game at 10:30pm, the additional rest is necessary for players, coaches and umpires, alike.
For game schedules, rosters, etc., the Arizona League website is the best (only) official information: AZL Site
GAME RECAPS & PLAYER DEBUTS
Now that there have been two sets of games played, let’s take a look at some of the excitement of the first eight games for the Arizona League A’s; namely the season and professional debuts.
Of note, in eight games:
- 1 played in under 3 hours
- 2 with a first pitch temperature below 100 degrees
- The A’s went 4-0, then 0-3, then ended with a win and balanced to a record of 5-3
8 games: 281 AB, 60 R, 76 H, 9 2B, 6 3B, 2 HR, 44 RBI, 103 TB, 51 BB, 85 K, 3 SB, 2 CS
- Tied for 2nd most Triples (6)
- League leading 51 walks
- 2nd most runs scored (60)
- Tied for 3rd most RBIS (44)
- Tied for 2nd highest OBP (.386)
8 games: 72 IP, 71 H, 37 R, 33 ER, 2 HR, 9 HB, 37, BB, 87 K
- Tied for 3rd fewest Home Runs (2)
- Tied for 2nd most Hit Batters (9)
- Tied for 3rd most strike outs (87)
- 47 WHIP (Dodgers 1.13; Reds 1.88)
- 13 ERA (Dodgers 2.92; Rangers 6.93)
Roster changes – both additions and subtractions – are expected at the start of the season. Most, not all, players will make an appearance or two in AZ at the player development home of their organization before some ship off to short season teams. These moves are solely made by the organization but, as with all things, they knew much more than we do, and priority-one is always the success of the big league club. It will behoove everyone to keep that in mind when moves are made.
Home against the Angels
W: 7-6, 10 innings
Time of Game: 3:45
First pitch temp: 97°
A fun, exciting, extra-inning game resulting in a win for the A’s is a great way to start the season! It didn’t matter that it took almost four hours, it was the first win any AZL A’s team had secured since 2012. The roster included many names from the 2018 draft along with returning AZL players, as well as those up from the Dominican Summer League.
Five players from the 2018 draft class made their professional debut, including: Lawrence Butler, 6th round pick out of Westlake High School in Georgia. The impressive left-fielder walked and scored in his professional debut.
Cobie Vance, 16th round second-baseman out of Alabama, walked twice and scored; Chase Calabuig, 27th round centerfielder from San Diego State University, recorded his first hit, scored a run and walked; and John Jones, 32nd round catcher from North Greenville University, walked and scored.
The lone pitcher to make his professional debut was right-hander Clark Cota, Oakland’s 10th round selection out of UNC Wilmington, who struck out 3 and walked one in his one-inning of work.
International free agents who made their professional debuts in the Dominican Summer League prior to coming stateside include 17 year old OF Danny Bautista, son of former Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder of the same name; 18 year old OF Kevin Richards; 20 year old C Jorge Gordón; and the veteran, 21 year old OF Yholenys Gonzalez, Eighteen year old shortstop Alex Campos, acquired from the Mariners in the off-season trade for Ryon Healy, made his AZL and Athletics organizational debut at second base.
Among those making their AZL debut include starting pitcher Kyle Finnegan from Triple-A Nashville, and starting right-fielder, Greg Deichmann, from High-A Stockton. Finnegan, Oakland’s 6th round pick in 2013 out of Texas State and Deichmann, 2nd round pick out of LSU in 2017, both skipped the fire league their rookie seasons and went straight to short season Vermont.
The final group of returning AZL players include Richard Morban, a 20 year old native of the Dominican Republic, Malik Jones 2017’s 23rd round pick from Missouri Baptist University, and Double-A Midland’s rehabbing RHP Corey Walter, 28th round pick in 2014 out of West Virginia University. Walter appeared in four games his rookie season before joining the Vermont Lake Monsters. Position players Alonzo Medina, who was part of a triple-play made by the team in 2017, 17 year old native of Monteria, Colombia Jordan Diaz, and 18 year old OF from the Dominican Republic, Yerdel Vargas,
The opening day victory came in extra innings as Danny Bautista, who made the final out in the bottom of the 9th inning was placed on 2nd to start the bottom of the 10th scored on a single by Alonzo Medina. Malik Jones was credited with the win.
At the SF Giants-Black (Giants’ minor league campus)
Time of Game: 3:17
First pitch temp: 99°
Before RHP Daulton Jefferies took the mound for his long awaited first step returning from Tommy John, Chase Calabuig started the game with the first hit of his career. Next, in his first career at-bat, 34th round pick out of West Chester University, Nick Ward homered to right field, putting the A’s up 2-0 with no outs in the top of the 1st.
The second-baseman was productive: 3-4, 2R, HR, 4RBI, BB
Along with Ward, fellow draft picks starting their careers against the Giants-Black, include: catcher Matt Cross, 19th round pick from Niagara County Community College; a pair of draftees from St. Thomas Aquinas: Gio Dingcong and Joseph Peña, who reached on an error and scored; and 38th round pick from St. Mary’s, Austin Piscotty, whose brother Stephen who plays right field in Oakland
International free agent signee Cesarre Astorri, a catcher from Italy, made his professional debut after signing in the off-season. George Bryner Bell, son of the great former player George Bell and brother of Giants’ draft pick, George Bell, made his AZL debut after spending 2017 in the Dominican Summer League. In his first AZL game, Bell played left field and went 3-4, 3B, 2R, RBI.
Returning AZLers making their 2018 debut include: 20th round pick, 2017 Osvaldo Berrios, who had a great outing against the Giants, and catcher-turned-pitcher Jesus Monserratt making his debut on the mound. Left hander Jorge Martinez a native of Panama closed out the game.
Athletics’ starting pitcher, Daulton Jefferies, was selected by Oakland with the 37th pick out of UC Berkeley, after taking A.J. Puk with the 6th in 2016. The strike-throwing right-hander made his professional debut in the AZL then made the leap to High-A Stockton for the 2017 season. But after only four outings, the last one on April 13 against the San Jose Giants, Jefferies’ season came to an abrupt end as he learned he would need to have Tommy John surgery. Fourteen months later, under the extremely watchful and protective eye of Oakland’s player development staff Gil Patterson and Lefty, Craig Lefferts he took his first step on his return to winning baseball in 14 months. – staff, he made appeared in a game on April 13th for the High-A Stockton Ports after making his professional debut in the AZL in 2016.
Jefferies faced 7 batters in 2 pitch-limited innings, gave up one hit and struck out 5.
Home vs Indians 2
Time of Game: 3:25
First pitch temp: 105°
Left hander Austin Briggs, 29th round pick, McNeese State, made his professional debut against the Indians 2, wearing the classiest uniform in baseball: Oakland’s home whites! He was followed by returning AZLer Caleb Evans 2017 32nd round, Liberty University, and 19 year old right-hander Angello Infante from Venezuela who got the win in his AZL debut after spending 2017 in the Dominican Summer League.
Returning 19 year old fielder, Christopher Quintin from the Dominican Republic, saw his first action in 2018.
Nick Ward homered again and had another productive game; drove in 3, scored 3, and walked once. Lawrence Butler recorded the first hits of his career ( 3-for-4 with a 2B, R, 2 RBIs); Jordan Diaz (3-for-4, including a 3B, 3R, RBI); Kevin Richards (2-for-3, 2B, 2R, RBI, BB.)
Rehabbing Stockton Port, Greg Deichmann, is showing everyone he’s ready to return to the California League. He went 3-for-4, 2B 3R, BB
At the Padres 1
Time of Game: 3:50
First pitch temp: 107°
Final game before their first day off of the season was also the longest game played of the season – almost 4 hours. But it ended with a W and that’s all that mattered.
A few more debuts including 3B Jonah Bride, 23rd round pick from the University of South Carolina, along with Chase Cohen, 8th round pick from Georgia Southern, Bryce Nightengale, 16th rounder from George Mason, and Reid Birlingmair, 28th pick from University of Illinois-Chicago.
Right-hander Ismael Aquino made his stateside debut after spending 2017 in his native Dominican Republic with the DSL team.
Cesare Astorri, Austin Piscotty, and Cobie Vance all recorded the first hits and RBIs of their careers. Vance went 2-for-3, including a triple and drove in 3. Yhoelnys Gonzalez, recorded his first hits, went 2-for-3, and scored a run.
But the “debut” that caught many by surprise was that of RHP Christopher Quintin, who took the mound in the 9th inning, after his teammates regained the lead by scoring 3 runs in the top half. Quintin faced 3 batters and earned the save. No, he’s not converting from a position player, let’s just credit the creative genius of pitching coordinator Gil Patterson.
Home v Cubs 1
Time of Game: 3:02
First pitch temp: 105°
Athletics’ starter, 21st round pick, Daniel Martinez out of Riverside Community College and Aiden McIntyre, 22nd rounder out of Holy Names University made their professional debuts, while with Rafael Rincones, acquired in the trade with the Boston Red Sox for Rajai Davis, appeared in his first stateside game and as member of the Oakland Athletics.
Highlights from the game – professional debuts not withstanding – include a Matt-Chapman-esque defensive play at third by Christopher Quintin; the multiple triples hit by Calabuig, Deichmann, and Vance**, as well as the defensive dominance by catcher Jorge Gordón as he nailed two would-be base stealers at 2nd base.
With two outs in the bottom of the 8th, the winning streak was looking like it would be in jeopardy. That was until Cobie Vance doubled to left field, advanced to 3rd on an error by the left fielder, and then scored on a wild pitch (though from my perspective it was a triple the whole way). The next two Athletics’ batters walked, and advanced on a wild pitch but were unfortunately, left on base. But the fire and momentum of a comeback was evident. Lefty Austin Briggs made quick work of the 3 batters he faced in the 9th so his offense could get back on the field and continue the comeback.
With one out, Chase Calabuig tripled then scored on a wild pitch –now only down by 2. With two outs Greg Deichmann scored on an RBI double by Medina, who was thrown out trying to stretch it to a triple; ending the game. Game over. A’s suffer their first loss of the season by a score of 6-5.
At SF Giants-Orange (Giants Minor League Complex)
Time of Game: 2:48
First pitch temp: 101°
Offensively, this was their lowest scoring game. Giants starter, 3rd round pick, 2017, LHP Seth Corry held them to almost nothing in 5 innings. They manufactured 2 runs in the 7th inning and that was it. Giants top pick, catcher Joey Bart, Georgia Tech is highly regarded for his game calling skills. It appears the A’s experienced his skills first hand. He won’t be here long.
Home v SF Giants-Orange
Time of Game: 3:24
First pitch temp: 102°
A rematch with the Giants-Orange team. While they scored more runs, the end result was the same.
Everyone who appeared in the 7th game of the season was already a veteran – or at least a non-rookie. Infante, Birlingmair, Evans, and J. Martinez were the pitchers.
Some of the offensive highlights include: Vance (2-for-3, R), Ward (1-for-2, 3B, 3 RBIs BB); Medina (3-for-3, RBI), Rincones (2-for-3, RBI, BB).
At the Angels – Tempe Diablo Stadium
Time of Game: 3:17
First pitch temp: 107°
Great pitching, explosive offense and you have a 7-1 win. Aquino, Monserratt, McIntyre, Jones, Briggs, and D. Martinez held the Angels to 4 hits and 1 unearned run. They issued 7 walks and struck out 14.
Calabuig, 1-for-3, R, RBI, BB; Ward 1-for-5, 2 RBI; Deichmann 2-for-3, RBI, Butler, 1-for-1, R, 2BB, Astorri, 1-for-5, R, RBI
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