The Arizona Fall League kicks off today, in what feels like earlier-than-usual timing, but only because the lockout pushed the MLB regular season deeper into October. I was modestly caught off-guard this morning!
The prospect-laden AFL is an after-season opportunity for minor league players to compete against each other in a competitive environment for another month and a half before hitting the offseason reset. Each organization sends seven or eight prospects to the league, and the Chicago Cubs are sending:
1B Matt Mervis
OF Brennen Davis
RHP Zac Leigh
RHP Sheldon Reed
LHP Bailey Horn
LHP Riley Martin
OF Owen Caissie
INF B.J. Murray
You can read more about the first six here in the original discussion (which had included Miguel Amaya, but he has since been removed due to a foot injury). The latter two were added, and you can see that discussion here. It’s a great group of prospects overall, and it’ll be nice to track their progress through the end of the season on November 12.
The Mesa Solar Sox (the team that features Cubs prospects) kicks off their season tonight at 8:35pm CT.
Even more prospect-previewing here from Jordan:
Of more general note, the Arizona Fall League will feature a number of rules changes that will reach the big leagues in 2023, and one big one that will not. From MLB.com:
PITCH TIMER: After successful testing in MiLB that reduced game times on average by 26 minutes, the Major League rule recently approved by the Competition Committee will be implemented to enforce time limits between delivery of pitches, inning breaks, and pitching changes.
DEFENSIVE POSITIONING: As recently approved by the Major League Competition Committee, the defensive team must have a minimum of four players on the infield, each of whom must have both feet completely in front of the outer boundary of the infield, and two infielders must be positioned entirely on each side of second base.
LARGER BASES: To reduce player injuries and collisions – and create shorter distances between bases to impact the success rate of stolen base attempts – the size of first, second, and third base will be increased from 15 inches square to 18 inches square.
ABS CHALLENGE: The Automatic Ball-Strike (“ABS”) Challenge System that began in the Florida State League in 2022 will be implemented on the experimental level at the Arizona Fall League for games played at Salt River Fields and Chase Field. Batters, Pitchers, and Catchers will have the opportunity to challenge an umpire’s ball or strike call if they feel it is incorrect. All challenges will be evaluated by the ABS system to determine the outcome. Both teams are allowed three challenges and will be awarded their challenge back if correct.
As you know, the first three rules mentioned there have already been approved for use in MLB in the 2023 season. The last one, though, is a modified version of the robo umps system, and will not be coming to MLB any earlier than 2024. Probably later, in all likelihood.
If this ABS test goes well, then you’ll see it used in more of the minor leagues next season. And then if THAT goes well, you might at least hear discussions about it next offseason. Whether that’s enough time to implement in MLB for 2024 remains to be seen. When they’ve used this challenge system before, those who’ve observed say it happens very quickly and is not a distraction. It is pretty clearly designed to be a happy medium between those who want the “human element” to remain, and those who want full-on robo umps.