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Arizona Fall League preview: Twins prospects, schedules, new rules

The story of the AFL will rise and fall with the fortunes of Byron Buxton, as far as the Twins are concerned.

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The short Arizona Fall League season is always intriguing. It's an opportunity for clubs to send a handful of prospects into a focused and competitive league where good showings can boost status. Minnesota's gaze will be firmly locked on the Salt River Rafters and Byron Buxton. But the AFL is also a place where Major League Baseball likes to try out new things.

Here are the rule changes that are being tried out this year. They're designed to push the pace of the game, and I think they certainly would do so.

  • Hitters must have one foot in the batter's box though his entire plate appearance.
  • No pitches will be thrown when a manager calls for an intentional walk. The batter will simply take his base.
  • Inning breaks will be a maximum of two minutes, five seconds; batters must be in the box by the one minute, 45 second mark. A ball or a strike will be applied accordingly, for the team that does not comply.
  • Pitching changes must take no longer than two and a half minutes. A ball will be called if a warmup takes too long.
  • Teams are allowed three "timeout" conferences per game. That includes all meetings between pitchers, catchers, batters, managers, and coaches. Pitching changes don't count towards this allocation.
  • Salt River's home games will feature a 20-second pitch clock and instant replay. (This is the team for who Minnesota's prospects will play.)

Salt River Rafters schedule (all times central)

Tuesday, October 7: vs Scottsdale Scorpions, 7:35pm
Wednesday, October 8: at Scottsdale Scorpions, 7:35pm
Thursday, October 9: at Mesa Solar Sox, 1:35pm
Friday, October 10: at Peoria Javelinas, 1:35pm
Saturday, October 11: at Glendale Desert Dogs, 7:35pm

Monday, October 13: at Surprise Saguaros, 1:35pm
Tuesday, October 14: vs Surprise Saguaros, 7:35pm
Wednesday, October 15: at Glendale Desert Dogs, 7:35pm
Thursday, October 16: vs Glendale Desert Dogs, 7:35pm
Friday, October 17: vs Peoria Javelinas, 7:35pm
Saturday, October 18: at Mesa Solar Sox, 7:35pm

Monday, October 20: at Peoria Javelinas, 1:35pm
Tuesday, October 21: vs Peoria Javelinas, 1:35pm
Wednesday, October 22: at Surprise Saguaros, 1:35pm
Thursday, October 23: vs Surprise Saguaros, 7:35pm
Friday, October 24: at Glendale Desert Dogs, 1:35pm
Saturday, October 25: vs Peoria Javelinas, 1:35pm

Monday, October 27: vs Mesa Solar Sox, 1:35pm
Tuesday, October 28: vs Peoria Javelinas, 1:35pm
Wednesday, October 29: at Surprise Saguaros, 1:35pm
Thursday, October 30: vs Surprise Saguaros, 7:35pm
Friday, October 31: vs Scottsdale Scorpions, 1:35pm

Saturday, November 1: Fall Stars Game at Salt River Fields, 6:08pm

Monday, November 3: at Mesa Solar Sox, 7:35pm
Tuesday, November 4: vs Mesa Solar Sox, 7:35pm
Wednesday, November 5: at Scottsdale Scorpions, 7:35pm
Thursday, November 6: vs Mesa Solar Sox, 7:35pm
Friday, November 7: at Peoria Javelinas, 1:35pm
Saturday, November 8: vs Peoria Javelinas, 1:35pm

Monday, November 10: vs Scottsdale Scorpions, 1:35pm
Tuesday, November 11: vs Peoria Javelinas, 3:35pm
Wednesday, November 12: vs Glendale Desert Dogs, 7:35pm
Thursday, November 13: at Scottsdale Scorpions, 1:35pm

Saturday, November 15: Championship game, 2:08pm

Twins prospects in the Arizona Fall League

In 2013, the Twins sent six players to the AFL - and four of them will be repeating their trip in 2014. Byron Buxton, Zack Jones, Max Kepler, and Eddie Rosario will be joined by Jason Adam, Jake Reed, and Taylor Rogers. Let's meet the team.

Jason Adam - RHP
2014 high level: Triple-A (Kansas City)

Adam is the 24-year old righty who came to Minnesota on August 11 in return for Josh Willingham. A fifth-round selection our of high school in 2010, Adam's greatest strength early on seemed to be his ability to limit base runners. That facet of his game hasn't held up too well once he reached Double-A in 2012, but the Royals kept him in the starter's role in spite of some disappointing ERAs and peripherals that weren't much brighter.

As an 18-year old out of Blue Valley Northwest High School in Kansas, Adam was drafted by the team he'd been a fan of his entire life. He would debut for Kansas City's A-ball affiliate in 2011, starting 21 games and posting a 4.23 ERA in 104.1 innings. Later that autumn, in the Arizona Fall League, Adam blew a good way. Scouts were glowing over his 98 mph fastball and his curveball. But those reports hadn't extended to his performance for Kane County, where his fastball sat in the upper 80s and lower 90s.

Still, in 2012 he stopped impressing some of the people and started impressing all of the people. He made 27 starts for High-A Wilmington, striking out 19% of opposing batters and walking just 5.6%. His 3.53 ERA in 158 innings, as a 20-year old, pushed him onto all of the organizational prospect lists before the 2013 season: #7 for Keith Law, #9 for FanGraphs, #10 for Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America, #11 for and John Sickels, and #12 at SB Nation Royals site Royals Review.

Adam spent all of 2013 at Double-A, where he struggled. It was almost an issue where he was great or positively terrible. From April through August, his monthly ERAs last year were 12.84 (20 IP), 3.09 (32), 2.97 (30), 7.52 (26), and 2.83 (35). It's a microcosm of his scouting reports: when he gets inside his own head and the mechanics break down, he looks awful. When he gets extension his fastball suddenly starts sinking and the breaking ball buckles knees. For any coaching staff that wants to get the best out of Jason Adam, they need to solve his mechanical issues.

Adam's appointment to the AFL tells me just one thing: the Twins want to see what they have in the prospect with two names. He'll be tested. Let's see if he steps up.

Byron Buxton - CF
2014 high level: Double-A

Buxton is considered the league's top prospect in spite of his disastrous 2013. He played in just 31 games and his performance was very un-Buxton-like, hitting .234/.307/.395 for a player who has a career line in the minors of .300/.389/.485.

It's likely that Buxton will have a slow start, if not a slow finish, but the idea behind his AFL rostering is that it gives him some time to shake the rust off over the winter against some pretty stiff competition. Buxton will respond, and he'll be in a better position to contribute for the Twins in 2015 as a result.

No, he won't play himself onto the Opening Day roster via the Arizona Fall League - and that shouldn't happen in the best of circumstances. We just need him to stay healthy and use the opportunity to get ready for 2015. Because at some point his year we will see him in a Twins uniform for the first time.

Zack Jones, RHP
2014 high level: Advanced-A

Jones lost a vast majority of the season to issues resulting from an aneurysm in his throwing arm. That's unfortunate, because in 2013 he posted a 1.85 ERA in 48.2 innings of relief, striking out 70 batters in the process. When he finally came back at the end of this season he combined for 10.1 innings of 1.74 ERA baseball, striking out 14.

The Major League team will have bullpen spots up for grabs over the next year or two, and Zack could be one of the guys to step into the void with a big time power arm with strikeout, shutdown capabilities. And that's exciting. Let's hope he has a solid AFL.

Max Kepler, 1B/CF
2014 high level: Advanced-A

Kepler began a shift to first base in the AFL last year, a necessity since Buxton was on the roster and playing center field. There's also been some question as to whether Kepler is still athletic enough for center. His future seems to be in a corner outfield spot if not first base.

He hit .264/.333/.393 this year for the Miracle, but that's not the whole story. After getting off to a miserable start he hung in and slowly got better. At 21 years old and his 22nd birthday just around the corner, the Twins would like nothing more than to see something start to click for The Best Prospect to Ever Come Out of Germany.

Jake Reed, RHP
2014 high level: Single-A

Reed was Minnesota's fifth-round selection in this year's draft, and destroyed hitters for Elizabethton (6 IP, 1 H, 8 K, 0 BB) before being promoted to Cedar Rapids. He made 19 appearances for the Kernels, and in those 25 innings he allowed ten hits, struck out 31, walked three, and surrendered a single earned run.

Go ahead and read that paragraph again. I'll wait.

The Twins are clearly interested in seeing if Reed's video game numbers have substance, and they're throwing him to the wolves just after his 22nd birthday. If you want a pitcher to watch for the Twins this year, keep your eye on Reed. He's not as exciting as Alex Meyer last year, since Meyer's future is as a front line starter, but a blow-em-away reliever would be a pretty good result, too.

Eddie Rosario, OF/2B
2014 high level: Double-A

We saw Rosario struggle as a hitter this year, for the first time since he was drafted by the Twins in 2010. In 29 games for New Britain he batted just .237/.277/.396. He was 2.7 years younger than his average competition, but it was highly irregular for a guy who has so far hit .294/.343/.485 in the minors.

Did those 50 missed games, thanks to a "drug of abuse," play havoc with Rosario's season? Are pitchers at Double-A just that much better? Does Rosario's talent excess, that so easily allowed his bat to play up through Advanced-A, disappear at this one crucial point? Or was it all just a bump in the road? We won't get a complete answer, but the Twins are clearly willing to roll the dice on Rosario by giving him a coveted roster spot in the AFL.

Rosario shifted from the outfield to second base in just 2012 and never fully stopped playing the outfield, which is where his natural athletic talents shine anyway, so there isn't a drop-off to be concerned about on the defensive side now that he appears to be primarily an outfielder once again. The question about Rosario, right now, has to do solely with his bat. He should start 2015 in Double-A, but a strong AFL would help put our minds at rest about a difficult 2014.

Taylor Rogers, LHP
2014 high level: Double-A

Rogers is likely to make our prospect list next year, thanks to a highly consistent performance over his three years in the Twins system. He has a 2.94 ERA in 349 minor league innings, and that includes a 3.29 ERA for New Britain this year in 24 starts.

While Rogers clearly doesn't blow anyone away (7.0 K/9 this year), but has had good enough command (2.3 BB/9) to get by at the lower levels. But with a fastball in the upper 80s without a true out pitch and approaching levels with much better hitters, it has to be asked what Rogers' upside could be. Clearly the Twins are already thinking ahead, and are giving him this chance to adapt before he goes up against Double and possibly Triple-A hitters in 2015.

Rogers was successful versus Double-A hitters this year. The peripherals aren't highly encouraging, but results are results. Can he lean on his ground ball rates to continue to be successful at higher levels?