By now you, loyal fan of baseball and the human condition, have heard of the Arizona Fall League. How could you not have? It's the only quasi-professional baseball league-come-tryout camp with its own Twitter, it must be legit. In some ways, the AFL is proof we live in the Golden Age of Fandom. We watch every pitch, discuss every nuance, second-guess every decision. It's great! Not only that, we also have access to communities in which we can poke fun at the foibles of billionaire owner's wives, pine for robot umpires, and share photos of infants in shellfish costumes to our heart's content.
Our insatiable thirst for knowledge and/or schadenfreude comes at a cost. Who will provide this endless stream of content? Where can newspapers and webpagsites generate fresh copy for the teeming masses ready to fisk at the first scent of laziness? How can sports editors embrace their inner messageboard mouthbreather and scream "FIRST"? Easy: fill up on prospects.
Just as developing and retaining high-level prospects became integral to the success of most Major League baseball clubs, fans interest in the progress of their team's Next Big Thing grew. Once isolated in far-flung corners of corn states and forgotten burghs; fans can now monitor the Second Coming of Aging Player X over the internet; breaking down performances while living and dying with every at bat. Nevermind that the kid is (likely) hung over and (definitely) smells of your kid sister's shower gel, the development of this instant millionaire is IMPORTANT! Only he can rescue your suffering franchise from the throes of mediocrity!
Enter the Arizona Fall League. A place once reserved for dusty scouts to watch rusty ballplayers do their meatmarket dance on dusty fields, the AFL is, suddenly, the focus of the non-playoff baseball world. ZOMG did you hear Stephen Strasburg made his professional debut? Send in the clowns!
And oh how the clowns have arrived. Major newspapers sending their A beat grunts to cover games that amount to public workouts. WoW favorite Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times is on site, reporting on Mariners prospects Dustin Ackley, Josh Fields, and Phillipe Aumont. That's what we're told anyway, smart money is on the Times sending Baker to get some sun before the rainy Northwestern winter lands him on 24 hour suicide watch.
That leaves us, the baseball nerds of the world, waiting with baited breath for the next report to surface or cryptic KLaw tweet to either confirm or deny our belief that big time prospect Jimmy Nocommand is going to save us all from replacement-level hell.
As Keith Law stated above, the AFL is not about results but the tools the players display. Keep that in mind when reading a breathless report from your local J-school graduate turned wizened talent evaluator. This is filler of the highest order, a way for newspapers to get more column inches out of their beat guys before the GM meetings kick off and In-N-Out season starts again in February. Let's do our best to keep our dreaming in check and be thankful the real baseball starts again tonight.