The Arizona Fall League has been a showcase for top prospects for quite a number of years. Among others, Kris Bryant, Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber have played there recently.
The league has been run from around the second week of October until the weekend before Thanksgiving.
That’s going to change, starting this fall. Instead of October, this year the AFL’s schedule will now start in mid-September, with this season launching on Tuesday, September 17 and ending on Saturday, October 26. The annual “Fall Stars Game” will be held on Saturday, October 12 and the AFL Championship Game will be scheduled for Sunday, October 27.
The reason for this change: It will allow minor-league players to avoid downtime at the end of their seasons and instead transition directly into the AFL schedule. In particular, pitchers will have the opportunity for more continuous rest in preparation for the following year’s playing schedule. Interestingly, the press release announcing this said that this schedule “closely aligns with timing of Clubs’ traditional Instructional Leagues” — but this year, the Cubs, among some other teams, moved their Instructional League to January, for similar reasons. The Cubs wanted players to come to Instructional League and then transition right to spring training.
Another change: MLB teams will now be able to nominate any player under contract in their organization to participate in the AFL. This change will be evaluated following the 2019 AFL season. Previously, AFL players had to be in Double-A or Triple-A, with one exception allowed per team. (That’s how Nico Hoerner was able to participate last fall.)
From a player development standpoint, this is probably a good thing. MLB is correct that having only a week or two downtime before the AFL begins is better than having a month away from baseball, then having to gear up again.
From a fan standpoint, though, this will get the AFL far less attention. With the league’s All-Star game now scheduled during the league playoffs and the championship game occurring during the World Series, they likely might not even be televised, and if they are, most baseball fans’ attention will be turned away from the AFL. Further, from a fan standpoint it was always nice to have three more weeks’ worth of baseball to follow in November. Lastly, it can still be pretty hot in the Phoenix area for the last couple of weeks of September (the average high for the given starting AFL date this year, September 17, is 100 degrees), so many of the early games will likely be played at night.
I’ve always been a fan of the AFL, and while this change will benefit players, it will make the league a bit harder to follow.