The minor league season may be over, but the baseball never ends. Starting Wednesday and running through the championship game on November 20th the yearly Arizona Fall League slate is back after a covid hiatus. The Arizona Fall League is a yearly six-team league featuring prospects from every organization who send them to a designated affiliate. This year the Atlanta Braves are affiliated with the Peoria Javelinas, and are sending seven players to get some extra developmental time.
First, the roster.
Shea Langeliers headlines the list of prospects that Atlanta is sending to Peoria, and is one of a handful of Top 100 prospects that will be featured in the league. There are many reasons to send a player to Arizona, but Shea’s case falls in the group of top players teams are trying to see against better competition to help judge their readiness to contribute at the major league level. Langeliers dazzled defensively this season and cleared the 20 home run mark as a catcher, setting himself up to make a run as the future in Atlanta potentially as soon as some time next season. Langeliers will be the main draw for those interested in the Braves, but he is not the only player with proximity to the big leagues that Atlanta wants to get an extra look at.
Indigo Diaz was electrifying in relief between two levels this season and put up the top strikeout rate and FIP among all pitchers in minor league baseball. Indigo has a solid shot to contribute at the major league level in 2022, especially in a bullpen lacking right handed talent, and this could be a stepping stone towards a spring training invitation and a potential roster spot at some point next season if he succeeds.
The other two hitting prospects the Braves are sending are Luke Waddell and Jesse Franklin. Franklin had a sensational stretch in June and July this season and was one of the top home run bats in the Braves system, but was lackluster for the other half of the season. Between an injury and the pandemic Franklin hasn't had much playing time over the past few seasons and they are looking to get him some extra time and perhaps push a college player who spent the whole year in High-A. Waddell isn’t likely to get a ton of playing time as he is lower on the pecking order in Peoria’s infield, but he’s a versatile defender with a solid bat that could play all around the infield. He is another that could advance quickly and who needs more time against higher level competition as he's already 23.
Outside of Diaz the Braves sent three pitchers to Arizona, and all fall into the same category of players that the Braves often send. Jake Higginbotham, William Woods, and Victor Vodnik all missed significant time with injury this season and the Braves want to make up for lost development time by getting them innings in Arizona. Vodnik was considered one of the top pitchers in the Braves system coming into this season, but he spent two lengthy stints on the injured list that leaves questions as to whether he will start long term. It’s likely he’ll pitch out of the bullpen in Peoria, but no official rotation has been announced. William Woods is a player the Braves also have starting, but will likely pitch out the bullpen in the fall league. He made five starts this season in the regular season and only pitched 11 total innings, so the Braves really need to get him this extra work. Jake Higginbotham is a pure reliever who has struggled with injuries on multiple occasions, but was dynamite in 2021 in his nine games with a 0.00 ERA. Higginbotham has legit MLB potential, but at 25 years old he has to make a move now and the Arizona Fall League will be his best chance to prove to the Braves he deserves a look in the immediate future.
Like the minor league season this year the AFL will be playing six games a week with one designated off day per week. For the Fall League that off day will be on Sundays, and we’ll be having recaps from the prior week go up on every Monday with time slot to be determined. On November 13th the Fall Stars game, featuring the best performers from the AFL season, will take place. In the past this game has featured players like Ronald Acuna Jr. One week later and the championship game takes place between the teams with the top records in the league. In total each team will play 30 regular season games.