The Arizona Fall League opens play tonight as the Surprise Saguaros take on the Glendale Desert Dogs. The schedule runs from Sept. 18 to the Oct. 26 championship game. The Saguaros include players from the Nationals, Orioles, Rangers, Royals and Yankees organizations.
The AFL schedule was moved up from its usual October start to this mid-September opening so that prospects can maintain their development moving forward from the end of the minor league postseason. Mexican League teams will participate for two weeks from Sept. 24 to Oct. 5.
The Nats are represented by right-handed pitchers Jacob Condra-Bogan, Andrew Lee, Sterling Sharp and left-hander Nick Raquet. The position players are catcher Jakson Reetz, No. 76 prospect infielder Luis Garcia and outfielders Nick Banks and Cole Freeman.
Sharp is the Saguaros opening-night starter. He went 5-4 in 12 starts with a 3.53 ERA for three teams this summer. He had 52 strikeouts and only 15 walks over 58 2/3 innings.
Nationals director of player development Mark Scialabba said the added games are big for all these players, but especially Sharp.
“Sterling Sharp is looking to make up for some lost time, unfortunately, due to an injury,” Scialabba said. “He looked very sharp in his rehab innings as the regular season ended. Nick Raquet, Jacob Condra-Bogan and Andrew Lee all had solid years and will provide a few different looks from the ‘pen. It will be a nice opportunity for them to showcase their stuff against some of the best prospects in the game this Fall.”
A ton of eyes will be on the Nats offensive prospects invited, which includes top prospect shortstop/second baseman Garcia and Carolina League All-Stars Banks, Reetz and Freeman.
“Luis Garcia has done a great job of competing at the Double-A level on both sides of the ball this year and he’ll continue to get more opportunity to make strides with his offensive approach as our priority player,” Scialabba said. “Jakson Reetz has had a breakout performance in the second half this season. He is repeating a short, compact swing and looking to do damage and be aggressive on pitches he can handle in the strike zone.
“Nick Banks also has had a nice breakout year, working extremely hard over the past year with our hitting coaches at both levels, and now is leveraging the ball to the deep parts of the field more consistently. Cole Freeman has been a catalyst all year for the Potomac club, getting on base consistently and utilizing his plus speed on the bases.”
The Nats have decided to give No. 21 prospect shortstop Carter Kieboom a break from this season’s AFL play. But every other invitee is a game-changer in the Nats system, and the AFL will provide good competition to show what they can do at higher levels.
“We’re very excited about the group we are sending the Arizona Fall League,” Scialabba said.
Tonight’s first game, Surprise at Glendale, begins at 8:30 p.m. EST (6:30 p.m. MST)