AFL's Rising Stars set to shine tonight
League's top prospects will face off on MLB.com, Network
On any given day in the Arizona Fall League, you can see what amounts to a Minor League All-Star Game.
The Rising Stars Showcase takes it to another level, truly representing the best of the best. The showcase game, which will take place on Saturday at 6:15 p.m. MT/8:15 ET, features current AFL participants selected by scouting and Minor League directors from every organization, along with input from AFL executive director Steve Cobb. The 50 players chosen to represent their organizations and AFL clubs will come together Saturday night at Surprise Stadium.
For the first time, the Showcase will also be available to a national television audience. MLB Network will carry a live broadcast of the Rising Stars Game with Diamondbacks announcer Daron Sutton and MLB Network's Tony Clark in the broadcast booth with a free live simulcast streamed on MLB.com.
The Rising Stars Showcase matches prospects from each Major League Baseball organization in an East Division against West Division format. Teams from the AFL's East Division feature prospects from the Angels, Athletics, Blue Jays, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Giants, Marlins, Nationals, Orioles, Phillies, Pirates, Rays, Red Sox, Rockies and Twins. Players on the West squad will come from the Astros, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Dodgers, Indians, Mariners, Mets, Padres, Rangers, Reds, Royals, Tigers, White Sox and Yankees. All 30 organizations will be represented in the game.
"It's a great opportunity and should be a lot of fun," said A's prospect and Phoenix Desert Dogs outfielder Grant Desme, who leads the AFL in home runs and is tied for the lead in RBIs. "I'll get a chance to play with a bunch of talented guys."
The game was initially set up to feature a marquee pitching matchup of 2009 first-round Draft picks, with No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg going for East and No. 7 pick Mike Minor taking the hill for the West. Strasburg, however, was scratched from the start with a strained muscle in his neck. Tommy Mendoza was chosen to replace Strasburg, both on the roster and as the starting pitcher. Cubs third base prospect Josh Vitters (replaced by Josh Bell) and Orioles pitcher Brandon Erbe (a replacement will be named later) have also been scratched.
"It makes you feel good that they believe I could start this game out of everyone here," said Minor, the Braves lefty who is 1-0 with a 2.31 in 11 2/3 AFL innings to date. "There are a lot of good guys here. I've seen all the pitchers who are in the game and the hitters I'll face. It'll be a lot of fun.
"That they think I'm a rising star makes me feel good. I'm looking forward to it. I've got a lot of buddies I'll be playing with or against in this game."
Minor and Strasburg were two of six 2009 first-round picks scheduled to be at the game, with Dustin Ackley, Mike Leake, Drew Storen and Rangers supplemental first-round pick Tanner Scheppers participating as well.
Including those who are now not going to play in the game, the Rising Stars rosters have six members of MLB.com's midseason Top 50 prospect list: Buster Posey (5), Yonder Alonso (18), Domonic Brown (24), Jason Castro (27), Mike Moustakas (29) and Vitters (31).
The Cincinnati Reds lead all organizations with four players on the West Division roster: Leake, Yonder Alonso, Zack Cozart and Chris Heisey. Several other organizations boast three players in the game.
"It should be a fun day ... a chance to play with some of the younger talent in this league," said Ike Davis, the lone Met on the roster. "I'm honored, it means just a little more that I'm getting there."
What it means beyond that is open to debate. The alumni list from the game, now in its fourth rendition, is impressive, including big leaguers such as Gordon Beckham, Ryan Braun, Jacoby Ellsbury, Tommy Hanson and Phil Hughes. In last year's Rising Stars game, Hanson continued his jaw-dropping AFL performance by going three hitless innings while striking out seven.
"I don't know if one game can make a big difference for you [attention-wise]," Davis said. "This whole league is filled with great young talent. It's been a real eye-opener."
It is just one game, and an exhibition at that, but many scouts will be in attendance to see how the best perform against the best. The Fall League is expecting a good crowd, adding a little more energy to the proceedings than a typical low-key AFL game.
"It's just a great opportunity," Desme said. "But it isn't a ticket to anywhere. I know I have to get better, that I'm not there yet."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. Tom Singer contributed to this story and is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.