Javelinas set sights on second straight AFL title
Game features 2010 top pick Harper, MVP candidates Ackley, Belt
SCOTTSDALE -- For years, the Phoenix Desert Dogs had a stranglehold on the Arizona Fall League title, winning the championship game five years in a row. Is it now the Peoria Javelinas' turn to enjoy a mini-dynasty?
Peoria will hope to be the Javs instead of the have-nots for the second straight season when it faces the Scottsdale Scorpions at Scottsdale Stadium in Saturday's winner-takes-all contest, beginning at 3 p.m. ET.
The Javelinas' attempt to win their second consecutive championship will be broadcast live on MLB.com and MLB Network, with Greg Amsinger and Dave Valle calling the game. Fans can also watch pitch-by-pitch action on MLB Gameday.
"Any time you get the chance to win a ring, you want to try and go get it," said Javelinas first baseman Koby Clemens, an Astros prospect. "There are a lot of individuals out here trying to improve their game and show what they have, but we've come together really nicely and played well together. We're looking forward to playing on Saturday.
"We've had a lot of fun out here, won a bunch of games. It's been a real blessing coming out here."
The Javelinas are led by MVP candidate Dustin Ackley, who entered Wednesday leading the league in a host of offensive categories. The Mariners' top pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Ackley leads the AFL in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS and runs scored, and he is not alone in an offense that leads the Fall League in those same categories, as well as in home runs, runs batted in and total bases.
"Last year I was in the same situation," Ackley said. "I played in the Rising Stars Game and won that, played in the championship game and won that, too. This year, the same thing. The Rising Stars, we won that, so I'm hoping with a good game we can pull another one out."
Ackley was limited to a .286 average against lefties (compared to .462 vs. RHP) this fall, which is perhaps one reason Scottsdale will send southpaw Sammy Solis to the mound. The Nationals' second-round pick this past June has looked sharp of late, allowing just one run on three hits over his past eight innings, spanning two outings. During that time, he walked just one and struck out four.
The Javelinas will counter with Astros right-handed prospect Kyle Greenwalt, who was seventh in the AFL with his 2.35 ERA. It likely would have been lefty Marc Rzepczynski, who went 4-0 with a league-leading 1.16 ERA during AFL action, but the Jays southpaw left the Fall League after his final start on Tuesday, due to a personal commitment.
Greenwalt will have to contend with a Scottsdale offense that was second in the league in OPS and runs scored and will only be stronger, given that 2010 No. 1 overall pick Bryce Harper will be able to play. Harper will get the start in right field.
The Nationals' prize pick was on the taxi squad during his unofficial pro debut, meaning he was only allowed to play on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Even with the part-time play, Harper has created quite a buzz in the desert, hitting .343/.410/.629 over nine games. In his limited action, Harper has shown the hype that has surrounded him might be legitimate, as scouts have raved about his power, his arm strength and even his surprising running ability.
The 18-year-old obviously isn't the only one to worry about in the Scorpions' lineup. Giants prospect Brandon Belt, himself an MVP candidate, hit .372/.427/.616 during the league's regular season. He finished fifth in OPS.
"Any time you get to play in a championship game, you're always looking forward to it," Belt said. "You definitely want to take home the gold. Second place isn't a fun place to be. I think this entire team will go into it ready to win this game on Saturday."