D-backs Prospects Lead Rafters to AFL Title

The Salt River Rafters bested the Surprise Saguaros 9-3 on Saturday to claim the Arizona Fall League Championship in the team's first year of existence. The victory was largely made possible by contributions from the Arizona Diamondbacks prospects who participated in the game.

Six of the seven Arizona Diamondbacks on the Salt River roster appeared in the title game, and five of them made a significant contribution to the victory.  The first three pitchers used by the Rafters were D-backs, including starter Charles Brewer.

Brewer had a 5.46 ERA in eight AFL regular season starts, though he had pitched four shutout innings heading into the championship game.  The UCLA product stretched that streak to six with two perfect innings before allowing a pair of runs to score in the third frame on a Christian Bethancourt homer.  He left after four innings having allowed just those two runs on three hits, striking out four and walking none.

"Changing speeds, that was the thing I told my catcher from the get-go," Brewer said after the game. "They're very aggressive, especially early in the count. Even early in the count, I threw my changeup, I threw my cutter, my curve ball. I kind of threw everything at them.

Bryan Woodall followed Brewer's outing with two perfect innings of his own, unusual in that he had not thrown more than one inning in over a month.  He came into the game even hotter than Brewer, having not allowed a run in his final eight games of the regular fall season.  The sinkerballer did not allow a ball out out of the infield, which was par for the course for him this fall.  He induced 4.8 ground outs for every fly out to go with 15 strikeouts in 15.1 innings.

Woodall's two innings took the game into the seventh, which is when the Rafters offense would pull away from Surprise.  Adam Eaton singled what would eventually be the winning run to third base and later scored in that inning himself.  He finished the game 2-for-4 with a double, after having been the best D-backs hitter in the league.  Eaton batted .344/.410/.475 with eight stolen bases, which allowed him to lead the league with 31 runs scored.

After Eaton scored in the seventh, the Rafters were able to load the bases with two outs, bringing David Nick to the plate.  The diminutive second baseman drove a 3-1 pitch into right-center, clearing the bases with a triple.  Nick had singled and scored back in the second inning, making him 2-for-5 for the game.  Believe it or not, Nick actually had an even better game a week earlier.  He went 4-for-4 with a double, a stolen base, and his only homer of the fall on November 11 against the Mesa Solar Sox.  Nick batted .298 for the fall.

"I was looking for a fastball away," Nick said of his triple. "I didn't want to try to do too much with it. That allowed me to stay short and put a line-drive swing on it. Luckily, it found a gap."

After that five-run seventh, Kevin Munson continued the run of strong pitching for the Rafters.  He retired the #4 and #5 hitters in the Saguaros' order via a strikeout and a flyout.  Munson had been incredibly effective all Fall, posting a 1.32 ERA and three saves thanks to 16 strikeouts and just three walks in 13.2 innings.  He might have pitched longer on Saturday, but with an 8-2 cushion, the Rafters could afford to let some others compete in the playoff game.

Although Ryan Wheeler went 0-for-5 in the game and did not contribute to this win, he hit a key double in another five-run seventh a week earlier in a game that clinched the AFL East title for Salt River.  Wheeler batted .298 this fall, but the slugger failed to hit a single home run.

Eric Smith was the only D-backs prospect in the AFL that failed to appear in the championship game.  After beginning the Fall League with a 2.02 ERA in his first nine appearances, Smith allowed eight runs to score over his final four games.

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