Hawaii Winter League Folds Up Shop

While most of the country is concentrating on its Christmas shopping this week, Major League Baseball scouts may already be looking ahead to the possibility of doing their own shopping next fall when it comes to seeing more of the game's top young prospects.Since Major League Baseball's three-year contract with Hawaii Winter Baseball has expired, the league announced an end to their affiliation.

According to a press release issued by HWB, once the game's GMs "voted for logistical reasons to consolidate their ... fall and winter developmental leagues ... the decision essentially ends any participation in HWB by players from the MLB and its Minor League affiliates."

The Hawaii Winter League, in it's second reincarnation, was in operation 1993-1997 and 2006-2008. Another league for younger players will be set up in Arizona.

The four-team Hawaiian league had provided an opportunity for several of the game's younger and less experienced prospects to compete alongside young players from Pacific Rim countries Japan and Korea. While the idea of a similar four-team league in Arizona, not far from the existing infrastructure of the well-established Arizona Fall League, had been something bandied about for awhile, MLB has not yet confirmed the plan as a done deal.

Sixteen of 23 MLB teams sent players to fill rosters of its four teams and the league has also gotten players from the Japanese and Korean professional leagues. Six Dodgers players, Alfredo Silverio, Tommy Giles, Alex Garabedian, David Pfeiffer, Jordan Pratt and Javy Guerra played with Waikiki Beach Boys who won a division title and tied for the league championship.

"The operative word is 'possible,'" said Joe Garagiola Jr., the senior vice president for baseball operations for MLB. "The contract is up and there are some alternatives under discussion, including something in Arizona, but at this point I don't know if anything is 'final-final.'"

While not on the level of the better-known six-team Arizona Fall League, which just finished its 17th consecutive season and has established itself as the elite "finishing school" for elite prospects, HWB still drew its share of top prospects.

One baseball official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the new league had yet to be formally announced, indicated last week that the junior circuit would be played in the spring training homes within the Cactus League framework.

The recent boom in Cactus League Spring Training complexes -- notably the '09 addition of a new two-team facility in Glendale (the new home of the White Sox and Dodgers) and only slightly more remote Goodyear (where the Indians will begin Spring Training this February, to be joined by the Reds in '10) on what is known as the "West Side" of the Phoenix area -- offers a perfect location for a four-club circuit to operate within.

As it stands now, all 30 organizations annually send several of their upper-level prospects to the AFL, where each of the six clubs combine players from five different systems to compete in a seven-week season that runs from early October to just before Thanksgiving.

While each organization is allowed to send one player who has not played above the Class A level, the majority of players in the AFL are more seasoned prospects, many of whom come in with some big league experience.