Arizona Fall League Ready to Kick Off

The Arizona Fall League, the annual showcase for top prospects from around professional baseball kicks off its 14th season Tuesday afternoon. Once again this year, the Padres send their delegation to the Peoria Javelinas, where they will team with players from the Orioles, Rockies, Brewers and Mariners.

Earning the nod from the Padres are pitchers Jack Cassel, Rusty Tucker, and Craig Breslow, catcher George Kottaras and first baseman Michael Johnson. Although second baseman Josh Barfield was originally included on the roster, he was removed in September to allow him to head home for the winter.

Among the Padre farmhands who will play the 32-game schedule, Breslow and Kottaras are probably the most recognizable to fans. Breslow was relatively unknown until the Big League squad got into a bind with injuries and poor performance on the pitching staff while on the road in New York earlier this year. Called up because he was throwing strikes and - probably more important in the decision - could make a flight and be available the next day, he became a key component out of the Padres' bullpen.

In two different stints with the big team, Breslow appeared in 14 games, posting a 2.20 ERA and striking out 14 in 16.1 innings. With Chris Hammond struggling with a groin injury over the last week of the season, there was some thought that the young lefty might be on the playoff roster, but it appears he'll be joining those chasing the dream rather than the pennant this October.

Kottaras is one of the Padres' prized minor leaguers. Originally drafted in the 20th round of the 2002 draft out of noted baseball hotbed Scarborough Ontario, the left-hand hitting catcher was one of the top catching prospects in the minor leagues this year. After hitting .303/.396/.469 in 91 games at Lake Elsinore, he earned a promotion to AA, where he posted another on base percentage over .400 and slugged .416 in the humid air of the Southern League.

Rusty Tucker appeared to be on the fast track as a closer in 2003 when he struck out 63 in 53 innings at Mobile while recording a then-record 28 saves. However, arm trouble led to Tommy John surgery, which kept him out of action for much of 2004. Coming back to Mobile this year, he posted shaky numbers including a 5.31 ERA and 49 walks in 62.2 innings.

Michael Johnson took the one spot each team is allowed for a prospect below the Double-A level. Originally taken one round behind his Clemson teammate Khalil Greene in 2003, the big lefty has shown immense raw power in his two seasons in the system, but he's also missed significant time to injuries both years. When on the field for the Storm this year, he powered 21 homers in 288 at bats on his way to a .618 slugging percentage. The AFL offers him a chance to make up some of his lost time and to test his unorthodox swing against higher-caliber pitchers.

Cassel is not the typical hot prospect for the AFL. In the Padres' system since 2001, he has been used primarily as a reliever over the last four seasons, amassing a career ERA of 4.08. This year, he split time between Mobile and Portland, helping to fill the void when the Beavers' starting rotation was decimated. The extra work and visibility of playing with the Javelinas will allow him to test himself against tough competition.

Among their teammates in Peoria, attention is likely to focus on Oriole pitcher Adam Loewen, the third overall pick in this year's draft Jeff Clement, the Brewers' behemoth Prince Fielder, and Oriole outfielder Nick Markakis who absolutely mashed in the Carolina and Eastern Leagues this year.

MadFriars Top Stories