Fall League experience helped shape D-backs’ careers

A.J. Pollock is just one Diamondbacks player who benefited from playing in the Arizona Fall League.

Jack Dempsey

PHOENIX — The Arizona Fall League is for the best of the best. Major League Baseball teams send their top prospects to Arizona for an off-season graduate school with the hope that they will prove themselves ready for the big leagues.

And approximately 60 percent of the players assigned to the league have graduated to the majors.

Current Arizona Diamondbacks Josh Collmenter, Chris Owings and A.J. Pollock were on AFL rosters before getting their major league start.

Collmenter and Pollock witnessed each others’ rise to the big leagues first-hand as teammates for the Scottsdale Scorpions in 2010. Pollock missed all of the 2010 minor league season with an elbow injury, which then required surgery. Upon hearing he was named to the Scorpions’ roster, Pollock was just happy for the opportunity.

"It was a big deal," he said. "Every single day you’re facing a big-league-caliber arm. It’s just a great experience."

Collmenter was also a bit of a mystery heading into the 2010 AFL season. The right-hander had some experience with the D-backs’ Triple-A affiliate, Reno, in 2010 but needed to impress new management for a chance to move up.

"He was kind of in that gray-area spot and they weren’t sure what they were going to do with him," Pollock said. "Then he went out and absolutely dominated the Fall League, and right after they threw him right on the 40-man (roster) and then the next year he was in the big leagues."

After facing one or two big hitters in the minor leagues, Collmenter found each batter he faced in the AFL was a top prospect. His success — much of it against players who went on to play in the majors — helped build his confidence.

Owings found the same result when competing against the league’s high-caliber talent.

"I think it honestly helps you learn how to play through September," Owings said. "Playing all the way to November is a tough experience on your body."

Owings believes that playing against some of the best young players in the game taught him how to compete every day. Though the league is meant to help young players progress to the big leagues, Collmenter, Owings and Pollock each emphasize that having fun is just as paramount.

I think it honestly helps you learn how to play through September. Playing all the way to November is a tough experience on your body.

Chris Owings

"Just go out there and enjoy yourself," Pollock said. "It’s not going to hurt you, only going to help you. Just enjoy yourself."

With the D-backs Oscar Hernandez and Keith Hessler headed to the Salt River Rafters — as well as Daniel Gibson, Yoan Lopez, Adam Miller, Jack Reinheimer, Gabriel Guerrero and Daniel Palka — the big-league club hopes its prospects continue the tradition of making it to the championship. Collmenter and Pollock won it all with the Scottsdale Scorpions in 2010.

Owings’ Salt River Rafters were runners-up in 2012. The Rafters also won the 2014 title, with D-backs Peter O’Brien, Brandon Drury, Archie Bradley and Enrique Burgos.

"Just to go there and compete and try to win a championship is the biggest thing," Owings said. "It’s a lot of fun when you’re winning and you can look at that and apply it to the big leagues. When everything is going right, it helps out a ton."

The Arizona Fall League is scheduled to open Oct. 13 and regular season games last until Nov. 19. Other AFL events include the Bowman Hitting Challenge at Salt River Fields on Oct. 17 and the Fall Stars Game at Salt River Fields on Nov. 7. The AFL Championship Game is scheduled for Nov. 21 at Scottsdale Stadium as the Salt River Rafters look to defend their title. The 2015 schedule, rosters and tickets can be found at MLBFallBall.com.