Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

October 8, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Arizona Fall League


  • The Arizona Diamondbacks are done for the year, but baseball isn�t over in Arizona. On Oct. 7, the Arizona Fall League begins its 17th season. Every MLB team sends its most promising prospects to the AFL to hone their skills against other top talent. Since its inception, the AFL has produced 136 All-Stars, five MVPs and three Cy Young Award winners. Join Roland Hemond, the �architect� of the league, and AFL Executive Vice President Steve Cobb as they discuss the league, its mission, and its future.
Guests:
  • Roland Hemond - Arizona Fall League and Special Assistant to the President, Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Steve Cobb - Director, Arizona Fall League


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
>> As the of baseball is drawing to a close. But Tuesday was opening day for the Arizona fall league. It's a league of top minor league prospects. The fall league now in its 17th year. I'll talk with the man credited with decree eight the Arizona fall league and the league's longtime executive director. First David Majure and photographer Richard Torruellas take us out to phoenix municipal stadium where fall league baseball is now underway.

Evan Frey:
>> I’m kind of a little speed guy, you know. I'm not going to hit a lot of home runs. I'll get on base, maybe steal some bases here and there. I just try to play good defense. put me in, coach, i'm ready to play today

David Majure:
>> in October of each year, the nation's best minor league baseball players put on the jerseys of their major league affiliates and play against their peers in the Arizona fall league.

Hector Ambriz:
>> It’s a honor to be here facing top quality players from every different organization. It's a honor to be here.

David Majure:
>> Every major league team sends seven of its top prospects to compete in the a.f.l.

Evan Frey:
>> It’s a good opportunity for everybody out here to get some exposure and hopefully make the next step next year. It's real exciting you. Kind of get to come out here and meet some of the guys, you know, kind of pick their brains a little bit to see what they're doing to help them be successful.

David Majure:
>> These are players with a great shot at making it to the majors.

Ray Burris:
>> my role with the mesa solar sox, the fun part for me in this ordeal is to be able to look at the 20 pitchers that have been selected to come out and be a part of this for our ball club from the five different major league clubs and see where they are and continue their development to get them to the big leagues.

Jeff Gray:
>> well, I’m hoping to get where i need to be for next year, hopefully I get to learn a couple new things and take that into the next year and move on and become a little more successful, raise the bar in my game a little bit.

David Majure:
>> some players, like Jeff Gray, and Arizona diamondbacks pitcher Max Sherzer have already been to the business and are work on their gay to enjoy a successful return.

Stadium Announcer:
>> From the Philadelphia Phillies, third baseman Jason Donald.

David Majure:
>> There are six Arizona fall league teams, each with players representing five different major league clubs. They play a seven-week season at the valley's spring stadiums. The drawings don't draw the huge crowds that spring training does but they do attract quite a few major league scouts.


Paul Provas:
>> Always looking to improve our team. You come out here and you evaluate the players from the different organizations and see if there's somebody that might be able to help you down the road.

David Majure:
>> The players aren't the only ones looking to propel their careers. So are some of the coaches and the umpires.

Cris Jones:
>> We’ve had 29 now present major league umpires that come through the Arizona fall league. It's a new major league umpire, if he's going to become a major league umpire, this is the biggest step he has to make coming out of triple a. They get the call back in august that they're coming to fall league. And I could only imagine what it sounds like in that room when they hang up the phone. Now they know, hey, I’m on the cusp of becoming a major league umpire.

David Majure:
>> Arizona fall league has a tremendous track record of producing big league players.

Paul Provas:
>> It’s a very good track record. I know it's a high percentage of these kids will play in the major lesion.

David Majure:
>> Over 1600 former fall leaguers have made it to the majors. The fall league has produced 136 major league all-stars, five major league M.V.P.S, including Albert Pujols, and three CY young award-winning pitchers. Arizona diamondbacks Brandon Webb is among them.

Paul Provas:
>> I know a high percentage of these kids will play in the major leagues.

Ray Burris:
>> You have some players out here that will be at the major league level next year. Who that will be, time will tell.

Ted Simons:
>> And joining me to talk about the Arizona fall league is a man known as its architect, Roland Hemond. Mr. Hemond is a three time winner of major league baseball's executive of the year award and he's currently a special assistant to the president of the Arizona diamondbacks. Joining me is Steve Cobb, the Arizona’s fall league director since 1993. Good to have you on the program.

Roland Hemond:
>> Great to be here.
Ted Simons:
>> Roland, the thoughts behind starting the Arizona fall league. What got this going?

Roland Hemond:
>> Well, I always felt that off-seasons were too long for young players to develop properly. They play a minor league season, they're through on Labor Day, and not playing baseball until the following spring. And a lot of the players in the Latin countries play on a year-round basis. So many of the American players were at disadvantage by not being able to cope the following spring to the same degree. And i felt they could accelerate their progress. And the best way to become a baseball player is to play. Play the game under game conditions against good competition. And by having the best young players from each organization participating in the league it elevates the game of everybody and better to evaluate their progress and many of them move to the major leagues the following season.

Ted Simons:
>> And it must be such a benefit for teams to be able to have so much more control than they used to have in terms of innings pitched and what the players are working on as opposed to playing for a team that's trying to win its league in South or Central America.

Roland Hemond:
>> That’s very true. And we have top instructors, managers. Proof of the pulling is that 23 of the managers have moved to the major leagues. 11 of the current managers have been Arizona fall league managers, along with pitching coaches and hitting instructors. So they've all graduated from the fall league to the major leagues in many cases.

Ted Simons:
>> How hard a sell was this early on? Was it an immediate hit or was it the kind of thing where baseball people kind of had a wait and see attitude?

Steve Cobb:
>> Well, I think the concept was sound right from the beginning. And Roland’s vision was way way ahead of our industry at that time. And there was definitely a need. It was not an easy sell to be very candid at the very beginning. And the real question was, how would the organizations utilize this? Would they in fact utilize it and send their top players? 16 years later, our 17th season now, it's clear that organizations have embraced this, and this has become an integral part of the player development process.

Ted Simons:
>> Roland, talk about that, how difficult it might have been for some old time baseball people to say, let's get these kids out here in the fall in Arizona. Let's get them through their paces.

Roland Hemond:
>> The first time I proposed it i had one general manager, al Rosen, back me up on it. The following year I proposed it again and he was on the bandwagon and Dan O’Brien sr. thought it was an excellent idea. Then we formed committees and it has to be sold to the owners. Bill Murray helped sell my idea to the owners. As it got started it made some progress as it went along. But now for instance, 86 players who played in the fall league in 2007 ended up in the major league in 2008 at some time during the season. 410 players on the opening day rosters were fall league graduates. It's a great stepping ground. It gives them the opportunity to be observed properly and be well-prepared when they go to the major league camp the following spring.

Ted Simons:
>> talk about which player -- what kind of player would qualify for the Arizona fall league and what kind of player maybe either has too much experience or not enough to make a roster?

Steve Cobb:
>> There are certainly eligibility requirements. And generally speaking we are tapping into the top double a and triple a players. The higher end of the eligibility is no player can have more than one year of major league service time. On the lower end, we permit each of the major league organizations to choose one player at the class a level or below as of august 6th each year. So they're really trying to accelerate that younger player. And many times those are very high draft choices that they are trying to move through the system very quickly.

Ted Simons:
>> Yesterday at the season opener i got to watch Max Sherzer of the diamondbacks pitch. It was fantastic. He has major league experience but not too much.

Steve Cobb:
>> Correct. His major league service time is under one year so he was in fact eligible.

Ted Simons:
>> Has there been a push to get maybe some players who do have that one year but still are on the bench and still maybe not starring and neat some work? Is there a push to get them involved as well this.

Steve Cobb:
>> We will on a case-by-case basis consider player that is might slightly exceed the eligibility. The organizations must make that appeal, certainly. And we have made some exceptions for players.

Ted Simons:
>> Roland, talk about the impact of the fall league, just in general terms, but from someone who was there before there was a fall league that came along. How has this changed in terms of developing players and timelines and those sorts of thing?



Roland Hemond:
>> It has accelerated the progress. And being so evident, it has enhanced the fact that people understand that we should continue this type of league without now. But we had to earn our spurs, so to speak, in the first couple of years. But then it began speaking for themselves because virtually every year we get the rookie of the year, for instance. The all-stars this year, there were 30 out of the --

Steve Cobb:
>> 32.

Roland Hemond:
>> -- 32 all stars on the two major league, American league and national league all stars were graduates of the fall league. So it's very evident that you play good ball players, you give them the proper facilities, you proper instructions, and then they can develop their talent.

Ted Simons:
>> In terms of being a success with the turnstile and these sorts of things, what's the goal here? Is the goal to have the stadium full of people? Because i got to tell you, I enjoy the fact that it's not full of people. It's a lot of fun to sit back there, soak up the sun, enjoy a game and not have to worry about mascots and all other silliness going on there. Baseball.

Steve Cobb:
>> Old school coming out in you there. No. Baseball has made a major major investment in the player development process. And that is the lifeline of this league. We do not have the pressures of generating tremendous numbers of amounts of money for -- to underwrite this program. So we're able to offer very inexpensive tickets. And there really isn't the pressure to have thousands and thousands of people there. We certainly would like that. Because that creates a very good, wholesome atmosphere for the players. But it's not predicated -- its existence is not predicated on all these people in the stands.

Ted Simons:
>> Let me put you on the spot here. Memories. Some of the things that stand out in the Arizona fall league. What comes to mind?

Roland Hemond:
>> Well, the very first day we had a game. It was a reality, a dream fulfilled. And now yesterday, I couldn't wait to get to the ball parks and went to the two games that were played, the night game last night and the day game prior thereto. And then to see Sherzer do there and do so well. So just the element of seeing player that is you've heard about that have been signed by other clubs as well as your own, and then see them in their formulating years. And this is a great spot for the showcase of their talent. So within a day you've seen four ball clubs and you have a better idea of players that you now like and project to be major league players.

Ted Simons:
>> Indeed, you can kind of remember some players and follow them, which is your job, actually. But as far as folks up in the stands, i remember that guy. I think i saw that guy a couple years ago that. Sort of thing.

Roland Hemond:
>> That’s correct. And we have fans that come from other parts of the country with their radar guns and everything. They're rabid fans. And they consider the Arizona fall league their favorite league. So they come in from Illinois or California to spend their week's vacation just at fall league games because they like to see the players in their infancy, so to speak. And for them to consider themselves almost as scouts in writing down who they feel will make it.

Ted Simons:
>> Indeed. And I guess we've talked about how the coaches and managers and trainers, they get some good experience out there as well.

Steve Cobb:
>> Absolutely. The common thread to this league is development. Umpires, another big piece of the puzzle for us. We have nearly 30 former fall league umpires that are now major league umpires.

Ted Simons:
>> Interesting. The future of the Arizona fall league. Are we just -- it basically seems like there's not much broken there. Can you see anything that needs some improvement?

Roland Hemond:
>> Well, I think I’ll take the opportunity. I've talked to Steve. And one of my next dreams or has been for the last couple of years and hope to fulfill is have a junior fall league so to speak. Maybe Arizona fall league ii. And this would be the rookie league players, the top ones, low class a, high class a, and some of the late signings, some of the players who don't sign until about august 15th and then should be opening their careers but they have to wait until next spring, that they could be in that junior fall league. So it would be another crop of even younger players. And then some of them might graduate during that junior fall league, so to speak, to the fall league itself if somebody has to leave for any reason. That could accelerate progress among all ages.

Ted Simons:
>> If you push for it, I’ll bet you it gets done.

Roland Hemond:
>> Well, I’m going to give it my best shot.

Ted Simons:
>> All right. Hey, thank you both for joining us on horizon.

Roland Hemond:
>> Thank you, Ted.

Steve Cobb:
>> Thank you.

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