The spring training fields of Arizona will come to life Tuesday afternoon as the Arizona Fall League, a "finishing school" for top prospects, begins its 22nd season.
Those players will have the benefit of playing in their spring home as the Phoenix Desert Dogs have been rechristened as the Glendale Desert Dogs, playing out of the Camelback Ranch complex that the Dodgers and Chicago White Sox share every year.
The AFL has six teams in the Phoenix metro area, with five Major League organizations each feeding into a single team. The Dodgers' prospects will be joined by players from the White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Miami Marlins and Minnesota Twins.
Of the eight Dodgers, two have already played for the Isotopes in outfielder Brian Cavazos-Galvez, who was with his hometown club in 2012 before spending all of 2013 in Double-A, and third-baseman-turned-pitcher Pedro Baez. Three other position players and three pitchers will join them on the Desert Dogs' roster.
Pedro Baez: A converted third baseman, Baez is now a relief pitcher, much in the mold of current Dodgers closer and onetime Isotopes catcher Kenley Jansen. The right-hander split the 2013 season between Double-A Chattanooga and High-A Rancho Cucamonga, putting up decent numbers (3-3, 3.88 ERA, 2 saves) in 58 innings of work. Baez walked 23 and gave up 67 hits, so honing his command will be an emphasis this fall.
Yimi Garcia: The closer at Chattanooga, Garcia had an excellent season (4-6, 2.54, 19 saves) that included an eye-popping 85 strikeouts in 60.1 innings. He figures to join the Isotopes in April and could very well be their closer for 2014. The Dodgers will have to add Garcia to the 40-man roster this offseason or risk losing him in the Rule 5 Draft.
Jarret Martin: A southpaw, Martin was acquired two years ago from the Orioles in the deal that sent away former Isotope Dana Eveland. Martin began the year in Rancho Cucamonga's rotation but finished in the Chattanooga bullpen. Overall he went 6-7 with a 4.30 ERA and two saves, striking out 106 batters in 96.1 innings. Martin will probably start 2014 back with the Lookouts but could join the Isotopes later in the year.
Mike Thomas: Another lefty reliever, Thomas was a steal of a pick out of Rider in the 35th round in 2011. He had a solid year (1-1, 2.87, 11 saves) between Chattanooga and Rancho Cucamonga, though he profiles more as a lefty specialist than a closer going forward. Since he spent the bulk of his season with the Lookouts, he could join the Isotopes right out of spring training.
Pratt Maynard: A catcher, the former third-round draft pick (2011) out of North Carolina State did not put up the greatest offensive numbers (.246/.360/.381, 6 HR, 27 RBI) at Rancho Cucamonga. At this point, Maynard looks like a backup catcher at best, though the lack of hitting in a hitter's league is not encouraging. There are not a lot of good catching prospects in the minor leagues overall right now, so Maynard's inclusion on the roster should not come as too big of a surprise.
Chris O'Brien: Maynard's platoon partner with the Quakes, O'Brien was an even worse hitter (.199/.263/.320, 5 HR, 26 RBI). It seems doubtful that he will play very often for the Desert Dogs, unless he greatly outplays his regular season. Neither O'Brien nor Maynard seems likely to play for the Isotopes in 2014 and if both get chewed up by the pitcher-friendly Southern League, they may never reach Albuquerque.
Corey Seager: The top prospect among the eight with the Desert Dogs, Seager is a good defensive shortstop who had a nice start to the year at Low-A Great Lakes before running out of steam at Rancho Cucamonga after the All-Star break. Overall he hit well (.269/.351/.473, 16 HR, 72 RBI) in his first full season in the minors. Seager should return to the Quakes to start 2014 and could be an Isotope by 2015. Whether he is still a shortstop or a third baseman by then remains to be seen.
Brian Cavazos-Galvez: A former UNM and Manzano High standout, Cavazos-Galvez hit .354 in 57 games with the Isotopes in 2012 before being sidelined by a sprained ankle. He returned to health in 2013 and put up relatively average numbers (.263/.303/.366, 7 HR, 40 RBI, 15 stolen bases) on a Chattanooga team where no one besides Joc Pederson managed to hit well. As the oldest position player on the team, Cavazos-Galvez might have to push for playing time.
Others to watch: Byron Buxton, the Twins' center fielder, is generally regarded as the top prospect in the game. He will also suit up for the Desert Dogs. Pitchers to watch for Glendale will include Marlins lefty Andrew Heaney, Twins right-handers Trevor May and Alex Meyer, and former Cal State Fullerton standout Michael Lorenzen, now of the Reds. The infield will include White Sox second baseman Micah Johnson, who led the Minor Leagues with 84 stolen bases, and Marlins third baseman Colin Moran, a first-round draft pick from last summer.
The Desert Dogs will take on the visiting Mesa Solar Sox in the AFL opener Wednesday at 12:35 p.m.