2006 AFL picks follow well worn path to Majors

First-rounders and Futures Game participants highlight this year's rosters

(Jerry Hale/MiLB.com)

By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com | August 21, 2006 11:25 AM ET

It's been said, on more than one occasion, that numbers don't lie.

So anyone on a 2006 Arizona Fall League roster, announced on Monday, should take note of this:

• A total of 25 AFL alumni were chosen to participate in the 2006 Major League Baseball All-Star Game this past July.
• Since the AFL began in 1992, 94 former players have been selected to at least one MLB All-Star Game.
• As of July, 46 players from last year's AFL rosters had already reached the big leagues this season.
• The total of former Fall Leaguers to play at the big-league level, as of July, was 1,225.

Kind of hard to ignore, no?

"It's encouraging and motivating," said Brewers third base prospect Ryan Braun, one of the many elite names headed to the AFL this fall. "So many guys who played in the Fall League last year are in the big leagues this year. Hopefully myself and several of the other players this year will be on that track as well."

Braun does appear to be on that fast track. In his first full season, he's already made it to Double-A and is hitting .306 with 11 homers, 32 RBIs and nine steals in 46 games. But he is just one of many top-level names fans of Minor League Baseball will see if they make the trip to the AFL, which begins its 15th season on October 10.

These numbers don't lie, either: An early count shows 27 former first-rounders and 10 Futures Game alumni participating in the AFL. Braun and Rockies shortstop prospect Troy Tulowitzki are both 2005 first-rounders in their first full seasons who also attended this year's Futures Game in Pittsburgh. Still, there's no talk of fatigue.

"I'm excited, to be honest with you," Braun said. "I've been battling a groin injury all year, and I'm finally to a point where I'm healthy. So I'm looking forward to it."

Pirates catching prospect Neil Walker is also excited. He attended the AFL a year ago as one of the youngest participants in the league. After missing a large chunk of time recovering from offseason wrist surgery, he thinks another six weeks in Arizona is just what the doctor ordered.

"I think it's going to be another good test," said Walker, who was recently promoted to Double-A Altoona. "With the 150 to 200 at-bats I missed this season, it's a good time to get those back. You're going to see some pretty good pitching, and I'll get to catch several games, too."

Walker hit .265 in limited playing time in 2005 (just 49 at-bats), but he knows as well as anyone that if you're a hitter, you've got to be excited about playing in the Arizona Fall League. Last year, with names like Brandon Wood, Matt Kemp, Howie Kendrick and Dan Uggla headlining offenses, three teams finished with a combined batting average over .300. A total of 27 players who had enough at-bats to qualify for the league's batting title finished over the .300 mark as well.

Several other of the top bats Minor League Baseball has to offer were on the initial rosters. Astros slugging outfield prospect Hunter Pence, Cubs speedy second baseman Eric Patterson, the Orioles' Nolan Reimold and Dodgers infielder Chin Lung Hu all were in Pittsburgh for this year's Futures Game, along with Braun, Tulowitzki and Walker. Red Sox outfield prospect Jacoby Ellsbury, the Indians' Trevor Crowe, Braves catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and the Royals' Mitch Maier join the ranks of first-rounders heading to the AFL.

"I think there are a lot of things that factor into it," Braun said. "It's a good place to hit, pitchers are probably tired, and the best hitters are there. Add all those things together, and it leads to a good hitting league.

"It should be a lot of fun. Most teams send their top prosects there," Braun added. "It should be good competition. It should be challenging, but a good gauge of where I'm at as a player."

Braun will no doubt face his share of tough arms. This June's No. 1 overall pick, Luke Hochevar, will be there, undoubtedly to try to make up for the innings he lost when he didn't sign following the 2005 draft and the limited time he did get in this year. He spent some time with the independant league Fort Worth club and then with Burlington, the Royals' Midwest League affiliate. White Sox 2005 first-round pick Lance Broadway, among the Southern League leaders in ERA, will get some extra work in. So will the Phillies' Gio Gonzalez, a 2006 Futures Gamer who was the key Minor League acquisition in last year's Jim Thome's deal.

"They say there are great hitters over there," said Gonzalez, who'll be working on his offspeed stuff and locating his fastball while in Arizona. "Every pitcher wants to test their stuff, especially against guys who can hit the ball. You can just go out there and try to throw it, and be smart about it."

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Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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