Some players used the 2005 Arizona Fall League season as a springboard, while it served as a diving board for others. Either way, the developmental circuit continues to serve its purpose as an arena in which the game's top prospects can hone their skills in preparation for the competition they are expected to face at a higher level.
Here's a closer look at some of the top players in the 2005 AFL class and how they fared in 2006:
Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins
Uggla was coming off an impressive regular season with Tennessee of the Double-A Southern League, hitting .297 with 21 homers and 87 RBIs by the time he suited up for the Peoria Javelinas. He proved his 2005 season was no fluke by hitting .304 with seven homers and 22 RBIs in 102 at-bats for Peoria. His AFL performance caught everyone's attention, including the folks in Miami, who plucked him from the Diamondbacks with the eighth pick of the Rule 5 Draft.
All Uggla did with the Fish was help turn them into a serious Wild Card contender this season while stamping his name all over the National League Rookie of the Year race. Though he experienced a bit of a late slump for Florida, he's been a dynamic contributor since Opening Day. He hit .282 with 27 homers and 90 RBIs, making fringe baseball folks sit up and take notice of what you can find when you have the proper shopping list at the Rule 5 Draft.
Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kemp had a blistering AFL run last year, hitting .383 with three homers and 16 RBIs, finishing tied for second in the league with 36 hits. It was just a continuation of the strong 2005 he had put together with Class A Advanced Vero Beach of the Florida State League, leaving the folks in Los Angeles salivating about the possibilities surrounding the young outfielder.
He lived up to those expectations, for the most part, this season as he split time between the parent club, Triple-A Las Vegas and Double-A Jacksonville. Kemp combined to hit .346 in 92 Minor League games with 10 homers and 70 RBIs. He appeared in 52 games for the Dodgers and wasn't quite as productive, but showed flashes of what he'll provide in the future. Kemp hit .253 with seven homers and 23 RBIs in 154 at-bats though his on-base percentage was only .289, a sharp contrast to the .414 percentage he put up in the Minors.
Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers
There were many people who believed the Dodgers committed highway robbery when they acquired Ethier from Oakland in the Milton Bradley deal. While Bradley helped the A's to the postseason, Ethier was just as crucial in Los Angeles' run to the playoffs. That, combined with the fact that Ethier's upside is much greater than that of Bradley's, and the Dodgers were the clear winners in this deal.
Ethier began the season by hitting .349 in the Pacific Coast League, quickly earning a promotion to the parent club, where he joined Uggla as one of the front-runners for Rookie of the Year. He hit .308 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs, exhibiting many of the traits that made him one of the top players in the AFL. Ethier led the AFL in on-base percentage (.495) and continued to impress with the Dodgers, posting a .365 OBP in 126 games.
Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels
Kendrick earned a well-deserved reputation as a hitting machine in the Minor Leagues, one that he padded in the AFL by leading the league in hits (46) and runs scored (27) while tying for third in batting (.380). That he would be headed back to the Minor Leagues this season surprised some, but the affable Kendrick made the most of his time with Salt Lake this season, hitting .369 in 69 games with 13 homers and 62 RBIs.
He's been with the parent club a few times this season and stuck after a mid-July return to the Major Leagues. Kendrick has been a contributor, hitting .285, though he wasn't as productive as he was during his fabulous Minor League run. Nevertheless, he had a productive rookie season and figures to be part of the Angels' core group of players for the next several years.
Kendry Morales, Los Angeles Angels
Like Kendrick, Morales has a well-earned reputation in the Minors. And like Kendrick, Morales had an impressive fall in Arizona, finishing tied for third in the league in batting with his teammate at .380. He hit a pair of homers and drove in 18 runs, serving as a precursor for what was expected to be a productive 2006 season.
Finally, like Kendrick once again, Morales split time between southern California and the mountains of Utah this season, performing better down below than he did during his stints with the parent club. Morales hit .320 with 12 homers and 52 RBIs in 66 games for the Bees, but struggled to find a groove with the Angels, hitting .234 with five homers and 22 RBIs in 197 at-bats.
Brandon Wood, Los Angeles Angels
Wood completed a spectacular season by cracking an AFL-leading 14 home runs. He also topped the circuit with 32 RBIs, finishing a year in which he was the talk of the Minor Leagues from start to finish.
After getting a taste of life in the Pacific Coast League at the end of the 2005 season -- he hit .316 in 19 at-bats -- Wood spent the entire 2006 season in the Texas League. While he was eclipsed by the Kansas City duo of Alex Gordon and Billy Butler in terms of sheer numbers, he still had another big year, connecting for 25 homers and 83 RBIs while batting .276.
Adam Loewen, Baltimore Orioles
The Canadian native used a strong AFL season to propel himself into what turned out to be a crucial 2006 season. Loewen led the AFL in ERA (1.67 in 27 innings) and though he still exhibited some control issues, he showed marked improvement over the way he had been pitching. He earned a spot on Canada's World Baseball Classic roster and hasn't looked back.
Loewen went 6-2 with a 2.28 ERA while splitting time between the Eastern and International leagues, earning himself a promotion to the parent club. Baltimore, with its young staff, gave Loewen an opportunity and he pitched well enough under trying circumstances, going 6-6 with a 5.37 ERA in 22 games (19 starts). The highlight came Aug. 5 against the Yankees when he didn't allow any runs on one hit over 6 1/3 innings.
Jamie Shields, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Shields finished second to Loewen in the AFL with a 1.74 ERA, striking out 29 and walking only two in 31 innings. He finished up the regular season at Triple-A Durham in 2005 and that's where he would begin 2006.
The big right-hander didn't last long at Durham, though, proving to be one of the few bright spots in what was a quagmire of a season for the Bulls. He went 3-2 with a 2.64 ERA in 10 starts before the Devil Rays brought him up to the Major Leagues. Shields went 6-8 with a 4.84 ERA in 21 starts for Tampa Bay, striking out 104 and walking only 38 in 124 2/3 innings. He had a big June, going 4-1 with a 3.60 ERA in five starts for Tampa. But he was up and down over the final three months, struggling to find that consistency that marked his quick beginning in the big leagues.
Stephen Drew, Arizona Diamondbacks
Drew had had a long season by the time he arrived in Arizona and it would have been easy to assume he was ready to take a breather. He was scheduled to get married shortly after the AFL season ended -- he didn't participate in the U.S. Olympic qualifier as a result -- so the distractions were plenty. But he responded by putting together a big few weeks in the desert, hitting .337 with six homers and 17 RBIs. He was fourth in the league in on-base percentage (.439), third in slugging percentage (.708) and third in extra-base hits (17).
He looked as though he would begin the season with Arizona -- there was some talk -- but he was sent to Tucson where he spent two-thirds of the season, helping the Sidewinders to what would eventually be a championship season. Drew hit .284 with 13 homers and 51 RBIs in 83 games before hitting .316 with five homers and 23 RBIs in 59 games for the D-Backs. Oh, Arizona also moved top pick Justin Upton to the outfield so Drew could stay at shortstop.
Humberto Sanchez, Detroit Tigers
Sanchez finished third in the AFL in ERA (2.15) and struck out 29 in 29 1/3 innings for Mesa. He proved to be one of the workhorses in the league, if such a term could be applied to the developmental circuit. The sparkle he showed last fall carried over into the spring and early summer this year.
He began the season in the Double-A Eastern League and went 5-3 with a 1.76 ERA in 11 starts for Erie, earning a promotion to Toledo and a place on the World Team at the Futures Game. He continued to pitch well for the Mud Hens, posting another 5-3 mark, this time with a 3.86 ERA in nine starts and was even prominently mentioned in trade talks with the Nationals regarding Alfonso Soriano. Sanchez developed a sore arm, though, and the talks never went anywhere. He missed the final month of the season and began throwing again in mid-September as he prepared for the Florida Instructional League.
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
The southpaw led the AFL in innings pitched (32) and strikeouts (39) while finishing fifth in ERA (2.53). It capped a solid but not spectacular season for the former first-rounder, who entered this year with a great deal of hope as he headed back to Double-A New Britain.
But Perkins admitted he had to learn a few things as he slogged his way through a sometimes trying season with the Rock Cats. He went 4-11 in the Eastern League, indicating some of the troubles he experienced, but the 3.91 ERA always provided a glimmer of his unlimited potential. Perkins began to realize that potential in the International League playoffs after getting promoted to Rochester, going 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in 13 innings to earn a call from the Twins. He appeared in four games down the stretch for Minnesota, allowing one earned run on three hits in 5 2/3 innings.
Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels
Weaver's 1-3 record and his 5.37 ERA were not worthy of much consideration during his seven-start stint with Surprise. But his 35 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings were certainly worth noting and provided a glimpse of what the Angels could expect from Weaver in the near future.
The big right-hander spent the early part of the year shuttling between Salt Lake and Los Angeles, but he finally took hold with the parent club, ultimately contributing to the Angels severing ties with his brother. Weaver was 6-1 with a 2.10 ERA in 12 games (11 starts) with the Bees before blistering his way through the summer as a part of the L.A. rotation. He went 11-2 with a 2.56 ERA in 19 starts and figures to be a big candidate for Rookie of the Year honors in the American League.
Lastings Milledge, New York Mets
The former first-rounder scored 24 runs and stole seven bases during the AFL, proving that he was a dynamic player. He caught Davey Johnson's eye as well and was invited to play for the United States in the Olympic qualifier after the AFL season ended.
But after finishing the regular season strong in 2005, Milledge struggled on all fronts in 2006, both at Norfolk and in New York. He hit .277 with seven homers and 36 RBIs in several International League stints, but drew the ire of the opposition and some teammates with his flamboyant style. The image troubles have continued with the Mets, culminating with last week's episode in Atlanta in which his teammates hid his clothes and manager Willie Randolph had to help retrieve them. Overall, he hit .241 with four homers and 22 RBIs for New York. His future with the club remains uncertain.
Kevin Howard, New York Yankees
Howard meandered through three Minor League seasons, never hitting higher than .296 or collecting more than 12 homers in a season prior to suiting up for Mesa last fall. But he found his stroke in the desert, leading the AFL in hitting at .406 with three homers and 16 RBIs in only 88 at-bats.
His big push gained him some attention and many believed he would take the step to another level this season after the Yankees acquired him in the deal for Tony Womack. But, he spent his second consecutive season at Double-A, this time with Trenton, and appeared to take a step backward across the board. Howard hit a career-low .255 with eight homers and 42 RBIs in 102 games for the Thunder, providing more questions than answers in regard to where he's headed next.
Eric Duncan, New York Yankees
Duncan couldn't have done much more right during his time in the AFL. He hit .362 with eight homers and 27 RBIs and was at or near the top of just about every offensive category, earning the circuit's Most Valuable Player honors. The former top pick also started getting some time at first base and appeared to be on the verge of fulfilling the promise he had shown.
He began the season at Triple-A Columbus but was clearly overmatched, overwrought and overhyped, never making it out of May with the Yanks' top farm team. Duncan hit .209 in 110 at-bats collecting only six RBIs and never going deep. He was demoted back to Double-A Trenton and never got going there either, hitting .248 in 57 games with 10 homers and 29 RBIs, leaving his future very cloudy.