Pensacola Blue Wahoos Manager Delino DeShields knows the names of the top minor league prospects and now he gets to actually find out just how good they play in the Arizona Fall League.
DeShields was named the manager of the Surprise Saguaros, one of six teams stocked with up-and-comers from every major league team. The season began Tuesday, Oct. 7 and runs through Saturday, Nov. 15.
"The most exciting thing to me is putting faces with the names," DeShields said by phone from Surprise, Ariz. "I'm really looking forward to just getting the chance to see some other talent from other organizations."
One player who has impressed DeShields after just five Saguaros workouts before the opening game is San Diego Padres outfielder Hunter Renfroe. The 22-year-old logged the top score of any National League prospect at the Bowman Hitting Challenge on Saturday by going deep four times, hitting his bonus ball tee-shot to the United Healthcare power alley in left-center field and laying down a perfect bunt onto one of the targets in front of the plate.
"He's a big strong kid who can hit it a long way," DeShields said. "I've never seen him play before."
DeShields, a 13-year major league veteran, said he also feels honored to have been chosen to coach his first AFL team. For example, Dusty Baker went onto be named National League Manager of the Year three times and Terry Francona managed the Boston Red Sox to two World Series championships, including the 2004 title that was the team's first since 1918.
The Saguaros, who consist of prospects from the Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers, also include hitting coach Jody Davis, a two-time All-Star, and pitching coaches Jeff Andrews from the Rangers and Andrew Lorraine from Seattle.
"The coaches who have come through here and worked in the league have fared pretty well, too," DeShields said. "I hope to keep growing myself, as well."
DeShields will coach five of his players from the Reds' Double-A affiliate Blue Wahoos, including pitcher Ben Klimesh, infielders Seth Mejias-Brean and Ryan Wright, and outfielders Kyle Waldrop and Jesse Winker. The Red's also sent their No. 1 pick in June, pitcher Nick Howard to the AFL, who is scheduled to pitch Friday, Oct. 10.
There will be 26 first-round draft choices and numerous Minor League all-stars and league most valuable players on the rosters. This year's league also includes players from nine foreign countries.
The league's Fall Stars Game is slated Saturday, Nov. 1, at Salt River Fields in Talking Stick. A championship game is scheduled at Scottsdale Stadium.
DeShields said he is interested in the Red's organization players performances at this high level, which has developed a reputation as a finishing school for baseball's top prospects. Over its 23 years in existence it has helped catapult Derek Jeter, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols to stardom among many others.
"Waldrop has been one of the top hitters in the minor leagues this season," DeShields said. "I feel good about our kids going up against some of the best talent. It will help them keep growing as players. They can only help themselves. And it will be something nice to put on the back of their bubblegum cards."
Follow the Arizona Fall League at www.mlbfallball.com/