The Arizona Fall League is filled with the best prospects in the game, so getting named to it's version of the All-Star game is a pretty big deal. According to MLB.com's prospect guru Jonathon Mayo, 28 players from the game in 2009 reached the big leagues the following season, and 24 from the 2010 game spent at least a portion of 2011 in the Majors. So while being named to participate in the game offers no guarantee of playing in the Majors, the game has definitely served as a mirror into the future of Major League Baseball.
For Tampa Bay Rays prospects Mikie Mahtook and Tyler Bortnick, the game will be an opportunity to display their baseball skills in front of a national television audience, and to show Rays fans a glimpse of the future talent coming up through the franchise's fertile farm system. The duo should feel right at home, as the game will be played at Surprise Stadium, where their AFL team the Surprise Saguaros plays it's home games.
Mahtook is getting his first taste of professional baseball in the AFL, and last week hit his first ever pro home run. He is one of several 2011 first round draft picks participating in the game, including the game's two starters Gerrit Cole (Pirates) and Danny Hultzen (Mariners). Picked as a reserve outfielder for the West squad, Mahtook has a .320 average and .375 on base percentage in 13 AFL games thus far. He has also shown his ability on the basepaths, swiping five bags in six attempts.
Bortnick who will be the starting second basemen for the West team, had another sensational year in 2011. For the High A Charlotte Stone Crabs, Bortnick hit .306 in 132 games, while driving in 70 runs and scoring 96. He also led the Florida State League in on base percentage (.428) and stolen bases (43), and was named as both a FSL Mid-Season and FSL Post-Season All-Star. In what might have been a preview of the Rays' middle infield in a few years, Bortnick and shortstop Jak-Hu Lee teamed up to make a dynamic double play duo for the Stone Crabs in 2011. For the season, Bortnick had a .969 fielding percentage and was involved in 96 double plays. The Coastal Carolina alumn has slowly been heating up after a slow start to the AFL season, and is hitting .244 in 41 at bats.
Durham Bulls 1B/OF Leslie Anderson was the only Rays' representative in last year's contest. He went two for four, and won the game in dramatic fashion for the West Division team by hitting a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth.
The Arizona Fall League Rising Stars game will be televised live on MLB Network at 8 PM EST on Saturday November 5th. It will also be available to stream via MLB.com.
John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnRGregg or @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.