After taking a year off, the Arizona Fall League is back in 2021 and the Cleveland prospects will be moving from the Mesa Solar Sox to the Scottsdale Scorpions where they’ll be joined by players from the Red Sox, Twins, Giants and Rays. The season will start on October 13 and run through November 19 with the championship on November 20. All Sundays will be off days for the entire league.
In addition to the league being a good place for advanced A through AAA players to get some time in after missing out on a full regular season for whatever reason, Major League Baseball also likes to use the month for some experimenting with the game itself. This year, there are some drastic rule changes that could have a massive impact on the game of baseball. In order to speed up the game, pitchers will be limited to 15 seconds between pitches and just two pick off throws per plate appearance. Effectively, this limits pitchers to one pick off attempt per plate appearance as the runners would be free to steal whenever that limit is reached.
Another extreme rule change will be the elimination of the infield shift, presumably to increase offensive production. Officially, all infielders must remain on the dirt and two infielders must be on each side of second base. This rule was tried in AA in 2021 and Major League Baseball found no change in batted ball outcomes, but they will increase their sample size in Arizona despite this.
Specifically for Cleveland, the 2021 Scorpions will be pitchers Damon Casetta-Stubbs, Matt Turner, Tanner Tully and Aaron Pinto, infielders Richie Palacios and Jose Tena and catcher Michael Amditis. Casetta-Stubbs came to Cleveland last July in the Jake Bauers trade and played just one game on rehab assignment with the ACL Indians. He made 25 starts between short season and high A in 2019 and will be trying to get back onto a more normal schedule before he will likely play for Akron in 2022.
Left handed starter, Turner, made just four starts in Lake County and three on rehab in Arizona in 2021 after throwing 73.2 innings in 2019. Based on former usage of pitchers in the AFL, it wouldn’t be surprising if Casetta-Stubbs and Turner would be used both as starters and in long relief, pitching about three innings per outing. With so many pitchers trying to get innings in and no one wanting to get over used, this kind of outing is more common than a normal 5-7 inning start.
Tanner Tully is also a left handed starter, but no longer truly has prospect status. He is now 26 years old and has been with the franchise since 2016, posting a 3.84 ERA over nearly 600 innings. He pitched 113 innings between Akron and Columbus in 2021, pitching well in AA, but poorly in his limited time in AAA.
Right handed reliever, Pinto, actually got significant time on the mound in 2021 with 43 innings with 67 strike outs and a 2.30 ERA. At 24 years old, however, he should be a little closer to the big leagues than AA and playing in the AFL could help him skip some time in AAA.
Palacios missed all of 2019 due to a shoulder injury and 2020 due to cancelled season, so he was fairly far behind when 2021 started. He did play 103 games this year between Akron and Columbus with a very impressive .297/.404/.471 batting line and 20 steals with just three times caught. His addition is more likely to do with his lost time over the last two years rather than anything from 2021. At 24, this could be a boost to get him into the big leagues by the end of 2022.
Tena continued to impress while playing for Lake County in 2021, batting .281/.331/.467 in 447 plate appearances. He will likely split time between short, second and third, but has already made great strides in improving his defensive efficiency (he already had great range) since his 2019 season. Even if he has a great season, Tena will almost certainly start out with Akron in 2022.
Amditis was missing from July 12 through September 7 due to injury and when he was with the team it was a bit of a disappointing season for the 23 year old catcher. He batted .192/.300/.375 across 121 plate appearances, showing some power with seven doubles and four home runs. This was a decent increase in power, but combined with a drop in walk rate and increase in strike out rate in a similar number of plate appearances in 2019. He has fallen behind some of his contemporary catchers and can use the fall league to make up some of that ground.
In addition to the players, Captains manager Greg DiCenzo will be managing the Scorpions and Trent Kaltenbach will be the strength and conditioning coach.