The Peoria Javelinas won their fifth Arizona Fall League championship on Saturday with a 4-3 victory over the Salt River Rafters. Claiming their first title since 2009 and third in eleven years, the squad rebounded from a distant second-place finish in 2011 to take this year’s crown. The star-studded roster, bolstered by eight Cincinnati prospects between three levels of the minor leagues, finished the “regular” season with a 19-13 clip including an impressive 12-3 record at home to claim the AFL West.
Comprised of players from the Reds, Twins, Phillies, Padres, and Mariners, the Javelinas were a commanding presence in the division all (off)season long, hitting their stride with a six-game winning streak earlier in the month before sealing the deal last week. The title game was no different, as Peoria took an early lead in the first inning and never gave it up.
Of the thirty-eight players on the Peoria roster, six were ranked on Jonathan Mayo’s list of baseball’s top 100 prospects. Cincinnati’s Man of Steal Billy Hamilton headlined the class, ranked 14th overall in addition to his top organizational billing. In what would be the final high-profile baseball game of the year (at least in the United States), Hamilton was one of five future Reds that left good impressions ahead of 2013:
Tim Crabbe, P
Pitcher Tim Crabbe made his seventh AFL start and threw 2.2 solid innings while yielding three runs on six hits. Despite some damage by the Rafters in the second and third frames, a strong defense and critical bases-loaded strikeout kept the Javelinas in contention and Crabbe in the game.
The decision to start Crabbe comes as a surprise given his roller-coaster season, which was highlighted by inconsistent starts in Double-A before finding his rhythm in Single-A. His highlight of the short AFL season came on October 25 when he threw four no-hit innings against Mesa.
In twenty-eight games between the California and Southern Leagues, Crabbe was 8-8 with a 4.25 ERA.
Billy Hamilton, CF
As expected, Hamilton impressed fans out of the gate, slicing a triple into right-center field and crossing the plate two batters later for the first tally of the game. He struck again in the second inning, reaching first base on a drag bunt and putting fellow Cincinnati teammate Didi Gregorius in position to score. Finishing 2-for-5 overall with no stolen bases, Hamilton was removed in the eighth inning after slamming into the outfield wall while making a play; though the injury appeared serious, he reassured reporters that despite some soreness, he was feeling “OK”. News reports have stated that Hamilton suffered only back spasms as a result.
Besides the jaw-dropping 155 stolen bases — a statistic that not only toppled Vince Coleman’s long-standing record, but also helped him swipe two stolen base titles in two leagues — Hamilton hit .311 across 132 games in Bakersfield and Pensacola with thirty-eight extra-base hits.
Didi Gregorius, SS
Didi Gregorius started at shortstop and capped the lineup, going 1-for-4 with a run. While he didn’t provide much at the plate, he made this incredible play for the first out of the game.
Regarding his season play, Gregorius held a team-low mark in strikeouts among full-time players (4) and recorded four hits on October 13. He also saw time in three levels of baseball this year: starting in Pensacola and serving as Hamilton’s predecessor at shortstop, racking up big hits in Louisville, and finally playing in place of Zack Cozart in his second season on the 40-man roster.
Josh Ravin, P
One of seven pitchers for Peoria, Ravin threw two perfect innings with three strikeouts to record a hold. In fact, neither team scored a run after the third inning, turning the final six frames into a pitcher’s duel.
Keeping hitters guessing all season long with a blazing fastball, Ravin needed only twenty-two pitches to complete the fifth and sixth innings. Such was his style during his nine AFL appearances, fanning ten while walking only two.
Over twenty-three games, Ravin was 1-3 with a 5.33 ERA across twenty-seven innings. He started the 2012 season as a member of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, but didn’t throw a pitch until June. In a season plagued by injuries, Ravin remained on the Wahoos’ DL until his assignment to Bakersfield midway through the year. After two weeks and three games in California, Ravin finished the season in Pensacola.
Curtis Partch, P
After giving up a triple to lead off the eighth (and losing his center fielder and teammate in the process), Partch quickly eliminated a runner and sparked a double play to end the frame as quickly as it began. He threw fifteen pitches, including eight strikes, to set up the grand finale for San Diego’s Kevin Quackenbush.
Perhaps the most improved prospect in the Cincinnati system this year, Partch calmed down after a rough start in Double-A to become one of the Southern League’s most deadly relievers. Working with Pensacola pitching coach Tom Brown, he transitioned from the starting spot to the bullpen, setting a Blue Wahoos record of 21.2 straight scoreless innings in the process. He allowed five earned runs in just under thirteen innings during the fall and also pitched in the prestigious Rising Stars Game, a major achievement among the lofty AFL mantle.
NOTE: Other Reds representatives include pitcher Drew Hayes and infielder Travis Mattair. Though many sources state that only seven players were represented from the Cincinnati organization, Donald Lutz started the season in Peoria before being scratched from the roster due to an injury. In fact, Steve wrote a nice write-up about Lutz that you can read here.