‘First time I saw a cactus’: Diamondbacks reflect warmly on Arizona Fall League

Diamondbacks pitcher Archie Bradley has fond memories of the Arizona Fall League. He spent six weeks in 2014 with the Salt River Rafters. (Photo by Eddie Poe/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Fall League breeds Major League Baseball’s future top talent. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant and countless others have played in the developmental league that sends approximately 60 percent of its players to the majors.

It is about instruction. But also relationships.

“One of my favorite trips this year was to Minnesota, seeing Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler, who were all on my fall league team, starting for the Twins outfield,” said Diamondbacks pitcher Archie Bradley, who played for the Salt River Rafters in 2014. “I hope that when we are done playing we can be like ‘Yeah, I got you out more times than you got hits off me.’ ”

The Fall League consists of six teams which are a combination of prospects from different organizations. Every MLB team sends six top prospects, 180 players in all, to Arizona to play for six weeks. The games are played in the spring training stadiums used by the Giants, Mariners, Padres, Cubs, Athletics, Royals, Rangers, Diamondbacks and Rockies.

Crowds are sparse but the talent level is high.

It is a unique experience to play with prospects who aren’t normally teammates. And although there is a sense of more relaxed play and camaraderie in the Fall League, it still consists of baseball’s best prospects. Diamondbacks infielder Adam Rosales hasn’t played in the Fall League since 2007, but he recalled that it made him more aware of how tough it is to play in the majors.

“Just to see the talent, to actually witness the level I needed to get to was really helpful,” Rosales said. “You can get by because the talent gets weeded out (in the minor leagues), but in the Fall League, these are the guys that you have to keep up with.”

Playing in the Fall League is different than playing in the minors. The stadiums are bigger, there are less players and for Diamondbacks third baseman Jake Lamb, it was a chance to really feel like he was at the next level.

“You get to wear the big league uniform, you get the big league locker room and you get a small taste of the big league experience,” Lamb said.

For some players, the experience is a new one in more ways than just baseball. That was certainly the case for Rosales who was in the Reds organization when he came to Arizona 10 years ago.

“That was the first time I’ve ever been to Arizona, it was the first time I ever saw a cactus,” Rosales said. “It’s a beautiful time of year. It was someplace I knew could live and set roots down with my family.”

Players take away different things from the Fall League but they revealed the same level of enjoyment in reflection. Bradley had a few words for incoming Fall Leaguers and how they could benefit from the rare experience.

“Enjoy it,” he said. “No one is going to look back and be like, ‘This guy is a Hall of Famer because he hit .300 in the Fall League.’ Have fun, play the game the right way and enjoy being with those other guys because you end up being friends with them way longer than you will be playing baseball.”