By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
A PAIR of Bahamian minor league baseball players achieved another career milestone with promotions to the Arizona Fall League.
Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Tahnaj Thomas will join the Surprise Saguaros while Chicago Cubs prospect BJ Murray was named to the roster of the Mesa Solar Sox for the upcoming season.
The Saguaros include prospects from the Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, and Houston Astros. The Solar Sox includes Cubs, Miami Marlins, Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, and New York Yankees prospects.
The AFL begins play on October 3 in various cities in Arizona. Sixteen of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects are included on those rosters, including four of the Top 20. Each Major League Baseball team sends six top prospects to the AFL, 180 players in all.
The games are played in the Spring Training stadiums used by the Mariners, Padres, Cubs, A’s, D-backs, and Rockies.
The league attracts many of the top prospects in the minor leagues. Late in the minor league seasons, MLB clubs hold a position draft to determine the players who will participate in the AFL. Most are Double-A and Triple-A players.
The league is designed for these prospects to refine their skills and perform in game settings in front of major and minor league baseball scouts and team executives, who are in attendance at almost every game.
Several Bahamians have advanced to the AFL in recent history, including Champ Stuart in 2016, Anfernee Seymour in 2017, Jasrado “Jazz” Chisholm Jr, Lucius Fox in 2018 and Chavez Fernander in 2021.
Fox and his Peoria Javelinas defeated Chisholm’s Salt River Rafters in the 2018 AFL Championship.
Approximately 60 percent of all AFL participants have reached the major leagues. The league has produced 278 All-Stars, 17 Most Valuable Players, six Cy Young Award winners and 29 Rookies of the Year.
Thomas recently helped Great Britain to an historic World Baseball Classic qualification and spent his season with the Altoona Curve at the AA level.
In 37 games this year, he finished with a 5-4 record and three saves. He pitched 50.2 innings, with a 3.02 ERA and 52 strikeouts.
The 22-year-old 6’5” right hand pitcher, is currently ranked no.29 in the Pirates organisation according to MLB Pipeline, has delivered a series of impressive performances. Thomas was named to the MLB Pipeline Prospect Team of the Week for July 4-July 10.
Prior to the season, he was one of the club’s non-roster invitees to major league Spring Training in Bradenton, Florida last month. He spent last season at the High A level for the first time with the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
Murray and his South Bend Cubs claimed the Midwest League Championship series in High A baseball.
The Cubs closed out the Lake County Captains in game three last night at Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio.
Murray hit .545 for the series capped by last night’s 1-3 performance with a run scored in the Cubs’ 7-4 win.
In a game one 11-8 loss, Murray finished 3-4, including a double, and scored two runs. The Cubs won game two 4-3 and Murray doubled again en route to finishing 2-4 with a run scored.
The 22-year-old infielder has made a successful transition to High-A baseball and his progression within the Chicago Cubs organisation.
Since the start of July, Murray is one of only two players in the Midwest League with a batting average over .300 and an on-base percentage over .400.
In 56 games with South Bend, Murray hit .273, slugging .406, with a .794 OPS, with 51 hits, 22 runs scored, eight doubles, five home runs, 28 RBI and eight stolen bases.
Murray began his 2022 season at the Low-A level with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans before he was promoted on June 14. In 39 games with the club, he hit .305, slugged .461 with a .902 OPS, 39 hits, including three home runs, 11 doubles, 31 runs scored and 25 RBI.
Major League Baseball will test several new rule change initiatives in the AFL prior to its debut at the MLB level.
The pitch timer coming to the Major Leagues in 2023 (15 seconds with bases empty, 20 seconds with runners on) will be implemented during this year’s Fall League campaign, as will the larger bases and restrictions on defensive positioning (minimum four infielders on the dirt, two on each side of second base).
The AFL will also use the Automatic Ball-Strike System (ABS) Challenge at Salt River and Chase Field games. Batters, pitchers and catchers can challenge a ball or strike call immediately, and the call will be determined by the ABS system.
Each side has three challenges per game, and a successful challenge is returned to the club.