Seattle to send top prospects to AFL

Seattle to send top prospects to AFL

SEATTLE -- The Mariners are sending seven of their top Minor League prospects to the Arizona Fall League this year, including their three most recent first-round Draft choices.

Right-handed relief pitchers Phillippe Aumont and Josh Fields, along with outfielder Dustin Ackley, are among the Mariners named on Tuesday to participate in the AFL.

Infielder Carlos Triunfel, outfielder Joseph Dunigan and pitchers Nick Hill and Anthony Varvarro also have been assigned to play for the Peoria Javelinas in the five-team development league.

The 18th annual Arizona Fall League season begins on Oct. 13 and runs through Nov. 19 with the Rising Stars game on Nov. 7 and the Championship game set for Nov. 21. Every game can be followed live on Gameday on MLB.com and MLBFallBall.com.

"We're happy with this group and are looking forward to watching them compete," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "These are some of our best kids. It's a group of guys who we think are formidable guys who will be with us for a long time."

This will be Triunfel's second year in the AFL and the first for the other six Mariners invitees.

All eyes will be on Ackley, the second-overall selection in last June's First-Year Player Draft. He agreed to a five-year Major League contract on Aug. 17 and will begin his professional career at the Arizona Instructional League next week.

"It's a very good opportunity for the No. 2 selection in the 2009 Draft to face the challenge of competing against the top Minor League players in baseball," Zduriencik said. "It will give him a chance to jump-start his career and get ready for Spring Training and the 2010 baseball season."

The Mariners are among the five Major League organizations that stock the Javelinas team with Minor League players. The others are the White Sox, Tigers, Dodgers and Brewers.

"For some guys it is a little different experience, but for the most part, what you would like for these guys to realize is that, 'All of a sudden here I am with the best young Minor League kids in baseball, I am playing in a great environment and this is a great opportunity for me to step my game up a little bit to fine-tune myself,'" Zduriencik said. "It is almost like an All-Star team to some degree.

"They are playing against the elite, in essence, of Double-A baseball. There are some Triple-A players, but for the most part they are Double-A. There have been many kids who have gone there, been successful, and boom, all of a sudden they are in the big leagues. That's what our hopes are. All of these guys are talented guys who we think a lot of and they have all earned the right to go there."

Triunfel was the youngest player (19) in the AFL last season and held his own against older, more established players. He started this season at Double-A West Tennessee, but suffered a broken leg during the first week of the season and remains sidelined.

"The big thing for Triunfel is playing time," Zduriencik said. "Same with Ackley."

The GM said Ackley, who played mostly first base for the University of North Carolina this past season, would get most of his playing time in the outfield with the Javelinas, who will be managed by Kevin Bradshaw of the Tigers.

"You can select a few players that are high priority guys [to specific positions] and he's going to play all three outfield spots," Zduriencik said. "What we want is for him to get his at-bats. That will be important."

Ackley has not played a competitive game since the College World Series in June.

Aumont, drafted as a starting pitcher out of Canada in 2007 but moved to the bullpen this season, will continue the transformation in the AFL.

"There have been days when he's been just dominant down there, throwing as high as 98 mph with a good breaking ball and sinker," Zduriencik said. "He's still a young kid who has a ways to go yet, but you have to be very happy with the stuff that he shows. On given days, I'll get reports where he just overmatched hitters."

Fields, the top pick in '08, has had a so-so season with West Tennessee, posting a 2-2 record and 6.48 ERA in 31 relief appearances.

He has missed time due to injuries, most recently a strained oblique.

"He would go anyway." Zduriencik said. "He' making up time for a lost year last year with a little bit of missed time this year. But, he would have been there anyhow this year simply because what you want to do is accelerate your top guys and put them against good competition. He's had a learning experience this year. He hasn't thrown a ton of innings; he's been a one or two-inning guy. He gets a chance to go down there and compete and it'll be a good gauge for him.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.