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Arizona Fall League is Launching Pad for Stars

The Arizona Fall League is a place for aspiring Major Leaguers to go to work on their baseball skills in the Autumn months. As the weather begins to cool elsewhere, the diamond stays hot and for many of baseball's most promising young talents in Arizona.

Rosters in the AFL are a mixture of different organizations' prospects, with each Major League club sending 7 players that combine to fill up the 35-man rosters of the league's six teams.

With many of the sport's top prospects playing in the league annually, the AFL has become a virtual launching pad to the big leagues. Several players from last year's AFL rosters made their MLB debuts in 2010. The likes of Ike Reese, Mike Leake, Domonic Brown, Starlin Castro, Stephen Strasburg and Buster Posey all made their names known in their respective organization's cities and around MLB this year.

Certainly not all of this year's AFL players are gearing up to be playing on their sport's biggest stage within the next 6-11 months, but it's a lock that some of them are.

This year, the Phillies' players are merged with individuals from the Mets, Angels, Pirates and Cubs to complete the Mesa Solar Sox roster.

Mark Parent, a man who has quickly become well liked throughout the Philadelphia organization is the Solar Sox hitting coach. Parent, who in his first season managing affiliated ball, led the Phillies Class A team the Lakewood BlueClaws to a second consecutive South Atlantic League championship in 2010. The former big leaguer has some people close to the organization thinking he is on the fast track upward in the Phils' system as a coach. Early in the season, Phillies brass mentioned the coaching assignments in the AFL to Parent, who stuck by something he stated when he was hired for the Lakewood job. Upon joining the Phillies organization, Parent told general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. that he would do whatever the Phillies asked, and Parent excitedly took the AFL assignment.

"It's cool. It's certainly a job I haven't had. The more jobs you have, and building a resume of some sort, it's a good thing," Parent said in an exclusive interview recently.

So, not only is the AFL a place for players to sharpen and develop their skills, it also works as a platform for coaching personnel to do the same.

Catcher Tim Kennelly, first baseman Matt Rizzotti and outfielder John Mayberry Jr. are the offensive Philadelphia properties that Parent is working with closely out in Mesa.

Also on the team are pitchers BJ Rosenberg, Tyson Brummett, Justin De Fratus and Chris Kissock.

Mayberry Jr. saw some action at the Major League level in each of the past two season with the Phillies, but which of the other six Fightins hopefuls would be likely to make a splash with the big club sooner than later? With Matt Rizzotti's .500 OBP through 7 AFL games, his .343 avg. and .985 OPS in 125 minor league games during the 2010 regular season and a roadblock at his position named Ryan Howard making Rizzotti resemble a delicious trading chip, the best candidate to make his debut in red pin stripes next year is righty reliever Justin De Fratus.

De Fratus, who turned 23-years-old last week, posted a 3-0 record, 21 saves and a 1.94 ERA with 71 strike outs and 16 walks in 65 innings combined at High-A Cleawater and Double A Reading in 2010. De Fratus, who sports a fastball that registers around the 93 MPH mark, was assigned the honor of having best control in the Phillies' system last off-season by Baseball America. De Fratus, a California native, was an 11th round draft selection in 2007 and is primed to be the hurler that makes big moves in 2011.

Check back for updates and exclusive interviews from the Arizona Fall League in the coming weeks.

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