As I prepare to wind up another regular season of columns here at Mastersball, it feels like the right time to look ahead.
While the MLB season is heading into its post-season, I will be moving south to Jupiter, Florida, to begin my off-season of prospect-watching. There, I will check out the instructional league camps of the New York Mets, Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals.
Four weeks later, the annual First Pitch Arizona conference will be held in Phoenix. Expertly run by Ron Shandler and the BaseballHQ team, FPA offers a mix of baseball forums with a fantasy focus along with the opportunity to watch a number of Arizona Fall League games in the glorious Phoenix-area outdoors.
Also during FPA, we hold the annual draft of the Xperts Fantasy League, or XFL. Not only does the 15-team keeper format league have the earliest industry draft each year, it is the most manly of settings. We conduct our fast-paced auction draft in front of a live and satellite radio audience completely without materials, other than standard 40-man rosters. That is a wonderful challenge.
There is no doubt the highlight of the Arizona trip is the AFL itself and the discussions with friends that occur during the games. As the schedule again allows, we will be in attendance at the league’s Rising Stars Showcase, an all-star game of sorts, on November 3.
Along with seeing many of the brightest future stars of the game during the AFL, there will be a new twist during the 2012 schedule. MLB plans to quietly test two enhanced instant replay systems.
Commissioner Bud Selig has been discussing the idea of expanding instant replay beyond questionable home runs for some months. His recent focus has been on trapped catches in the outfield and hot shots down the first and third base lines.
A blown call on the latter was the difference-maker in a game I attended this June – Johan Santana’s no-hitter.
The tests in Arizona will not affect play on the field. The systems will not be used to reverse or confirm calls at this time, for example. Instead, the purpose of the tests is to help MLB officials decide which of two competing technologies to adopt.
One is a camera-based technology used in tennis. The other is a radar-based system, such as that used to track golf shots. The two methods are also being tested at New York’s Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, respectively, during the final month of the season.
Unlike many of MLB’s discussions, something may actually happen here – in good time. Possible replay expansion was negotiated into the new collective bargaining between owners and players last year. Of course, the umpires have to agree, as well, ensuring no rash decisions will be made.
As my winter plans continue, I have an open invitation to travel to the Dominican Republic, which would allow me to both attend their instructional camps and see my first Dominican Winter League games in person. I keep putting this off until I brush up on my Spanish, but I think I should change my priorities.
In mid-January, a trip to the Cardinals Winter Warm-Up fan festival should keep my hot stove stoked, as will a journey to the World Baseball Coaches’ Convention later that month.
With the arrival of February, spring training will offer the promise of new hope, both for Major League clubs and fantasy owners alike. We’ll be back here again to share our take on selected bits of it.
In the meantime, I hope to see you at the ballpark!
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com and in-season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.