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AFL names Stenson Award nominees

AFL names Stenson Award nominees

PHOENIX -- The seventh annual Arizona Fall League Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award will be given out in an on-field ceremony at the championship game on Saturday. On Wednesday, the six finalists were announced.

The manager and coaches from each team were asked to nominate one player. The AFL will select one winner from the six nominees, with the recipient receiving the award at Scottsdale Stadium prior to the 3 p.m. ET start to the championship game between the Scottsdale Scorpions and Peoria Javelinas (live broadcast on MLB.com and MLB Network).

This year's finalists are Zack Cox (Cardinals), Surprise Rafters; Koby Clemens (Astros), Peoria Javelinas; Kris Negron (Reds), Peoria Saguaros; Ryan Flaherty (Cubs), Mesa Solar Sox; Cory Harrilchak (Braves), Phoenix Desert Dogs; Steve Lombardozzi (Nationals), Scottsdale Scorpions.

Created in 2004 in memory of the late Cincinnati Reds outfield prospect, who was killed during the 2003 Arizona Fall League season, the award has been given annually since '04 to the player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership. The six were chosen for those qualities -- the ones Stenson brought to the ballpark every day -- rather than their statistics or on-field performances. They all are, without exception, the types who have a hard-nosed attitude, players who do their jobs without complaint, who play the game the way it was meant to be played.

"This is a big honor. Words cannot express how much it means to me," said 2009 winner Russ Mitchell after receiving the award. "It's nice to know the coaches think so highly of you, and that they feel you represent someone who was a great man.

"We talked about [Stenson] at the beginning of the season and about his legacy as a person and as a player. To think that people think I do him justice ... that's a great honor for me."

Who will follow in Mitchell's footsteps in 2010? Here's a closer look at this year's nominees.

Zack Cox, 3B (Cardinals)
Surprise Rafters

The Cardinals' top pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, the University of Arkansas product snuck in four Gulf Coast League games before the season ended. He added 60-plus at-bats in the AFL, not counting the Rising Stars Game, and while his numbers were not overwhelming, there's no question this will help provide a good springboard into his first full professional season in '11.

Koby Clemens, 1B (Astros)
Peoria Javelinas

Roger's son continues to make a slow path up the Astros' ladder. The 2005 eighth-round pick spent the year with Corpus Christi in the Double-A Texas League and was a league All-Star for the second straight year, finishing with 26 homers and 85 RBIs. Though he hasn't shown much power in the AFL, he did have his average up to .288 after 18 games.

Kris Negron, SS (Reds)
Peoria Saguaros

Initially a seventh-round pick of the Red Sox in 2006, Negron was dealt to the Reds in '09 for Alex Gonzalez. He spent nearly all of that year in Double-A, where he batted .272 with 11 homers and 34 steals. Over 26 AFL games, Negron had hit .296 with 12 extra-base hits (four doubles, four triples, four homers), leading to a .593 slugging percentage.

Ryan Flaherty, INF (Cubs)
Mesa Solar Sox

The Vanderbilt product taken in the sandwich round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft by the Cubs played mostly second and third in the Minors this year. Most of it was with Advanced Class A Daytona, and Flaherty hit .286 in 108 games there, with 34 doubles, nine homers and 63 RBIs. In the AFL, he's played all over the field and hit .289 with a .386 on-base percentage over 25 games.

Cory Harrilchak, OF (Braves)
Phoenix Desert Dogs

Harrilchak enjoyed a successful first full season of pro ball after being taken by the Braves in the 14th round of the 2009 Draft. The Elon University product split time between Class A Rome and Advanced Class A Myrtle Beach, finishing with a .287 average, .354 OBP and 22 steals. In the AFL, he hit .333/.432/.520 over 22 games.

Steve Lombardozzi, SS (Nationals)
Scottsdale Scorpions

Coming off a solid season that saw him play at two levels (Advanced Class A and Double-A) and finish with a .294 average, .371 OBP and 24 steals, the 19th-round 2008 draftee has continued to perform in the AFL. The shortstop has hit .308 with a .402 OBP for the championship game-bound Scorpions.

Past Dernell Stenson Award recipients:

• Russ Mitchell (Dodgers), 1B, Peoria Javelinas
• Jason Donald (Phillies), IF, Mesa Solar Sox
• Sam Fuld (Cubs), OF, Mesa Solar Sox
• Kevin Frandsen (Giants), IF, Scottsdale Scorpions
• Andre Ethier (Athletics), OF, Phoenix Desert Dogs
• Mark Teahen (Royals), 3B, Phoenix Desert Dogs

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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