Although the AFL Most Valuable Player award will not be announced until baseball's annual Winter Meetings in Nashville from Dec. 3-6, Solar Sox outfielder Sam Fuld (Cubs) has to be considered the frontrunner. Fuld, already named the league's 2007 Dernell Stenson Leadership Award recipient for his work ethic, character and leadership, also had the stats to back up what would be the first double haul since the Stenson Award was created in 2004.
Fuld fell sort of winning the batting crown on the final day of the season but still hit .402 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 29 games. He led the league in hits (43), doubles (11), on-base percentage (.492), slugging percentage (.626) and extra-base hits (16) while tying for third with 20 runs scored.
OF Matt LaPorta (Brewers) tied for the league lead with six homers and finished second in the RBIs race with 22. Milwaukee's top pick in the 2007 draft, he shared the extra-base hit lead with Fuld and tied for third with nine doubles. LHP Mitch Stetter (Brewers) did not allow a run in 12 2/3 innings while walking three and striking out 20 and should be in consideration for league Pitcher of the Year honors. SS Tommy Manzella (Astros) batted .302. RHP Stu Pomeranz (Cardinals) was 2-0 with an 0.64 ERA in five starts. RHP Sean Gallagher (Cubs) worked as both starter and reliever, posting a 1.13 ERA in 16 innings over eight games.
The Sox batted .243 as a team, last in the six-team league, while their 4.60 ERA ranked fourth.
PEORIA JAVELINAS (17-15, second in the West, two games out)
The feisty Javelinas made things interesting down the stretch, winning four straight to cut the Rafters' West Division lead to one game with two to play. Surprise had been so dominant that Peoria players already had been given their plane tickets home, possibly lighting an additional fire under their uniform bottoms. When the Javs fell on the next-to-last day of the regular season and the Rafters won, however, the championship matchup was finalized.
It wasn't the last race involving a Javelina that went down to the wire. Peoria second baseman Corey Wimberly (Rockies) went 8-for-13 in his last four games and 2-for-4 on the final day of the season to win the batting title with a .407 average -- the same mark that won the title for the Braves' Yunel Escobar in 2006. Wimberly was not an everyday starter but squeaked by with the minimum number of at-bats needed to qualify for the title, playing in 18 games to edge Mesa's Sam Fuld, who hit .402. Wimberly finished second in the league behind Fuld with a .462 on-base percentage.
OF Brett Gardner (Yankees) hit .343, fifth in the league, and led the circuit with 16 steals. His 37 hits ranked second and his .433 OBP was good for fourth. OF Jordan Schafer (Braves) was third in the league with 34 hits and tied for third with 20 runs scored, batting .324. 2B Yung Chi Chen (Mariners) batted .339 to finish sixth in the league, while his .444 OBP was third. OF Justin Maxwell (Nationals) was second to Gardner with 15 steals and scored 19 runs to rank fifth in the league. RHP Garrett Mock (Nationals) finished fifth with 21 strikeouts.
The Javs hit .274 as a team, second in the league, and their 197 runs scored and 62 steals led the loop. Their 5.06 ERA was fifth.
PEORIA SAGUAROS (10-22, third in the West, nine games out)
Although it was a season to forget for the Saguaros, who finished with the worst record in the six-team league, there were some memorable performances, most notably those of southpaw Joe Savery (Phillies) and shortstop Scott Sizemore (Tigers).
Savery, the 17th overall pick in the 2007 draft out of Rice, continued his strong season by posting an 0.64 ERA in five starts for the Sags. He limited opponents to an .091 average over 14 innings. Sizemore, who replaced Michael Hollimon when his fellow Tigers farmhand joined Team USA, batted .356 in 21 games, third in the league, and finished fourth with 18 RBIs and 32 hits.
2B Chris Coghlan (Marlins) hit .329, good for seventh in the league. LHP Will Startup (Padres) posted an 0.71 ERA in 12 relief appearances and also was the Saguaros' nominee for the Dernell Stenson Leadership Award. RHP Cory Wade (Dodgers) also was impressive out of the pen 'with a 1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings.
Tigers outfield prospect Cameron Maybin was deactivated from the Saguaros roster with a week to play after missing the previous two weeks with a slightly strained left shoulder. Maybin, one of the youngest player in the league but one of its top prospects, had dislocated the shoulder during the regular season.
The Saguaros hit .254, third in the league, but their 5.69 ERA was last.
PHOENIX DESERT DOGS (20-11, first in the East by 4 1/2 games)
Despite having no players or field staff in common with the 2006 team, the Desert Dogs won their fourth consecutive Arizona Fall League championship Saturday with a 7-2 victory over the Surprise Rafters.
The club dominated all season with its remarkable pitching staff, posting a league-record 2.68 ERA. Several Phoenix hurlers did not allow an earned run all season. Jake Arrieta (Orioles) led the league by tossing 16 scoreless innings over 14 games while fanning 16. It was the pro debut for Baltimore's 2007 fifth-round pick out of Texas Christian.
Three of Arrieta's bullpen mates were right behind him as the Desert Dogs locked up the top four spots in the ERA standings. Chris Hernandez (Pirates) did not allow an earned run in 13 innings, while Fernando Hernandez Jr. (White Sox) and Eduardo Morlan (Twins) each pitched 12 2/3 scoreless frames.
RHP Nick Blackburn (Twins) was the Player of the Game in the championship, allowing one run over six innings. He was the team's ace, going 4-0 with a 1.64 ERA to get the nod for the final start. RHP Bob McCrory (Orioles) led the league with five saves and posted a 1.50 ERA. Despite a 6.45 ERA in seven games, RHP Hayden Penn (Orioles) led the AFL with 27 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings. OF Nolan Reimold (Orioles) won the RBI title on the final day of the regular season, edging Mesa's Matt LaPorta by one. He drove in a pair to give him five RBIs in his last two games and 23 for the season. Reimold also shared the league lead with six homers. A member of last year's Grand Canyon Rafters, the team that lost to Phoenix in the final, Reimold was the lone player to return to the championship game. 2B/SS Cliff Pennington (A's) went 6-for-11 with five runs scored in his last four games to raise his average 71 points to .241.
Phoenix hit .253, fourth in the league, but its 2.68 ERA was first by nearly a run.
SCOTTSDALE SCORPIONS (16-16, second in the East, 4 1/2 games out)
San Francisco Giants fans keeping an eye on their favorite team's bullpen prospects got a double dose of good news from the AFL. RHP Brian Anderson posted a perfect 0.00 ERA and four saves in 12 appearances, while RHP Sergio Romo's ERA was only slightly higher at 0.64 with 16 strikeouts over 14 frames.
Anderson had 29 saves at Double-A Connecticut during the summer. Romo was a bigger surprise, striking out 106 batters in 66 1/3 innings at Class A Advanced San Jose, where he posted a 1.36 ERA and a .155 opponents' average.
More good news for San Francisco came from OF Nate Schierholtz and SS Manny Burriss. Schierholtz, who led the Giants system with a .333 average during the regular season, hit .348, fourth in the league, with four homers and 10 RBIs. His .596 slugging percentage ranked second. Burriss was the club's Class A entry, replacing injured 1B Dan Ortmeier (broken finger). He hit .365 in 17 games but did not have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting race. 3B Sergio Santos (Blue Jays) hit .319 with 10 doubles, a .585 slugging percentage and 20 RBIs. OF Caleb Stewart (Mets) held a share of the league lead with six homers, despite playing in just 12 games. OF Travis Snider (Blue Jays) hit .316 and finished second in the league with 23 runs scored. LHP David Purcey (Blue Jays), who was on the 40-man roster bubble, seemed to lock up a spot (or a Rule 5 pick) with his 1.23 ERA in six starts. He also finished third in the league with 25 strikeouts. RHP Nick Pereira (Giants) was second in the loop with 26 strikeouts, while LHP Adam Bostick (Mets) was fourth with 24.
Diamondbacks pitching prospect Esmerling Vasquez suffered a torn labrum diving for a bunt in his last start of the fall Wednesday night. Vasquez, Arizona's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2007, will be on a strengthening program until Spring Training in hopes of avoiding surgery.
Giants second base prospect Eugenio Velez was officially deactivated with three days left in the season but had not played since Nov. 1. Velez, who hit .303 with 14 steals, had what Giants director of player personnel Bobby Evans termed a "small fracture" in his right wrist. He is expected to be healthy for Spring Training.
Scottsdale Stadium was the only AFL park featuring live music rather than canned clips at its night games. Organist Gordon Stevenson, who moved to Arizona from Irvine, Scotland, a year and a half ago, transported the stadium to baseball's olden days. Although the 29-year-old isn't giving up his day job as organist at St. Mary's Basilica in Phoenix, Stevenson said he'd be thrilled if the San Francisco Giants, who occupy Scottsdale Stadium during Spring Training, wanted to use his services for Cactus League games. He'd even be willing to rearrange his work schedule to accommodate day games.
The Scorpions overcame an 0-9 start to finish at .500, batting a league-best .279 and leading the league with 311 hits. Their 3.55 ERA ranked second.
SURPRISE RAFTERS (19-13, first in the West by two games)
Despite having a slight scare thrown into them by the never-say-die Peoria Javelinas, the Rafters finally wrapped up the West Division title on the next-to-last day of the regular season. That nabbed them a spot in Saturday's championship game, where they fell to four-time repeat winner Phoenix, 7-2.
Although the Rafters didn't have any individual league leaders, their 39 combined home runs topped the circuit. First baseman Michael Aubrey (Indians) and OF John Mayberry (Rangers) had five homers apiece, while OF Chris Dickerson (Reds) was right behind with four.
SS Elvis Andrus, activated from the taxi squad when fellow Rangers prospect Chris Davis was sidelined with an ankle injury, hit .353 in 15 games. 2B Marc Maddox (Royals) batted .321. Leading the way on the mound were LHP Matt Harrison (Rangers), who was 5-0 with a 2.00 ERA, and RHP Dusty Hughes (Royals) with a 2.45 ERA.
Surprise was fifth in the league with a .249 team batting average and third with a 4.18 ERA.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.