Throughout the Arizona Fall League, Mitch Haniger has enjoyed the benefits of hitting behind Tyler Naquin in the Surprise lineup. Naquin, the Saguaros leadoff hitter, has reached base in all 18 games he's played this fall and Haniger has been waiting in the middle of the order to drive him in.
The combination worked again Friday as Haniger drove in Naquin twice in the first two innings of Surprise's 6-3 victory against Scottsdale at Surprise Stadium. The loss was the Scorpions' eighth in a row.
Haniger, the Brewers' No. 12 prospect, was 2-for-4 with a double and a stolen base. He ranks second in the AFL with 16 RBIs in 17 games.
As he approaches the end of his first full professional season, Haniger is using the opportunity to play in the AFL to work on his hitting.
"I want to become a better hitter in general," he said. "Nothing that sticks out, I just want to hit the ball hard every time and good things will come."
Haniger said it was great to have Naquin hitting in front of him.
"If you're a guy like me who hits in the middle of the order, you always want to hit with runners on," Haniger said. "I'm trying to get RBIs and he's there on base. We're both working together toward the same goal."
Naquin, the Indians' No. 5 prospect, went 3-for-5 with three runs, a double and a stolen base Friday. He leads the AFL with 27 hits and ranks second with 15 runs scored.
Surprise wasted no time getting its bats going against Scottsdale. Naquin led off the bottom of the first with a double. After Joe Wendle grounded out, Haniger drove home Naquin with a single to give Surprise the lead. The Saguaros added three more runs in the second to open a comfortable lead and chase starter Aaron Northcraft. The Braves' No. 10 prospect allowed four runs on six hits in two innings. He has a 7.62 ERA in 13 innings this fall.
While Northcraft struggled early, Saguaros starter Miguel Pena held the Scorpions scoreless for the first four innings. In the fifth inning, however, they broke through against the left-hander. Mason Williams hit a two-out single to drive in their first run of the game. They cut further into the deficit with a run in the seventh and another in the eighth, but it wasn't enough to match the league's highest-scoring offense.
Williams, who is ranked No. 36 on MLB.com's Top 100 prospects list, went 2-for-5 with a stolen base, extending his hitting streak to 10 games. The Yankees outfielder is hitting .271 in 14 games.
Pena made his longest start of the fall, throwing 77 pitches in five innings. He allowed three hits and struck out five batters. Three relievers followed to close out the Saguaros' league-best 13th victory.
As the teams get a full weekend off thanks to Saturday's Fall Stars Game, Surprise is in first place in the West Division. Haniger said that's right where the Saguaros want to be.
"Everyone here wants to win the AFL championship," he said. "We know it's not the regular season and people say it's not the same intensity, but we're treating it like it is. We want to win the championship."