Saguaros clinch spot in AFL championship

Saguaros clinch spot in AFL championship

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For much of the fall, Surprise has led the West Division of the Arizona Fall League. Though the AFL is more about player development than wins and losses, the Saguaros made it clear they were playing to win.

On Monday, they accomplished the first half of their goal. Surprise defeated Scottsdale, 8-2, at Scottsdale Stadium. That victory, combined with Glendale's loss to Salt River on Monday afternoon, clinched the West Division for Surprise and the spot in Saturday's Arizona Fall League championship game that comes with it.

Third baseman Garin Cecchini said it was "awesome" to win the division.

"You always want to play in the playoffs," Cecchini said. "We have a great group of guys. It's one of the best teams I've ever played with."

Cecchini, ranked No. 82 on MLB.com's Top 100 prospect list, went 3-for-3 with two walks and an RBI Monday.

Cecchini said he has been working on an adjustment to his swing for a few weeks. Instead of sometimes cutting his swing off early, he wants to finish his swing with his back leg consistently driving through the baseball.

The Red Sox worked with Cecchini on a similar adjustment earlier in the season, but he had fallen back into a bad habit before the Saguaros coaching staff pointed out the flaw. Cecchini said he thinks he is now seeing the success from adjustment.

"When you make an adjustment, it's probably going to get worse before you get better, because it's something different," the Red Sox's No. 7 prospect said. "I'm glad they were able to point that out to me a couple weeks ago. That's what they're here for: to make you a consistent big league player."

The Saguaros took the lead Monday with two outs in the third inning. Cecchini drew a walk to load the bases and bring right fielder Mitch Haniger to the plate. Haniger drove a grand slam to left field off right-hander Hansel Robles. It was Haniger's second grand slam and fourth home run of the fall.

Cecchini said because the dimensions in Scottsdale are so large, he didn't think Haniger had hit it out.

"I was just trying to run as fast as I can," Cecchini said. "When I saw it clear the fence, I thought, 'Wow, he put a really good swing on it.'"

Haniger, the Brewers' No. 12 prospect, finished the game 1-for-4 with a walk. Center fielder Tyler Naquin, the Indians' No. 5 prospect prospect, went 3-for-4 with a triple and two runs.

The Saguaros added two runs in the fourth and a pair of insurance runs late in the game, but their pitching staff made sure they already had all the offense they needed. Left-hander Will Lamb allowed two runs on three hits in four innings. Four relievers combined for five scoreless innings to finish the game.

The Scorpions were held to five hits. Center fielder Mason Williams, the Yankees' No. 2 prospect, went 1-for-3 with a double and two walks.

The Saguaros last went to the championship game in 2011 and haven't won the league since 1995, when the championship was a best-of-three series. They now must wait to find out who they will play. With three games to play, Mesa leads Salt River by a half-game in the East Division.

Though the Saguaros are happy to know they will be playing in the championship game Saturday at Scottsdale, Cecchini said they are holding off on any celebration for now.

"Hopefully if we keep playing the way we're playing, we'll have a good celebration Saturday," Cecchini said.

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.