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Draft stars to play in Arizona Fall League

Draft stars to play in Arizona Fall League

The Arizona Fall League is one of the hidden gems of baseball, a place where the game's best prospects gather every autumn to prepare to make the leap to the big leagues.

Historically, that's been done in virtual isolation, with fans few and far between during the league's two-month season. That might change, at least in terms of people paying attention to the elite finishing school for Minor Leaguers. That's because it seems likely that Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 pick of the 2009 Draft, will make his unofficial pro debut in the AFL, which begins its 18th season on Oct. 13.

Strasburg, of course, made headlines when he agreed to a record-setting $15-million-plus contract with the Nationals right at the signing deadline. He was introduced to Nats fans at a press conference/event on Friday. Now it appears the first time he'll represent the organization on the mound will be in the desert. He'll be a member of the Phoenix Desert Dogs, who will be aiming for their sixth straight AFL title. The odds seem pretty good that he'd be a part of the Rising Stars Showcase, set to be held in Surprise, Ariz., on Nov. 7.

It also could be a springboard to a quick rise to the big leagues. A year ago, Orioles first-rounder Brian Matusz got his first taste of pro ball in the AFL and landed in Baltimore's rotation after the All-Star break.

Strasburg will not be the only high pick from the 2009 Draft likely to be a part of the Fall League this season. Fellow Nationals pitcher, and No. 10 pick overall, Drew Storen, is also expected to pitch for the Desert Dogs. The reliever out of Stanford has gotten off to an outstanding start to his pro career, signing quickly and already up in Double-A. Through Saturday's games, the right-hander had a 2.35 ERA and seven saves in 30 2/3 IP across three levels. He's held hitters to a .180 batting average and had a ridiculous 42:5 K:BB ratio. He's yet to give up a run in six Double-A innings.

No. 2 pick Dustin Ackley should get a chance to take his hacks against the Nationals' duo. The newest member of the Mariners organization, out of the University of North Carolina, will go to instructional league in Peoria, Ariz., and then stay to play for the Javelinas. Joining him in Peoria, but on the other AFL team there -- the Saguaros -- will be No. 7 pick, lefty Mike Minor (Braves), and the No. 8 overall selection, righty Mike Leake. Leake, of course, will be in familiar surroundings after starring for three years in Tempe for Arizona State.

Official rosters will be released in the near future and if this early news in any indication, the Arizona Fall League could be ready for its best season in what's been a very, very successful run.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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