GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Arizona Fall League has long been viewed as a stepping stone for elite prospects destined to reach the Major Leagues. The same can often be said for managers and coaches.
Among the big league managers that first gained experience in the AFL since its formation in 1992 are Terry Francona, Dusty Baker, Mike Scioscia, Ron Roenicke, Eric Wedge, Tony Pena and Jerry Manuel.
First-year Reds manager Bryan Price can now be added to the list. Price was a pitching coach on Scioscia's staff with the Peoria Javelinas in 1997, and he has fond memories of the experience.
"It was awesome," Price said. "We ended up winning the [Arizona] Fall League championship, which was terrific. We had a great time."
The Peoria club featured several up-and-coming prospects who would eventually reach the big leagues. There could have been more, however.
"That was the year of expansion, so a lot of teams were hiding players. They weren't sending them out to the Fall League," Price recalled. "We had a nice club. We had Paul Lo Duca, Mark Kotsay, Brad Fullmer, and Orlando Cabrera was our shortstop. Geoff Blum was on that team. We had some really good players on that club.
"Our pitching staff was very good, but not a lot of guys had extended Major League careers. We had Rolando Arrojo from Tampa Bay. A Cuban kid, he was terrific. He was like Bronson Arroyo but up to 95 mph and you didn't know which arm slot it would come out of. Gosh, he was fun to watch and just a great kid."
With the AFL being only five years old at the time, Price remembered the league was still developing and finding its niche as part of the development system.
"We didn't play everybody's players when their scouts were in town," Price said. "It wasn't like you'd come in and one day, all the Dodgers' players would play, and then all of the Mariners' players would play and then the Marlins' players would play. We had our lineups. We rotated players in and out. Starters, like Spring Training, had incremental pitch limit increases. We had guys that could pitch into the fifth, sixth or seventh inning as a starter. We knew who we were going to prioritize in our bullpen, but we didn't necessarily pitch them in a specific order or announce who we would pitch.
"It's a lot different now. You know exactly who is going to play, who is going to be in the lineup. And you try to get all an organization's players playing or pitching in the same games so scouts and player development staffs don't have to be there quite as long to see their guys. It's much more convenient to evaluate your players now. I enjoyed it more. It seemed to me to be more pure baseball there, before you had to set all of these parameters. But I understand that there is a method to it, a reason for it and I get it. I just enjoyed it a lot more in '97 than going to watch it now."
Price was a left-handed pitcher in the Minors for the Twins and Mariners organizations from 1984-89. Partially because of an elbow injury that required surgery in 1987, he never reached the Majors.
Immediately after his playing career, Price transitioned into coaching for the Mariners and spent 1989-97 in the organization's Minor League system. He rose to become Seattle's pitching coordinator in 1998-99. Beginning in 2000, Price had a 14-year stretch as a Major League pitching coach for the Mariners (2000-05), D-backs (2006-09) and Reds (2010-13), and he became not only respected by his pitchers but also viewed as future-manager material.
The Arizona Fall League prepared Price at a time when his career was still in the earlier stages.
"It helped me. I met Mike [Scioscia], which has been a good relationship," Price said. "He's such a sharp baseball guy. It was his first managerial experience. I got to be around him and watch him. That was a lot of fun. Coming through the Dodgers' system, those guys just eat, drink and sleep baseball. I met Ron Roenicke there. He managed the club because Mike couldn't be there for the first few games. I met some really good people through that experience."