2010 Cardinals Arizona Fall League Preview

Zack Cox and Jordan Swagerty lead eight Cardinals to the premier minor league prospect showcase, which gets underway on Tuesday, October 12.

The Arizona Fall League is rightfully often referred to as a "finishing school" for players on the brink of joining the major leagues, but that is not how the St. Louis Cardinals will be using the league in 2010.

Headlining the organization's eight players participating with the Surprise Rafters are two 21-year-olds who are essentially making their professional debuts. The fall performances of third baseman Zack Cox and reliever Jordan Swagerty will be closely monitored to determine exactly how ready they are for advanced competition. At this point, none of the eight would appear to be candidates for major league jobs to open 2011.

Player Posn Age Drafted 2010 40-man
Brian Broderick SP 24 2007-21st Spr/PB no
Jordan Swagerty RP 21 2010-2nd DNP no
Blake King RP 23 2005-44th Springfield no
Ramon Delgado RP 24 2007-41st Spr/PB no
Tony Cruz C 24 2007-26th Mem/Spr/PB no
Pete Kozma SS 22 2007-1st Springfield no
Zack Cox 3B 21 2010-1st Gulf Coast yes
Adron Chambers OF 24 2007-38th  Mem/Spr no

The group offers an interesting contrast between the three early draft picks, Cox, Swagerty and 2007 first-rounder Pete Kozma and the other five, all who were post-20th round picks in either 2005 (Blake King) or 2007 (Brian Broderick, Ramon Delgado, Tony Cruz and Adron Chambers). Only Cox has a place on the Cardinals' 40-man roster, which was a signing condition, not an indication of his MLB readiness.

Second-round pick Jordan Swagerty
Initially, I questioned the Cardinals for making this aggressive move with their young pair of Cox and Swagerty, but after some thought, I realized they really did not have other good options available. Without a fall instructional league camp, getting the two playing experience in 2010 would require them to participate in international winter league ball in an environment that is far less controllable and therefore, presenting an even higher risk.

Further, it isn't like the Cardinals have a cadre of prospects almost ready for the major leagues that would be blocked by Cox and Swagerty.

For example, the top pitchers at Memphis have either pitched heavy workloads during the regular season and playoffs (Brandon Dickson at 175 2/3 innings and Lance Lynn at 171 innings), already have MLB experience (P.J. Walters) or have previously appeared in the AFL (Adam Reifer). Since foreign players are not allowed, Eduardo Sanchez is out.

Surprise Rafters starting pitcher Brian Broderick
The Springfield staff is already sending starting pitcher Broderick, who will be part of the Rafters' rotation, along with relievers King and Delgado. Other logical candidates would have been Nick Additon, who already threw over 150 innings (as did Broderick) and injury-bitten David Kopp, who just completed his first-ever pro season without time spent on the disabled list.

Broderick had a solid 2010 season, especially after arriving in Springfield from Palm Beach. Like so many in the Cardinals system, he lacks the overpowering fastball and needs to refine his secondary pitches to progress. Next spring, Broderick is expected to compete for a spot with Memphis.

One might wonder why Springfield third baseman Matt Carpenter was not sent to the AFL over Cox, who had just a handful of end-of-season at-bats in the Gulf Coast League. While Carpenter was a strong contender for the Texas League batting title, he had already accrued over 600 plate appearances in 2010. Accordingly, there were signs of fatigue as his performance dropped off during the final weeks.

If Memphis had a viable third baseman, he would have received a shot with St. Louis this past summer. The glaring need presented itself when oft-injured David Freese went down again, but there was no Triple-A answer. The Redbirds had a pair of journeymen, Ruben Gotay and Kevin Howard, at the hot corner, neither of whom were called up.

It seems most likely that Carpenter will move up to Memphis to start the 2011 season with Cox succeeding him at Springfield, but we'll have to see how the latter plays this fall. In 2008, Brett Wallace began his career with 41 games at Quad Cities.

Catcher is an interesting position, where Tony Cruz' star has risen in 2010. Originally, when the organization decided to send one of their Springfield catchers down to Palm Beach for the first half of the season, it was Cruz who drew the short straw, leaving Steven Hill to remain in Double-A. Hill also received the emergency call to St. Louis this past summer and reached Memphis before Cruz. Yet it was the latter that saw the regular action behind the plate as the season concluded and in every inning of both rounds of the Pacific Coast League playoffs.

Even with the retirement of Jason LaRue, the Cardinals already have four catchers on their 40-man roster (Yadier Molina, Matt Pagnozzi, Bryan Anderson and Hill). What happens with Cruz this fall will certainly bear watching as will potential roster changes this winter.

Few Cardinals prospects have received as much scrutiny as shortstop Kozma. Still just 22, the former first-rounder has spent almost two entire seasons at Double-A, yet still lacks necessary consistency. He committed 34 errors for the second consecutive season and put up a .243/.318/.384 batting line. Kozma's OPS of .702 was an improvement over his .600 mark with Springfield in 2009, but there is hope for continued growth in all aspects of his game. As the Cardinals' priority player for the Rafters, Kozma is assured of seeing starters' time this fall. His AFL play may help dictate his readiness for Memphis in 2011.

The speedy Chambers burst onto the prospect radar one year ago as he led Palm Beach in most offensive categories. In 2009, his 16 triples was tops in the entire Florida State League. The left-handed hitter opened 2010 as our 29th-ranked Cardinals prospect. He began the season with Springfield, where he earned a Texas League All-Star Game selection and moved up to Memphis in mid-July. Between the two stops, Chambers logged a .784 OPS and was 14-for-19 in stolen base attempts.

The 19th season for the six-team AFL gets underway this week - on Tuesday, October 12 - with its championship game scheduled on Saturday, November 20. The annual Rising Stars game with top players from across the league will be held on Saturday, November 6.

As every year, we will be running daily stats recaps of all Cardinals playing fall and winter ball from all over the globe, including the Arizona Fall League. In a few weeks, I will be reporting first-hand from the AFL as I do each fall, as well.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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