A few reminders
Because five MLB teams combine to build each AFL roster, some positional tradeoffs have to be made. For example, not every organization could send a catcher or a second baseman. Clubs address this by setting balanced rosters via a conference call that is like an informal draft.
Each organization can send seven players, plus an optional eighth that is designated as a member of the taxi squad. He can only play on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Last year, that was Colin Walsh.
The typical breakdown of the seven is four pitchers and three position players. Three are to be sourced from Double-A and above, two players should be from the A-Advanced level with the other two from any level of play.
One pitcher is designated as a starter - one from each of the organizations to make a five-man rotation. Of course, there is nothing to preclude a regular-season starter to pitch in the AFL as a reliever, as Kevin Siegrist was initially designated last fall.
Also, a pitcher can move into the rotation if an opening occurs. To that end, by the end of the 2012 AFL schedule, the Cardinals actually had three pitchers starting – Siegrist, Boone Whiting and Seth Blair.
Other decision factors
The AFL can be used to help make final decisions about a player who would need to be placed on the 40-man roster to be protected before December's Rule 5 Draft. While there are exceptions, that would generally be those drafted in 2009 or earlier and is more often a concern with pitchers.
Another way organizations use the AFL is to get additional workload for players, especially pitchers, who missed considerable development time during the current season due to injury.
On the other side of the coin, those hurlers who might have appeared to earn an AFL spot based on results, but threw a lot if innings during the summer, might be passed over in favor of a full off-season of rest.
Position player candidates
With all of that said, here are my thoughts about players the Cardinals might send to Arizona, starting with the hitters.
Outfield (2): Both James Ramsey and Stephen Piscotty stepped up from Palm Beach to Springfield this summer and have acclimated well to Double-A. As first-round picks from 2012, they are not pushing a 40-man decision, but do fit the profile of fast-rising prospects.
I am not sure there will be room on the Rafters' roster for the Cardinals to send both outfielders. However, I expect whichever one is sent will be designated as the organization's priority player, being assured of regular playing time. It could come down to something as basic as which one is less banged up after a long first full season as a professional.
Since Ramsey reached Double-A ahead of Piscotty this summer, I will declare him the winner in a very tight race.
Had he not lost another season due to injury, Tommy Pham would have been a logical outfield selection. If Starlin Rodriguez would have had more time to get his feet on the ground as an outfielder and a Double-A hitter, he could also have been a reasonable choice.
Memphis' Mike O'Neill participated in the 2012 AFL.
David Popkins has put together a nice all-star season at Palm Beach and would be an interesting choice if the Cardinals supply a second outfielder. His A-Advanced outfield mate, Anthony Garcia, came into the season with more promise, but has missed time due to injury. Garcia has been as inconsistent as Popkins has been consistent, so may not be deemed ready for the AFL.
Infield (1): Greg Garcia or Luis Mateo. I could see either of these two middle infielders receiving the nod to play in the desert. Garcia spent all of 2013 with Memphis, while Mateo has put himself on the map this season while at Springfield. Because Garcia is closest to the majors, I give him the nod.
It would be possible for a first baseman to be invited rather than a second outfielder. Power-hitting Xavier Scruggs is coming off his second season at Double-A, but with Jonathan Rodriguez having put together a very strong campaign in his return to Palm Beach, the latter might have the edge.
If a third baseman is needed, Palm Beach's Patrick Wisdom would be a possibility. However, this is his first full season as a pro and Wisdom has just 16 games under his belt so far at the A-Advanced level. He might be a better 2014 candidate.
I could see either Popkins or Rodriguez named as the taxi squad player. I am leaning toward Popkins solely for positional reasons - as a way for the Cardinals to send a second outfielder.
Catcher (0): Memphis' Audry Perez or Springfield's Casey Rasmus would be near the top of my list, with the knowledge that Cody Stanley participated in the 2012 AFL. I am guessing that other organizations may fill the Rafters' catching spots this year, however.
Starter (1): Based on merit, two Springfield teammates, lefty Tim Cooney and fast-rising right-hander Zach Petrick, would be at the top of my list. My only concern would be Cooney's workload level, as his 140 1/3 innings leads the entire system. Due to his 103 1/3 innings to date, Petrick would likely get my AFL nod.
Springfield's Anthony Ferrara has thrown only 93 2/3 frames after missing time due to injury. With the Cardinals having seemingly insatiable need for lefties at the big-league level, I could see the possibility of Ferrara being sent as a reliever, though there may be an even better option.
Reliever (3): At Springfield, lefty Lee Stoppelman seems an ideal AFL candidate as a fast-rising prospect. His submarining right-handed teammate Heath Wyatt could be a possibility along with underrated lefty Danny Miranda or strikeout master Deryk Hooker.
Among the Memphis bullpenners, righty Eric Fornataro seems a natural, though he is already on the 40-man. Fornataro has pitched 48 1/3 inconsistent innings this season, so the Cardinals might like to see the right-hander establish some momentum heading into spring training in hopes he can enter the St. Louis picture in 2014.
Dipping down to A-Advanced Palm Beach, Florida State League all-star right-handed reliever Ronnie Shaban is a standout. From a workload and injury recovery perspective, right-handed reliever Logan Billbrough would seem a prime candidate.
So would starter Sam Gaviglio. The right-hander is making his first Palm Beach start since April on Saturday night after rehabbing in the Gulf Coast League so may not be deemed quite ready, however.
The bottom line - my guesses
Position players (3): Ramsey, Garcia, Rodriguez
Starting pitcher (1): Petrick
Relief pitchers (3): Fornataro, Stoppelman (L), Billbrough
Taxi squad (1): Popkins
Memphis (2): Fornataro, Garcia
Springfield (3): Ramsey, Petrick, Stoppelman
Palm Beach (3): Popkins, Rodriguez, Billbrough
Of course, once the actual selections are announced, I will be back with more details as well as first-hand reports from the Arizona Fall League once again this season. Thank you for subscribing!
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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