Since I have been in a predicting mood this week (with St. Louis’ September call-ups), I will take a shot at potential Arizona Fall League nominations by the St. Louis Cardinals. With the announcement coming any day, the shelf life of this article is somewhat limited in duration.
Still, I have been asked by multiple people for my thoughts about the subject, so here they are. Just realize that these are nothing more than my guesses, so I would be delighted with 50 percent accuracy. I am interested in your perspective as well, so stop by The Cardinal Nation’s insider forum to discuss.
The AFL consists of six teams, each staffed with a minimum of seven players each from five MLB organizations, making a 35-man roster. This year, the Cardinals will be a part of the Surprise Saguaros, along with the Royals, Brewers, Yankees and Rangers. Carlos Subero of the Brewers will be the manager.
To make matters more confusing, Surprise isn’t going to playing at Surprise this fall due to stadium renovations. Instead, they will play their home games at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, also the base of the Salt River Rafters. (As always, I will be reporting from the AFL this fall.)
A typical mix of the seven players from each organization would be one starting pitcher, three relievers and three position players. To fill the latter, the five teams making up an AFL club work together to establish a balanced roster. For example, not every team will provide a catcher, since five would be too many. Some organizations also nominate an eighth player, placed on the taxi squad, only available to play on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Of the seven regulars, three players are to be sourced from Double-A and above, two players are to be from the A-Advanced level with the other two from any level of play. With 35 to 40 active players, including 20 pitchers, players can be rotated to avoid excessive fatigue.
Let’s go through my Cardinals candidates by position.
Springfield’s Michael Ohlman is an offense-first player working on fine-tuning his defense. What better place to keep honing his development than the AFL? Ohlman, a Texas League All-Star, is the only Springfield player to have a 40-man roster spot with St. Louis. I expect he will be a serious competitor to join Cody Stanley behind the plate at Memphis next season.
Another possibility is Palm Beach’s Carson Kelly. Though after his long season, catching over 100 games, the Cardinals may instead prefer to rest the 21-year-old. On the other hand, Kelly is finally showing signs of life offensively in August while Ohlman has slumped.
There are a number of candidates here, but I see one being more likely than the others.
Palm Beach’s Mason Katz missed over two months with a lower back injury, making the extra work that goes with the AFL more advantageous for his development. Another benefit is his defensive versatility, with an ability to play first base, corner outfield and third base in a pinch in addition to his primary home at second base - and even catching.
If the Cardinals provide a player on the left side of the infield instead, Alex Mejia and Aledmys Diaz are viable candidates at shortstop. Mejia has spent more time at Triple-A and enjoyed a more consistent offensive season, so he would be my choice. Diaz struggled for four months before coming on strong in August at Springfield. At this point, the Cuban native has just three Memphis games under his belt.
Before his recent swoon (.477 OPS in August), another good infield possibility would have been inconsistent third baseman Patrick Wisdom.
Unless he is too fatigued after over 500 plate appearances, Springfield leadoff man Charlie Tilson would be an ideal choice for the AFL. In fact, the 22-year-old was invited last season, but did not participate due to a late-season injury.
A more likely and also strong alternative would be a power bat in Anthony Garcia, moved up to Memphis from Springfield earlier this month. Hard-hitting David Washington has put together a nice season at Springfield. He also offers the ability to play first base along with right field and could also be in the mix.
Or, the Cardinals could have proposed sending two infielders and no outfielders or no catchers.
I see two primary candidates - teammates with Palm Beach for much of the season – Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes. Weaver began the season on the disabled list and as a result, still has thrown under 100 innings with a sparkling ERA of 1.66. It looks to me like he could be ready for the advanced competition the AFL offers.
Reyes, the organization’s top prospect, was promoted to Springfield six starts ago. Though the 20-year-old is also just under 100 innings between the two stops, his youth and relative inexperience compared to the seasoned college hurler in Weaver makes his selection somewhat less likely, in my opinion.
Relief pitchers (3)
Here is where my confidence is a shaky. A number of relievers already have AFL experience, including Keith Butler, Lee Stoppelman, Dean Kiekhefer, Justin Wright and Chris Perry. Players have repeated the league before, but that seems less likely.
My 2015 candidates from Double-A and Triple-A are numerous, including Heath Wyatt, Chris Thomas, Joey Donofrio, Kurt Heyer, Ronnie Shaban and left-hander Ryan Sherriff. Often, at least one pitcher from A-Advanced is included. From that level, lefty Tyler Melling stands out with results and a need to make up for lost time with Josh Lucas also a possibility.
However, if Katz and Weaver are participating, that would be the two A-Advanced players. So my three names come from the higher levels.
Prediction: Wyatt, Thomas, Shaban
Check back with The Cardinal Nation for St. Louis’ actual Arizona Fall League selections as soon as they are announced.
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