Major League Baseball’s premier prospect showcase, the Arizona Fall League, will be getting season number 23 underway with a 32-game, six-week schedule that begins on Tuesday, October 13.
Eight St. Louis Cardinals farmhands are among those on rosters announced Tuesday – Pitchers Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, Dean Kiekhefer and Robby Rowland, catcher Michael Ohlman, infielders Aledmys Diaz and Patrick Wisdom plus outfielder Charlie Tilson.
The selections include two players from Triple-A Memphis while heavy in Double-A experience, with five from Springfield and just one from Palm Beach.
The 2015 group of eight include, from:
Triple-A Memphis: Diaz, Kiekhefer
Double-A Springfield: Ohlman, Reyes, Rowland, Tilson, Wisdom
A-Advanced Palm Beach: Weaver
The Cardinals prospects will suit up with the Surprise Saguaros, which will also be staffed with players from the Royals, Brewers, Yankees and Rangers. However, 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.
The Cardinals have no coaches assigned to the AFL in 2015. Carlos Subero of the Brewers' organization will serve as the Saguaros’ manager, and his pitching coaches will be Jose Rosado and Carlos Reyes. Bobby Rose will be the hitting coach. Subero is the skipper of Double-A Biloxi. Rosado is the pitching coach at Double-A Trenton in the Yankees system. Reyes leads the pitchers at the Royals’ Class-A Lexington affiliate. Rose is the hitting coach at A-Advanced High Desert in the Rangers’ system.
Participating organizations provide seven to eight players each, typically made up of one starting pitcher, three relievers, three position players and one taxi squad member. With 35 to 40 active players, including 20 pitchers, players can be rotated to avoid excessive fatigue.
More on the Eight Cardinals
Three top 10 prospects in the system are among the AFL invitees. In the August update to The Cardinal Nation’s top 40 rankings, Reyes is first, Tilson seventh and Weaver eighth. Ohlman is 19th, Wisdom comes in at 23rd and Diaz had dropped to 32nd. Relievers Kiekhefer and Rowland are currently unranked.
Weaver, 22, began the season on the disabled list at Palm Beach and as a result, still has thrown under 100 innings with a sparkling ERA of 1.74. Despite not having been moved up to Double-A yet, it looks to me like the former first-rounder should be ready for the advanced competition the AFL offers.
Reyes, 21, the organization’s top prospect, was promoted to Springfield seven starts ago. Though the right-hander is also just under 100 innings between the two stops, his workload has been more carefully managed this season. Due to injury, he was held out of the Florida State League All-Star Game and MLB Futures Games and has skipped several starts. Though his 2.53 ERA is solid, what draws the most attention is 146 strikeouts in 96 innings. Reyes has also issued 46 free passes.
It will be interesting to see which one between the two – Weaver or Reyes - starts regularly in the AFL. Typically, a starter will have about six outings during the fall campaign.
Springfield’s Ohlman is an offense-first catcher working on fine-tuning his defense. What better place to keep honing his development than the AFL? He leads the Double-A Cards with 67 RBI, sixth in the league. Ohlman, a Texas League All-Star, is the only Springfield player to have a 40-man roster spot with St. Louis. I expect the 24-year-old will be a serious competitor to join Cody Stanley behind the plate at Memphis next season.
Diaz makes for a most interesting storyline. The Cuban shortstop struggled for four months – to the point he was removed from the 40-man roster and went unclaimed. He came into August hitting just .238 on the season. But last month, he came on very strong at Springfield, hitting .373 with five home runs and 16 RBI in 18 games, earning a promotion to Memphis last week. In seven contests with the Redbirds, the 25-year-old is batting .320.
Wisdom is another player of significant note. The third baseman was temporarily reassigned to Florida in late April and early May to get his hitting mojo back. It worked, as Wisdom was the Player of the Month for the entire Cardinals system in June. Yet, the 24-year-old again slumped badly in August, with a line of .167/.263/.250/.513 in 24 Texas League contests.
I was worried that Tilson might be too fatigued after well over 500 plate appearances during the regular season, but the reality is that Springfield’s leadoff man and Texas League All-Star is 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. Tilson is batting .292 with a league-leading total of 45 stolen bases in 63 attempts. The compromise is making Tilson the Cards' taxi squad member, meaning he will be eligible to play on Wednesdays and Saturdays only.
Rowland, 23, has pitched at three levels this season, having started at Class-A Peoria, where he was a first-half Midwest League All-Star. After nine appearances at Palm Beach, the right-hander was moved up again. With Springfield, the going has been tougher, with seven earned runs allowed in 7 2/3 innings. Overall, Rowland’s 2015 ERA is 3.51 with 55 strikeouts and 13 walks in 59 innings.
The final Cardinals participant is an AFL repeater. Kiekhefer also competed in Arizona in 2013. This season, his third with Memphis, the left-hander has logged a 2.53 ERA in 57 innings over 47 Triple-A contests. Known as a strike-thrower, the 26-year-old has issued just seven walks, one intentional, to go with 37 punchouts this season. Kiekhefer was a member of the Pacific Coast League mid-season All-Star Team.
Additional AFL Particulars
The six-team circuit will feature action each Monday through Saturday afternoons (and occasionally evenings) through November 19 with the one-game championship on November 21. Games are held in five spring training stadiums around the Phoenix metropolitan area, as two teams call Salt River Fields home in 2015.
As has been the case for the last decade, I will be reporting first-hand from Arizona on the Cardinals prospects competing in this year’s AFL and plan to attend the league’s Fall Stars Game on Saturday, November 7. The game will also be televised nationally on MLB Network as will the league final.
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