It only makes sense that after I predicted the St. Louis Cardinals’ September call-ups, I should continue with my thoughts on potential Arizona Fall League nominations by the organization. With the announcement likely coming next week, the shelf life of this article is somewhat limited in duration. Very soon, we will have the real answers.
Still, I have been asked by multiple people for my guesses about which players will head to the desert. After naming three of them in my call-ups article, let’s go for them all.
Just remember that these are simply my guesses. 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. Each year, the affiliations and the assignments change. For 2016, the Cardinals will be a part of the Glendale Desert Dogs of the West Division, along with the host Dodgers and White Sox plus the Astros and Nationals. Aaron Rowand of the Pale Hose will be the manager for the 2016 season, which begins on October 11.
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, but often ends up playing more often later in the season after the inevitable injuries hit.
Of the seven regulars, three players are to be sourced from Double-A and above, two players should come 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.
This one is a no-brainer. If the Cardinals send a catcher, he almost certainly will be Carson Kelly. Not only is Kelly at the ideal time in his development for an AFL berth, the 22-year-old is the only catching prospect in The Cardinal Nation’s current top 50.
Michael Ohlman is an offense-first player who struggled with his hitting enough that he was banished to Double-A Springfield for a period of time this summer. Further, Ohlman already played in the AFL in 2015, so there is less reason to send him back.
For catching, it is Kelly or Bust!
I see two leading candidates here, both from Springfield.
First baseman Luke Voit, finally having escaped Palm Beach after playing the entire 2014-15 seasons there, is having a very fine 2016 with Double-A Springfield. In fact, the slugger had performed well at high-A, too. His age, 25, helps make the former Missouri State star less of a sure thing as a prospect, but he can take a walk (10%) and is not strikeout prone (15.3%).
Another option is a less experienced player in third baseman Paul DeJong. Drafted two years after Voit (2015 vs. 2013) and two years younger, the former Illinois State standout shares Voit’s power, but not yet his ability to make consistent contact (just a .244 average and 26.9% strikeout rate).
With a blank sheet of paper, DeJong is clearly a better prospect and therefore, would get my nod if I had to choose between the two. However, DeJong may instead get a rest, having already made over 500 plate appearances in his first full-season of pro ball.
If the Cardinals want to go the injury-rehab route and name a Palm Beach player here, Danny Diekroeger would fit the bill perfectly. Able to play second and third, the 24-year-old missed three full months of the season before returning last week. Another Beach Birds possibility is shortstop Juan Herrera, sent back to high-A after having a rough time at Double-A when coming off the DL.
Among the infielders who have already participated in the league are Patrick Wisdom, Breyvic Valera and Jacob Wilson. That does not mean they could not return, though if the organization wanted to reward a good soldier, names like Bruce Caldwell, Jonathan Rodriguez, Matt Williams and Alex Mejia come to mind. Mason Katz remains out due to injury.
Prediction: Voit and Diekroeger
TCN’s Springfield reporter Derek Shore has pointed out on numerous occasions that C.J. McElroy would be an ideal AFL choice. After all, the outfielder has been out since the beginning of June. However, with no indications the 23-year-old can be ready from his torn ACL by fall, I am not assuming he will be available to play.
My choice is the second position player I called out in the St. Louis article, like DeJong a fast-moving 2015 draftee, Harrison Bader. The former Florida star’s momentum has slowed considerably since he joined Memphis, but an AFL stint could be rejuvenating. With Bader already at 467 plate appearances in his first full-season, the Cards could designate Bader as a taxi squad player to ration his at-bats, as they did with Tilson in 2015.
Other potential candidates could include Bader’s Redbirds teammates David Washington, Nick Martini and 40-man roster player Anthony Garcia. Washington can play first base as well as corner outfield.
Prediction: Bader (taxi squad)
A year ago, this part of the report was simple with two primary candidates - teammates with Palm Beach for much of the 2015 season – Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes. When all the factors were considered, I went with the lower-innings arm in Weaver. However, the Cardinals ended up sending both. Though Weaver began the AFL as a reliever, he was starting before it was over. And of course, Reyes was hit with his suspension with about 10 days remaining in the AFL schedule.
I do not see as clear of a choice as St. Louis’ designated starter in 2016.
Having already made his MLB debut does not necessarily rule out the choice of Mike Mayers, but the 24-year-old has already thrown 134 innings and the Cards could prefer he gets some rest, instead. On the other hand, the AFL could be good alternative if Mayers is not invited to return to St. Louis when rosters expand, giving him an extended platform to prove he deserves a longer look in 2017.
The top prospect in the system among the eligible group of starters is Jack Flaherty. Our fifth-ranked prospect has been at Palm Beach all season. Though the AFL would be aggressive placement for the 20-year-old, it would not be crazy. My biggest concern is his lack of domination in the Florida State League (3.87 ERA). For what it is worth, Flaherty would be my top 2017 AFL starting candidate at this point, however.
At Springfield, the trio of Andrew Morales, Trey Nielsen and Austin Gomber remain out with injury. If healthy, they could receive AFL consideration, with the latter my preferred choice. With the playoffs still ahead, Daniel Poncedeleon has already thrown 140 innings, so fall rest may be prescribed for the right-hander.
Relief pitchers (3)
Here is where the predictions become extremely difficult – because there are so many possibilities. However, I do think lefty Ryan Sherriff could be chosen, as he is in the same place Dean Kiekhefer was one year ago – on the cusp of being able to contribute in the majors. Another lefty, Corey Littrell, would be next on my Springfield list.
A point to remember is that while the Sam Tuivailalas and Kiekhefers have been selected to pitch in Arizona, so have others with less shiny stars such as ex-Cardinals Keith Butler and Lee Stoppelman. For that reason, the relief choices may not be entirely obvious.
A few months ago, I would have thought we would almost certainly see Rowan Wick in the desert. However, the converted outfielder has struggled as much at Springfield as he dominated in the first half at Palm Beach. As a result, I do not think the Cardinals will send the Canadian in 2016.
One pitcher who performed in the AFL in 2015 and could be back for another go is right-handed reliever Robby Rowland. The right-hander missed most of the season while recovering from bone chip removal surgery this spring. After the Cardinals had invited Rowland to 2016 big league camp, they may want to get an extended look at him to see if he is worthy of another shot in 2017. Ronnie Shaban, Josh Lucas or Kevin Herget could also be a Springfield-based relief choice.
If the Cards add a Palm Beach reliever, which I think they will, any of the three of Kyle Grana, Cody Schumacher or Landon Beck would be a worthy choice. Closer Grana has a slight edge with me. Along with Diekroeger, that would make the two A-Advanced AFL’ers.
Prediction: Sherriff, Rowland, Grana
What is next
Check back with The Cardinal Nation for St. Louis’ actual Arizona Fall League selections as soon as they are announced. As always, I will be reporting directly from the AFL this fall and the instructional league prior to that, where St. Louis' AFL players will go to prepare.
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