The seven St. Louis Cardinals prospects in the Arizona Fall League have been under the tutelage of a proven winner.
Aaron Rowand, 39, a former two-time World Series Champion and Gold Glove Award-winning outfielder has been at the helm for the Glendale Desert Dogs as a coaching representative for the Chicago White Sox. Thus, there is no better individual than Rowand, who has witnessed every pitch and at-bat, to assess the Cardinals’ AFL contingent.
Rowand played a total of 11 major league seasons, posting a career .273/.330/.435 line with 136 home runs and 536 RBI. Last November, the former National League All-Star was hired as a minor league outfield and baserunning instructor for the White Sox organization.
In this exclusive interview, Rowand gives his impression of pitchers Austin Gomber, Corey Littrell, Ryan Sherriff and Rowan Wick along with position players Carson Kelly, Paul DeJong and Harrison Bader.
Derek Shore: Starting with the Cardinals pitchers, what is your impression of Austin Gomber, who currently leads the AFL with a 4-0 record and 24 strikeouts?
Aaron Rowand: "He's been outstanding. Really doing a great job of elevating his fastball and spotting his changeup. He's devastating even to the right-handed hitters. He's a great guy with a great work ethic and it is paying off for him."
DS: What have you seen in lefty reliever Corey Littrell?
AR: "He's going to be very good. He attacks both righties and lefties and is effective against both. He's a guy that can go longer innings if you need him too and be a late-inning guy as well."
DS: Could you talk about Ryan Sherriff, who's struggled a bit in the fall league, but had a terrific 2016 season?
AR: "Yeah, Ryan's a little tired right now - mentally grinding through the season. He's been dealing with some sinus issues and has been sick. He's been going to the doctor and doing some stuff. He hasn't quite been himself, but he's got electric stuff. I see why he did as well as he did this year."
DS: At this point, which of the two Cardinals lefty relievers has shown you the most promise?
AR: "They both have electric stuff. You can't really compare the two when you have Ryan, who hasn't been feeling all that well. He's been trying to go through it, but they both have great stuff, and it would be tough to compare the two of them when one of them isn't at the top of his game."
DS: Next, what have you seen out of Rowan Wick, a hurler who's about to complete his first full season on the mound?
AR: "He's got an electric arm. His stuff is plus. He's obviously got a plus fastball and a plus breaking ball, so he's done well. He's only had one bad outing where he got hit around a little, but that was it. Everything else he's been lights out."
DS: What have you seen in his secondary stuff?
AR: "His breaking ball has good depth, and it's just so drastic. It's drastically different velocity-wise from his fastball. Setting up as a late-inning guy and to have two devastating pitches like that is really nice."
DS: Moving on to position players, Fall Star Carson Kelly seems to have taken to the league well. What are your thoughts on Kelly?
AR: "Carson is a guy that controls the game well behind the plate, knows how to deal with the pitching staff, has a great rapport with the pitching staff, has put together quality at-bats and has hit a lot of balls hard where he hasn't had success. You can't really judge on the numbers as far as his batting average.
"He gives you a professional at-bats and works counts - has a great idea of the strike zone. That's why he's going to be a middle of the lineup kind of guy."
DS: What progress has he shown at the plate?
AR: "I think his ability to stay through the ball as long as he does - keep his bat in the zone - is what will give him success going into the big-leagues. He's got a great idea of being a catcher and knowing what a pitcher is trying to do to get him out and really keeps his barrel through the zone for a long time.
"He is able to hit the ball to all fields and do it with power."
DS: Paul DeJong hasn't been a regular but is a Fall Star for Glendale. What has he shown you this fall?
AR: "Pauly's got great, great talent. His athletic ability - I know he's not a full-time shortstop - he plays third and second as well, but his hands and footwork at shortstop are very, very impressive. At the plate, he's got power and is a line-drive guy, who will also hit you home runs.
"He's going to be a high-average guy. He got off to a bit of a slow start, but swinging the bat much better now. He's a guy to look out for quite a long time."
DS: DeJong played third base during the regular season. What has he looked like at shortstop?
AR: "He looks great. That's what I'm talking - his hands, his footwork, and quickness. He can play shortstop all day long in the big leagues. He's just that athletic. He can second, third, or short and he's got the mentality for it.
"He is intense and has been a treat to be around."
DS: Another Fall Star is outfielder Harrison Bader. What has Bader shown you?
AR: "He's got a very flat swing - his bat stays in the zone a very long time. He is a constant gamer. He goes out every day and gives 100% after everything. He runs every ball out. He's a great base stealer with plus speed. He could be a top of the lineup guy, but he's also got power where you could put him in the middle as well.
"His persona - all of them - the way they carry themselves has been really fun to watch. I think the Cardinals should be proud and happy about the prospects they have in their system."
DS: Do you believe Bader can stick in center field down the road?
AR: "Yeah, he has enough speed to play center field. He gets good jumps and breaks on the ball. He can play any of the three outfield spots, and he's got enough arm to play right field. He's a good outfielder - he's a good athlete. He's intense and aggressive. Aggressive on the basepaths.
"He is going to be able to play wherever they want him out there and be really good at it."
DS: How do you think Bader can refine his approach in order to cut down on his strikeouts?
AR: "I think he'll need to start using the whole field a little bit more. Because he's an aggressive guy - he's going to want to chase the ball and if he gets into hitters’ counts - he starts to get big. I think if he just stayed within himself a little more and try to lay the barrel on the ball and let his natural power take over, he will be able to use more of the field.
"I think that's the biggest thing. He knows it, and that's what he's been working on. That's where he's trying to go with it. I think that will be key for him in this next season to open up the field for himself and he'll hit for an even higher average, and it'll help him adjust and cut down on his strikeouts as well."
DS: Anything else you would like to add?
AR: "I've been very impressed with all of the guys in the Cardinals organization. They're not only great players but quality people and really good teammates. They are good baseball people."
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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