In 2005, the Redbirds will be well-represented in the coaching ranks in this, the 14th season of the AFL. Palm Beach skipper Ron "Pop" Warner has been named as the manager of the new team representing Surprise, AZ, which replaces the former Scottsdale Scorpions in the six-team league. This year, AFL play will commence on October 4 and continue until mid-November.
Managers of the other five squads include former Cardinal third baseman and current Mets Triple-A manager Ken Oberkfell and ex-major leaguer Gary Pettis.
The AFL is jointly owned and operated by all 30 major league clubs. Each AFL squad consists of players sourced from the systems of five major league organizations.
The AFL has a proven developmental record and many future Cardinals participated in past seasons, including J.D. Drew ('96), Eli Marrero ('96), Kerry Robinson (‘97-'98) and So Taguchi ('02). Albert Pujols was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame last year.
Other notable AFL alums include MLB All-Stars Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter, Mike Piazza, Todd Helton and Nomar Garciaparra. Dusty Baker got his managing start there and six other current MLB skippers have also honed their craft in the Fall League. In fact, over 1000 players and 15 managers have graduated to the majors from the AFL.
The Surprise skipper, Warner, is no stranger to the AFL either, as he was a coach with the Grand Canyon Rafters two seasons ago. Here is the link to my discussion with him then: 2003 Warner interview
As in past years, I plan to make the trek to Arizona this fall to check out this year's crop of Cardinals' prospects. In November, I interviewed Brad Thompson, Carmen Cali, Gabe Johnson, Reid Gorecki and John Nelson. Check out those interviews and more here: 2004 AFL interviews
This season as always, the Cardinals' candidates to join the Surprise squad in the fall will be identified by Cardinals Director of Player Development Bruce Manno and staff, with Double-A players being the stated ideal. However, the actual players will be selected via a draft among the five MLB organizations who will be stocking the Surprise team.
As Manno told me last summer, "What happens is that everyone puts their priority players in, all the teams. Then you go through a process of slotting. We know we're going to have a first baseman, a second baseman, a centerfielder, but now we know we have no shortstops. So, then we have a conference call among the five clubs and talk about who has what, and how much pitching everybody has. Everybody always looks for pitching. Catcher, shortstop – you could be mandated to have a catcher, for example…"
We should know sometime in August the names of those who will play this fall. However, there can always be changes. For example, last year, Adam Wainwright left his Mesa Solar Sox team after only 10-1/3 innings pitched. Though outsiders initially feared a reoccurrence of his elbow injury, instead Wainwright left for an appointment at the altar on his wedding day. Thompson replaced him for a second tour of duty in the AFL.
Stay tuned as more information becomes available about this year's Cardinal prospects selected to play under the Arizona sun and the watchful eye of Pop Warner.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org