Pop Warner to Manage in Arizona Fall League

St. Louis Cardinals minor league manager Ron "Pop" Warner will serve as skipper of the Peoria Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League in 2008.

On Wednesday, Arizona Fall League officials announced the 2008 group of managers, pitching coaches and hitting coaches for the upcoming AFL season. It its 17th year, MLB's premier prospect showcase begins play on Tuesday, October 7 and ends with the championship game on Saturday, November 22.

One of the six team managers is Springfield Cardinals skipper Ron "Pop" Warner, selected to lead the Peoria Saguaros this fall. Warner is returning to the AFL, having skippered the Surprise Scorpions in 2005.

Now in his second season with Springfield, Warner managed the Cardinals to their first-ever playoff berth in 2007 and piloted the Florida State League champion Palm Beach Cardinals in 2005. Warner has been a coach in the AFL previously and a player and coach in the Cardinals organization since being drafted in 1991.

Warner's hitting coach will be Rick Eckstein, older brother of the former Cardinals shortstop. Rick was Memphis' hitting coach in 2007 and is currently playing that same role under Davey Johnson with Team USA as they prepare for next month's Olympic Games in Beijing, China. In his day job, the elder Eckstein is with the Washington Nationals in 2008 as the hitting coach for Triple-A Columbus.

The Saguaros' pitching coach will be former major league hurler Wally Whitehurst from the San Diego Padres organization.

Other organizations supplying prospects to the Saguaros besides the Cardinals, Nationals and Padres are the New York Mets and Chicago White Sox.

About the AFL

There are a total of six clubs in the AFL, each with players drawn from five MLB organizations. Rosters are filled in draft style with organizations working together to ensure all teams have a complete roster.

All AFL teams play in MLB spring training parks located in the Phoenix area. Games are held six days a week, with Sundays off.

The Cards were part of the Grand Canyon Rafters in 2003, the Mesa Solar Sox in 2004, the Surprise Scorpions in 2005, the Peoria Saguaros in 2006 and the Solar Sox again last fall.

2008 rosters will be announced next month. Typically, Double-A prospects abound in the AFL; in addition one Single-A player can be invited.

Cardinals in the AFL

The AFL has a proven player developmental track record and has seen many future Cardinals participate, including J.D. Drew ('96), Eli Marrero ('96), Kerry Robinson (‘97-'98), the then-unknown Albert Pujols ('00) and So Taguchi ('02).

Among the Cardinals players who competed in the AFL last fall were pitchers Mitchell Boggs, Stuart Pomeranz, Kyle McClellan, Luke Gregerson and Jason Motte, infielders Mark Hamilton and Jarrett Hoffpauir and outfielders Joe Mather and Amaury Marti. Then-minor league pitching coordinator Mark Riggins coached.

Colby Rasmus, Bryan Anderson and Chris Perez were also active, on the roster of Team USA in the World Baseball Cup last fall. They played a half-dozen tune-up games against the AFL clubs before heading overseas.

In 2006, the Cardinals sent the following players to Arizona: starting pitcher Stuart Pomeranz and relievers Dennis Dove, Eric Haberer and Mike Parisi along with shortstop Brendan Ryan (listed on the Palm Beach roster at the time) and outfielders Amaury Marti and Nick Stavinoha.

The Cardinals assigned pitcher Andy Cavazos, Cory Doyne and Chris Lambert, outfielder Cody Haerther, third baseman Travis Hanson and catcher Gabe Johnson, all from Springfield, plus Rich Scalamandre from Palm Beach to the AFL in 2005.

The 2004 Cardinals AFL contingent included future major league regulars Chris Duncan and Adam Wainwright plus Cavazos. The year before, Tyler Johnson, Josh Kinney and Skip Schumaker all competed.

2008 AFL schedule: link

As every year, stlcardinals.scout.com will be your leader in first-hand reporting on and from the Arizona Fall League. So, check back for reports on the rosters, travel information plus first-hand information on the Cardinals prospects that will be playing for the Peoria Saguaros this October and November.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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