Some attach little to no importance to the stats generated during the annual six-week fall period. I am not among them.
I believe that any time one can measure oneself against an elite level of competition, something can be gleaned. I understand certain players are trying out a new position or learning a new pitch, but they are still playing ball and generating results against other top-notch players.
Despite high-profile pitchers competing there such as Tommy Hanson last year and Stephen Strasburg this fall, the AFL has been primarily known as a hitters' league over time.
So let's start there and compare how the Cardinals four position players stacked up among their peer AFLers.
First we will define "Joe Average" from the 2009 AFL. This league-average player batted .283 with a .361 on base mark and slugged .443. That made his OPS a respectable .804. Here's "Joe" and the four Cardinals prospects.
|2009 AFL stats||BA||OBP||SLG||OPS|
Among the 66 prospects across the league that averaged at least two plate appearances per game, ten batted over .350 and just over half, 34 of them, hit .300 or better. The latter group included one Cardinal – barely – as taxi squad player Tyler Henley ended at exactly .300. The other St. Louis prospects clearly struggled, with 2008 organizational Player of the Year Daryl Jones bringing up the rear at .205.
Not a one of the four Cardinals reached the league average, though Henley and Anderson were very close.
This is a major area of concern with Henley again being the only Cardinal making a respectable showing. Neither Anderson nor Descalso were even able to slug .300 despite being considered top ten prospects in the organization. Jones' power decline continued.
Given what preceded this, it seems redundant to note that other than Henley, the Cardinals looked weak. A dozen AFL players posted OPS's over 1.000 and another seven topped .900. No Cardinals came close.
Now let's see how they ranked among the 66 qualifying league hitters. Anderson fell short of the minimum two plate appearances per game, so his rankings indicate where he would have fallen *.
|2009 AFL rankings #||BA||OBP||SLG||OPS|
|Bryan Anderson *||47||38||63||57|
|# of 66 qualifiers|
As you can see, a lot of these numbers are very high, but in this case, high is not good.
Descalso's slugging mark of .268 was 66th in the league. Being a bit more blunt, he finished dead last. Putting it all together, only one league qualifier had a lower OPS.
Misery loves company as just two other league qualifiers in addition to Descalso posted a lower slugging percentage than Anderson. Had he qualified, the catcher's OPS would have ranked in the bottom ten in the 2009 AFL.
Only seven AFLers had a lower batting average than Jones and his other numbers ranked in the fifties out of the 66 qualifiers.
Looking ahead and backward
Henley's strong showing reminds me a bit of what happened five years ago in the 2004 AFL. Reid Gorecki, then 23, the Cardinals 13th-round pick in 2002 from Delaware, was also a taxi squad outfielder pressed into duty due to injuries to others. Henley, 24, is similar in build to Gorecki at 200 pounds, though reportedly three inches shorter at 5-foot-10.
Gorecki had come out of nowhere to jump into the organization's top prospect picture to the point he would be named the Cardinals minor league Player of the Year in 2004. He culminated his breakout season by posting a .363/.449/.569 line in the AFL that fall, earning a spot on the 40-man roster.
Gorecki couldn't maintain his health or his progress and by spring training 2008 was released. He signed a minor league deal with Atlanta and made a brief MLB debut during the 2009 season.
Granted, Henley's 2009 was not as extreme as Gorecki's 2004, but it is a good reminder that the major leagues remain an elusive target.
If you like big numbers, you will enjoy part two of this article in which we will review the Cardinals' pitchers results in the 2009 Arizona Fall League.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog.
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