photo: Sandy Alcantara (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
As the Minor League regular season closes on Monday and Winter Leagues are still out in the future, Major League Baseball’s most prestigious prospect showcase released its preliminary rosters on Tuesday afternoon.
The Arizona Fall League is renowned as a “finishing school” for elite prospects on the brink of the big leagues. An array of eight St. Louis Cardinals prospects have been named to the Surprise Saguaros squad.
The Cardinals 2017 AFL contingent consists of four pitchers, one catcher, two infielders, and one outfielder. The 26th edition of the AFL begins October 10.
Now, let’s get through the Cardinals reps by position, starting with the most demanding position on the diamond.
As predicted by The Cardinal Nation, the Cardinals rising catching prospect Andrew Knizner will indeed be heading out to the Fall League. St. Louis’ 2016 seventh round pick has made a rapid advancement in his first full season, following the same path as Harrison Bader and Paul DeJong, jumping over Palm Beach and making a terrific offensive showing at Double-A Springfield.
“It is obviously something I have positioned myself well for,” Knizner said recently about an AFL opportunity. “Getting up to Double-A and playing pretty well, but I am not sure. We will have to see what happens.”
While he is behind Carson Kelly on the catching depth chart, Knizner has made a name for himself and could wind up challenging Kelly with continued improvement behind the plate. He is currently The Cardinal Nation’s 19th-ranked prospect.
As mentioned, the Cardinals will send two infielders out to Arizona in October – first baseman John Nogowski and shortstop Edmundo Sosa.
Despite being the Cardinals taxi-squad player (eligible to only play Wednesdays and Saturdays), Nogowski is the most surprising member of this year’s AFL class. Eligible to return to minor league free agency at the end of this season, this move suggests the June acquisition from independent ball has already been resigned for 2018 and is auditioning for a role at Triple-A Memphis.
“I hope I have proved that I belong here,” Nogowski said when asked about joining the organization at Springfield earlier this month. “Obviously, the goal is to move up every year, but when you get to that point, it is more about numbers and what they need in certain spots.”
A player assigned to the AFL to make up for time due to injury is Sosa, who missed almost two full months due to hamate bone surgery (wrist), suffered in his first game at Springfield on June 16.
The 21-year old, a member of the 40-man roster, will look to rebound from has been a lost season in terms of development. Because of that, Sosa, who was previously a top-ten prospect, has slid to #22 in TCN’s August rankings.
The Cardinals had a plethora of outfield options to send to Arizona, including Tyler O’Neill, Magneuris Sierra, Adolis Garcia, Randy Arozarena, and last but not least Oscar Mercado.
O’Neill was a dark horse, as he participated in the AFL last year with the Seattle Mariners. If they want to see more of him, a September cup of coffee isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. Sierra was TCN’s choice to represent St. Louis in the outfield, but that is not the case, and it seems like he will get an extended cameo in the big-leagues once September rolls around.
As far as Garcia and Arozarena, it can be argued there is no reason to send either out as there are no roster decisions needed to be made about the two in the foreseeable future as there is with Mercado.
This exposure gives Mercado additional opportunity to show he belongs on the 40-man roster and to potentially break through a substantial outfield glut in the upper levels. Mercado is TCN’s number 17 Cardinals prospect.
The Cardinals 2017 AFL crop will be headlined by high-octane right-handers Sandy Alcantara and Jordan Hicks, who have both temporarily moved to the bullpen to cut down on innings in preparation for the Fall League.
The former was listed by TCN as a candidate while the latter, who was promoted twice this season – from Peoria to Palm Beach to Springfield just three days ago – was not. Alcantara is TCN’s number eight Cardinals prospect, with Hicks at 12.
While it may be a move by design to save bullets for the AFL, it should be noted that Hicks was placed on the seven-day disabled list on Monday – before making his Double-A debut. There is no official word yet as to what is behind this move.
Typically, each of the 30 MLB teams designate one pitcher to start in the AFL.
Among other worthy starting candidates are Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Matt Pearce, Zac Gallen, Ryan Helsley, and Daniel Poncedeleon.
In the case of the first three names, innings workload of a long season certainly did not work in their favor with each nearing or above the 150 inning threshold. Not only that, Gallen is in his first full season and it may make more sense for him to compete in the 2018 AFL. Perhaps the same could be argued for Helsley as well.
Poncedeleon, who was recently cleared for baseball activities, is likely not at the right stage of his rehab to pitch game speed and against high-level competition just yet.
TCN correctly predicted two of the three Cardinals AFL relievers in right-handed hurlers Arturo Reyes and Josh Lucas. The one not selected was Andrew Morales, who was sidelined for the first two months of the season with a shoulder injury, but again, a roster decision does not to be made this offseason as it does with Reyes.
Lucas was recently added to the Cardinals 40-man roster and has been an organizational favorite for some time thanks to his deceptive delivery and sweeping slider. After the potential of another brief cup of coffee with St. Louis in September and a strong performance in the AFL, the 26-year old should be in position to compete for a full-time major-league role next spring.
Others considered by TCN were righties Kevin Herget and Landon Beck as well as lefty Jacob Evans.
Check back with The Cardinal Nation for day-to-day recaps of the Cardinals participants in the AFL from early October until mid-November.
As is the case each year, TCN’s Brian Walton will be reporting for TCN members directly from the AFL this fall.
Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Gulf Coast League Cardinals Notebook: 2017 Week 9
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