All posts by Derek Shore

Cover the Springfield Cardinals and Cardinals minor league pipeline for The Cardinal Nation | Freelance sports writer

Cardinals Add Reliever Dominic Leone, Prospect for Randal Grichuk

photo: Dominic Leone (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images)

St. Louis Cardinals press release

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today (Friday) that they have acquired right-handed pitchers Dominic Leone (pronounced lee-OHN) and Conner Greene from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for outfielder Randal Grichuk.

Dominic Leone (Butch Dill/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Leone, 26, enjoyed a solid 2017 campaign for Toronto, going 3-0 with a 2.56 ERA (12th among American League relievers) and 11 Holds in 65 games pitched, striking out 81 batters in 70.1 innings of work.   His 70.1 innings (9th among A.L. relievers) and 81 strikeouts were both 2nd highest among Toronto relievers last season.   Leone stranded 42 of 54 inherited runners (78 pct.), ranking 4th among American League relievers (min. 50 inherited runners) and he limited left-handed batters to a .183 average and righties to a .211 mark.

The 5-11, 195-pound Leone owns a career mark of 11-8 with a 3.48 ERA in 160 outings (all in relief) with Seattle (2014-15), Arizona (2015-16) and Toronto (2017).  A Connecticut native, Leone was drafted by Seattle in 2012 (16th round) out of Clemson University and made his Major League debut with the M’s in 2014 when he put together a solid rookie season, going 8-2 with a 2.17 ERA in 57 games (66.1 IP) with 70 strikeouts.   He led all Major League rookie relievers with his eight wins in 2014, finished 2nd to Dellin Betances (NY Yankees, 135) among Junior Circuit rookie relievers in strikeouts, was 3rd in rookie reliever ERA (2.17) and finished as one of just 19 American League relievers to fan 70 or more batters that season.

Conner Greene (Butch Dill/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Greene, 22, went 5-10 with a 5.29 ERA for New Hampshire (AA) in 26 games (25 starts) and fanned 92 batters in 132.2 inning pitched, earning selection to the Eastern League All-Star team.   It was his 2nd-straight All-Star season, having also earned mid-season honors in the Florida State League (A) in 2016 when he was 4-4 with a 2.90 ERA in 15 starts for Dunedin.

A 7th round draft selection by the Blue Jays out of Santa Monica (Calif.) High School in 2013, Greene was ranked as the 5th best prospect in the Toronto organization by Baseball America in 2017.  The 6-3, 185-pound Greene is 31-31 with a 4.04 ERA in 103 career games (91 starts) since making his professional debut in 2013.

Randal Grichuk (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Grichuk, 26, played four seasons (2014-17) with the Cardinals after coming over in a November 2013 trade from the Los Angeles Angels that sent David Freese and Fernando Salas to the Halos.  Grichuk owns a career batting mark of .249 with 66 HR’s and 182 RBI in 404 games and he hit .238 last season with 22 HR’s and 59 RBI in 122 games.

Both Leone and Greene will be added to the Cardinals Major League roster, which is currently at the maximum 40 players.

Derek Shore’s take

At the Cardinals Winter Warm-Up last weekend, Randal Grichuk was surprised to still be in the organization. Not even a week later, Grichuk was flipped to Toronto, where he will join former teammate Aledmys Diaz.

In return, the Cardinals acquired – to no one’s surprise – a major-league reliever, one who had had an outstanding 2017 campaign, as well as a high-upside pitching prospect. The two are Dominic Leone and Conner Greene.

Leone had a breakthrough season in the Blue Jays ‘pen last season and will obviously have a back-end role with the Cardinals in 2018. What stands out the most about the right-hander is his ability to miss bats at a high rate (10.36 K’s per nine innings).

As far as his repertoire, Leone throws four different pitches, per Brooks Baseball. He has a four-seam fastball which sits at 95 mph with an 89 mph cutter, also mixing in a hard sinker at 94 mph and a slider at 89 mph.

Here is Brooks Baseball’s description of his approach on the mound:

“His fourseam fastball results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, has slightly above average velo and has some added backspin. His cutter generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ cutters, results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers’ cutters, has some natural sink and has strong cutting action. His sinker generates a high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ sinkers, has well above average velo, has little sinking action compared to a true sinker and results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sinkers. His slider generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ sliders, is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sliders and has exceptional depth.”

Greene is a 22-year old project with big stuff, who will need to prove he can throw quality strikes above A-ball. His electric 70 grade heater sits at 95-97 mph with his ability to reach back for 100, and an average changeup (80-82 mph) to complement his fastball. To round out his arsenal, Greene displays a potentially average curveball (78-79) and a below-average slider (86-88).

With his control and command issues, Greene may project best as a late-inning reliever with two usable pitches with the potential to be a closer at the big-league level. In order to maximize his value, however, he is a #3-#4 caliber starter with front-of-the-rotation potential.

Grichuk was tabbed to be the Cardinals fourth outfielder before the trade on Friday. With him out of the picture, it opens the door for either Harrison Bader or Tyler O’Neill to slide into that role for St. Louis and also allows Oscar Mercado to be a shoo-in for Triple-A Memphis’ outfield.

Brian Walton’s take

Given the number of outfielders still available on the free agent market, in my opinion, the Cardinals did quite well to secure four years of the services of a solid reliever in Leone, one who could set up or even perhaps close. In the process, they also cleared out some space in what is a very crowded outfield pipeline, creating opportunity for a younger player.

A Super-two player, Leone had already settled with the Jays on a $1.085 million contract for 2018. He will not become free agent-eligible until after the 2021 season, though his salary should escalate each year between now and then – assuming he performs like he did in 2017.

This article from Yahoo Canada credits Leone’s improvement last season to his study of Mariano Rivera’s cutter and increased and effective usage of the offering.

Toronto also secured a nice return for a player (Leone) they claimed off waivers from Arizona in November 2016. As noted above, Greene was a seventh-rounder out of high school in 2013.

In spring training, a reserve outfield job audition will now occur, with the primary candidates likely being all-around standout Bader (TCN 2018 Cardinals prospect #4) and power threat O’Neill (ranked #5), both of whom are members of the 40-man roster. Mercado also has a roster spot, but with zero career at-bats above Double-A, the speedster has to be considered a very long shot.

Returning reserve Jose Martinez played more games in the outfield last season than he did at first base and is also on my projected Opening Day bench. However, Martinez cannot play in center field, which both Bader and O’Neill can do, as well can as new right fielder Dexter Fowler, of course.

My guess is that Greene will return to Double-A, joining the Springfield rotation. Note that because he was a 40-man roster player with Toronto, he is required to use a spot with St. Louis, as well. As a result, the open space on the 40-man is now gone. That does not preclude a future signing, but it would now require the removal of one incumbent.

For more

To track the status of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Going Deep: Gary LaRocque on the Cardinals Farm System

Not yet a member?

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Cardinals Trade Piscotty to A’s for Muñoz and Schrock

photo: Yairo Muñoz (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images)

St. Louis Cardinals press release

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have traded outfielder Stephen Piscotty to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for minor league shortstop Yairo Muñoz and second baseman Max Schrock.

Yairo Muñoz (Chris Lockard/Oakland Clubhouse)

Muñoz, 22, was signed by the Athletics as a non-drafted free agent out of Nagua, Dominican Republic in January of 2012. The 6-foot-1, 165 lb., right-handed hitting infielder played shortstop, third base and center field between Midland (AA) and Nashville (AAA) during the 2017 season. He batted .300 with 13 home runs, 68 RBI and stole 22 bases in 112 games and is currently playing in the Dominican Winter League for the Toros del Este.

Over 504 career minor league games, Muñoz batted .265 with 41 home runs and 237 RBI and 63 stolen bases in 87 attempts. Muñoz was a 2015 Midwest League All-Star at Beloit and a 2014 New York-Penn League All-Star with Vermont.

Max Schrock (Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Schrock, 23, was originally a 13th round draft pick by the Washington Nationals in the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of South Carolina. Schrock was traded to the Athletics in 2016 in exchange for former Cardinals pitcher Marc Rzepczynski. He has batted .324 over his career with a .372 on-base percentage, 18 home runs and 131 RBI over 281 minor league games.

The 5-foot-8, 180 lb., left-handed hitting second baseman was a 2017 Mid-Season and Post-Season Texas League All-Star at Midland (AA) and 2016 South Atlantic League All-Star at Hagerstown (A) including earning the Top Star Honor for the SAL All-Star Game.

In 2017, Schrock ranked fourth in the Texas League with a .321 batting average while ranking third in onbase percentage (.379) and was the “Toughest to Strike Out in” the league registering 10.80 plate appearances per strikeout. Defensively, Schrock led all Texas League second basemen in games (101), total chances (436), put outs (173), assists (257) and double plays (83).

Piscotty, 26, was the Cardinals supplemental first round (33rd overall) draft pick out of Stanford University in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. Piscotty batted .268 with 38 home runs and 163 RBI over 323 career Major League games. He signed a six-year contract extension with the Cardinals on April 3, 2017.

Muñoz has been placed on the Cardinals 40-man Major League roster and Schrock will be assigned to a minor league roster.

Derek Shore’s take

Less than a day after acquiring their impact hitter in Marcell Ozuna, the St. Louis Cardinals not only cleared up (slightly) their outfield logjam but made a move that was beyond baseball by trading Stephen Piscotty to the Oakland Athletics for two minor league prospects.

The trade became complete and official on Thursday morning after rumors of it swirled on Wednesday night.

Returning to the Bay Area, Piscotty will now be able to play closer to his home in Pleasanton, California where he will be nearby to his ill mother, Gretchen, who was diagnosed with ALS this past summer.

In exchange for Piscotty and his team-friendly contract, the Cardinals received shortstop Yairo Munoz and second baseman Max Schrock, who ranked among the A’s Top 20 prospects and fill an organizational hole up-the-middle. Both became expendable due to Oakland’s glut of quality infield prospects.

Munoz, 22, is on the Cardinals 40-man roster now and the club views him as a utility-option, who can hold down several positions (including shortstop) as an above-average defender, replacing Aledmys Diaz.

While he lacks plate discipline, Munoz has plenty of positional versatility and arm strength. He’s described by scouts as a dynamic athlete and could see time at every every position besides catcher with a 70 arm. He makes solid contact and the Athletics even gave him a shot in center field last summer.

He also enters 2018 with minor league options remaining.

“The scouting reports on him are very strong,” President of Baseball Ops John Mozeliak told the media today. “We think he’s a nice fit.”

Schrock, 23, is an offensive-first player through and through which is what drew the Cardinals to him in the first place. He immediately becomes the organization’s top second base prospect after Eliezer Alvarez was dealt to Philadelphia in September.

Scouts say Schrock just hits with everyone sold on his bat playing at the highest level of baseball, but question how much impact ability he has in his profile. He plays a solid second base, but can also handle third and first in the infield which may allow him to advance and earn a big league opportunity as early as next year.

“Schrock is someone that has that very excellent offensive profile for us,” Mozeliak said to the media. “Everywhere he’s been, he’s hit. He too gives you a lot of defensive flexibility. You can move him around. When you are looking at all the different things we are trying to do, it’s nice to be able to find a couple of players we can stick right into Class AA or Class AAA and know they are going to be productive.”

With Sandy Alcantara, Magneuris Sierra, and Zac Gallen, who were ranked inside the TCN’s Top 15, now gone. Munoz and Schrock will slot in at two of those spots, but we have not determined what to do with the other ranking.

Stay tuned.

For more

To track the status of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Cardinals Add Two, Lose One in Rule 5 Draft

Not yet a member?

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.

© 2017 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

2017 Springfield Cardinals Team Review

photo: Jack Flaherty (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)

The Springfield Cardinals of the Double-A Texas League may not have reached the playoffs like their three St. Louis Cardinals full-season minor league peers, but certainly had a terrific season considering a young team adapting to an advanced league and plenty of roster influx in the process.

Despite not making the postseason for the first time since 2015, the S-Cards accomplished perhaps their best season in franchise history in both the overall and second half record departments, tying the previous marks of 77 and 42 wins, respectively.

Both were set in 2012 when the Cardinals went 77-61 overall and 42-26 in the second half en route to their first and only Texas League title in team history.

“No matter what, we had an outstanding year,” Springfield manager Johnny Rodriguez said. “Everybody gave everything they had for me. We had a tremendous record. Fought every day. We had our ups and downs. Second half we had more ups than downs.

“I think everybody competed at this level.”

Through all the injuries and player movement, Rodriguez said quite often the club was in search of their “landscape.” The S-Cards eventually discovered it with energy players like Darren Seferina, Randy Arozarena, Oscar Mercado, Magneuris Sierra, Andrew Knizner and Tommy Edman.

“The new guys who were brought in, brought a lot of energy, desire, and passion,” Rodriguez said. “We had some really good starters. Our bullpen (got) better. We were more athletic with more urgency players. It resonated, and in other words, it spilled out.

“It was a tremendous clubhouse atmosphere and a great camaraderie. It was a collective group, not just individualized.”

Key Highlights

Dakota Hudson

After a season as exciting as this, there were many highlights worth mentioning in 2017. Listed below are the ones that stand out in the overview of the team’s success:

  • Arguably the greatest achievement of the S-Cards season came courtesy of Dakota Hudson, who became the first Springfield hurler to win the Texas League Pitcher of the Year award. Hudson owned the top ERA in the league – 2.53 – with a 9-4 record over 18 starts. The righty struck out 77 and issued 34 walks in 114 innings before a promotion to Memphis on July 29.

 

  • Lead-off man Oscar Mercado burst onto the scene in the Texas League, getting on base in each of the first 24 games to start the season. Mercado also reached uncharted territory in Springfield record books, setting a franchise best 19-game hitting streak on May 4.

 

  • The Cardinals posted their best second half and overall record since 2012, matching the number of wins of their only championship team.

 

  • Five Cardinals were named to the Texas League All-Star Game in June, including outfielder Oscar Mercado, shortstop Alex Mejia, and pitchers Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, and Matt Pearce. With Mejia and Flaherty at Memphis at the time, outfielder Anthony Garcia and righty Corey Baker replaced them on the North Division roster.

 

  • Among the S-Cards Postseason All-Stars were Hudson, Flaherty, Pearce, and Garcia. The exclusive Postseason All-Star Team is made up of the league’s top players from both divisions, consisting of only eight spots for position players and six for pitchers.
Magneuris Sierra (USA TODAY Sports Images)
  • Springfield produced four big-leaguers – Sandy Alcantara, Flaherty, Mejia, and Magneuris Sierra – who each contributed at the Double-A level in 2017 and made their MLB debuts for St. Louis in the same season.

 

  • Johnny Rodriguez, who entered 2017 in his first season as a skipper above A-ball for the first time, was named the Texas League Best Manager Prospect in Baseball America’s annual Best Tools Survey in July.

 

  • Other notable tidbits: Adolis Garcia swiped home in a game at Arkansas on May 14. Magneuris Sierra’s only home run of the season came via an inside-the-parker on June 14. Although aided by errors, Randy Arozarena reached third on an ordinary infield popup on July 6, a miraculous play to say the least.

 

  • Pitching coach Jason Simontacchi was also named the Mike Coolbaugh Memorial Texas League Coach of the Year.

 

  • Hammons Field claimed its seventh straight Field of the Year award and ninth time overall in the TL.

By Month

The Texas League is a full-season league made up of a 140-game regular season, which began April 6 and concluded on September 4. The eight-team league is divided into two divisions with the Cardinals Double-A club placed in the North.

Unlike other leagues in the minors, Texas League intra-division foes play each other up to 32 times during a season – 16 at home, 16 on the road. On the other hand, inter-division teams match up 16 times – eight at home, eight on the road.

Springfield opened the season with a 9-3 victory over Frisco (TEX) and ended the month of April with a 12-9 record as the club was led by strong starting pitching and a quick-twitch offense despite a floundering bullpen. The S-Cards had a meager May, posting a 15-14 record as the pitching shouldered the load and the offense slowed.

From June 1 and on, Springfield finished off the first half with an 8-12 record, falling out of first place on June 11 as they dropped the first half title to NW Arkansas.

The Cardinals went 4-4 over their first eight games in the second half before a 20-10 July kept them tied for first place with Tulsa (LAD) in the North. Springfield boasted a 16-12 August, but that wasn’t enough going into September as the Drillers owned the second half tiebreaker and secured a playoff berth on September 2.

The pitching

Sandy Alcantara (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Through the regular season, the Cardinals ranked third in league with a 3.62 ERA, a significant improvement over the pitching staff’s mark of 4.35 last year. Simontacchi’s staff also posted the most shutouts in the league (13) over 1229 2/3 innings pitched.

Despite finishing with the fewest strikeouts (987) and the second-most free passes (445), the staff was able to minimize the number of hits with the second-lowest WHIP (1.32) in the league.

“I am pleased with them,” Simontacchi said when asked to reflect on the season. “I think the guys – if you ask every single one of them – our job as an organization is to make sure they are better at the end of the year than they were at the beginning. I would agree we were capable of doing that with the plan that Tim (Leveque, Cardinals Minor League Pitching Coordinator) has set up for these guys.

“Then, obviously, these guys sticking with it and trusting it. Maybe not all the time, but in the end. They have done a good job of staying focused and paying attention to what they bring to the table, keeping those sharp and getting the other things a little bit better.

“With the experience, the game teaches you a lot in itself, let alone coaches or managers and organizations. The game will teach you a lot – if you keep your eyes and ears open. These guys have done a good job of absorbing,” the pitching coach concluded.

The offense

Adolis Garcia (St. Louis Cardinals)

Playing in a hitting-friendly park and league, hitting coach Jobel Jimenez’s offense slashed at an above-average league mark, posting a .264/.335/.399 in 4689 at-bats through 140 games. As an offense, they ranked third in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, and OPS.

Collectively, the S-Cards bashed 117 home runs (third-most) and scored 634 runs (third-most), averaging 4.53 runs per game with a run differential of +62.

“The league is getting better, you know, the pitching performance,” Jimenez said of his offense. “The pitchers try to be more efficient and attack the hitters more to their weaknesses, which is tough but is good for us because it gives us a chance to be more selective and be more aggressive, especially with guys in scoring position.

“For me, our offense is getting better. Every game is different, but we maintain good work in the cage. When we take batting practice on the field, we try to execute depending on the situation that we have.”

The speedy offense also paced the league with 120 stolen bases.

“Watching this team is like watching a team from the 80’s,” one pro scout recently said.

The fielding

Tommy Edman (Peoria Chiefs)

Fielding hasn’t exactly been the strongest suit for the S-Cards in recent years, but in 2017, under a defensive-minded manager like Rodriguez, things changed.

The club’s fielding percentage improved from .975 in 2016 (ranked seventh) to .979 in 2017, ranking fourth in the Texas League.

In fact, one of the backbones of the Cardinals’ outstanding July was defense, as they posted errorless performances in 21 of 30 games, including a 10-game errorless streak from July 13 to July 22.

“Paying attention, be ready,” Rodriguez said when asked about his phenomenal defense. “They are ready for the ball to be hit at them. They are ready before the ball is pitched. The key to that is you want every ball that is pitched to be hit at you, so it doesn’t surprise you.

“The defense looks ready on every pitch, as there is a ball that can be hit at them, so they are ready to go.”

The pitchers

Austin Gomber (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Springfield opened the year with a bevy of young, talented arms in their rotation that changed considerably as the starters pitched above the level of the league and passed it, earning promotions to Memphis. Those starters included Flaherty (June 1), Pearce (July 17), and eventually Hudson.

Alcantara and lefty Austin Gomber remained with the team by season’s end. Although the former was moved to the bullpen in late August in preparation for a big-league cameo in September and to limit his innings for the Arizona Fall League.

Among others promoted upward were Zac Gallen (June 3) and Ryan Helsley (July 31), both of whom have since progressed to the Memphis playoff rotation. Chris Ellis also joined the Springfield rotation from Memphis and contributed down the stretch.

Pedro Echemendia was the multi-purpose reliever and filled some starts later on in the season as well.

The hitters

Oscar Mercado (Springfield Cardinals)

There was a solid foundation for Springfield’s offense in the early stages of 2017, starting in center field with Mercado, the electric right fielder Adolis Garcia, left fielder Nick Martini, and infielders Alex Mejia, Jacob Wilson, Eliezer Alvarez and Bruce Caldwell.

Martini went to Memphis by May 5 before Mejia followed him after 63 games at Double-A. Garcia received a promotion on June 26. Alvarez missed a large amount of the season due to injury.

As the S-Cards looked for a new core, there were some key additions along the way. Those included top run producer Anthony Garcia (from Memphis in early April) and Magneuris Sierra (after his first stint in the big-leagues about mid-May). Catcher Andrew Knizner (jumped directly from low-A and seized Gabriel Lino’s role) and first baseman John Nogowski (filled in for injured Casey Grayson and excelled) were significant additions.

Outfielder Randy Arozarena and infielders Tommy Edman and Darren Seferina, all up from Palm Beach, also helped spark the club’s second-half run.

Top prospects

Zac Gallen (Palm Beach Cardinals)

Among the end-of-season Springbirds ranked in the most recent monthly top 50 prospect list compiled by The Cardinal Nation are five pitchers and eight position players. They include Sierra (#6), Alcantara (#8), Gallen (#10), Jordan Hicks (#12), Adolis Garcia (#13), Helsley (#14), Arozarena (#15), Mercado (#17), Gomber (#18), Knizner (#19), Alvarez (#24 but since traded to the Phillies), Seferina (#27), and Edman (#35).

Summary

The 2017 Springfield Cardinals were above-average in pitching, and a quick-twitch offense was enough to keep them in the playoff hunt in both the first and second halves despite a shaky bullpen.

For more

Link to master article with all 2017 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that will include our selections as the Springfield Cardinals Reliever, Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation:  Peoria Chiefs Notebook: 2017 Week 23

Not yet a member?

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.

© 2017 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Alcantara, Hicks Headline Cardinals 2017 AFL Contingent

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.

Catcher

Andrew Knizner (USA TODAY Sports Images)

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.

Infield

John Nogowski (Sioux City Explorers)

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.”

Edmundo Sosa (USA TODAY Sports Images)

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.

Outfield

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.

Oscar Mercado (Springfield Cardinals)

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.

Starting pitchers

Sandy Alcantara (USA TODAY Sports Images)

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.

Jordan Hicks (St. Louis Cardinals)

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.

Relief pitchers

Arturo Reyes (USA TODAY Sports Images)

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.

Josh Lucas (USA TODAY Sports Images)

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.

What’s Next

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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