photo: Connor Thomas (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
The St. Louis Cardinals sent four pitchers to the Arizona Fall League this year, all of whom competed for the Salt River Rafters. As we learned from the 2021 AFL with Andre Pallante, Brendan Donovan and others, players who performed in the AFL made an impact on the Cardinals the next season.
Our review of the Cardinals in the 2022 AFL begins with the pitchers. The hitters will follow in the next article.
Connor Thomas exceeded all expectations in his stint with the Salt River Rafters. After a solid 2021, Thomas’ ERA grew to 5.47 in the 2022 season in Triple-A. In 135 innings, the left-hander struck out 110 and had a .307 average against.
In the desert, however, Thomas added a new strikeout pitch – a cutter.
With this new pitch added to his arsenal, the southpaw finished the AFL with the league high in strikeouts (34). He finished second in ERA (1.75) and innings (25 2/3). TCN’s no. 29 prospect had a batting average of .224 against, a big improvement from his regular season with Memphis.
With his performance, Thomas earned the starting role for the NL in the Fall Stars Game. In that game, he tossed a 1-2-3 first inning on eight pitches.
The 24-year-old earned a place on the exclusive 12-player All-AFL Team, was named AFL Pitcher of the Year, and on Tuesday, received a coveted spot on the Cardinals 40-man roster.
We have selected LHP Connor Thomas to the major league roster.
Our 40-player roster currently stands at 39. pic.twitter.com/umbxfSS1z9
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) November 15, 2022
Tink Hence went from Low-A Palm Beach to pitching against top minor league talent in the AFL Fall Stars Game this season. With the Beach Birds, the right-hander logged a 1.38 ERA in 52 1/3 innings.
In the desert, the 20-year-old only threw 8 1/3 relief innings but was effective for the Rafters. TCN’s no. 7 prospect recorded a 2.16 ERA with two runs surrendered in his AFL stint. He fanned nine and crafted a 0.96 WHIP.
With Salt River, his velocity was down in the mid-nineties, most likely due to his extended season. Hence is definitely positioned to move up to High-A Peoria come 2023.
After an eventful 2022 season, Ryan Loutos continued development in the AFL. He had moved through three different levels this year after stints with Peoria, Springfield and Memphis. In Triple-A, he logged a concerning 6.33 ERA but settled down with only one run given up in his last four appearances.
With the Rafters, Loutos pitched 14 innings, all in relief, and produced a 2.57 ERA. He fanned 13 batters and walked four. TCN’s no. 47 prospect will likely return to the Memphis Redbirds to open 2023.
Kyle Leahy spent most of his 2022 starting in Double-A, where he went 10-7 with a 5.23 ERA. He made one appearance in Memphis and surrendered three runs in 3 2/3 innings. Unfortunately for Leahy, he had a rough stint in the desert.
In the AFL, the 25-year-old was touched for 17 runs in 14 1/3 innings of relief for a 10.67 ERA. Leahy had a 2.02 WHIP and a .311 average against. However, he did strike out 21 batters in the desert but that came with 10 walks. Leahy is Rule 5 eligible this offseason.
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